Helping those with learning difficulties find good jobs

An innovative partnership with Engage to Change – a scheme in Wales which helps those aged 16-25 with learning disabilities and / or autism develop their work skills through paid work placements – is ‘helping to change the lives’ of such young people in North Wales, with the support of the NHS.

Charity-backed DFN Project SEARCH and Engage to Change are working with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales to, as they put it, ‘transform the employment prospects of young people with learning disabilities and autism’. 

The Engage to Change Project SEARCH programme in Bangor – with the Health Board as host employer – began in September 2017, and provides interns with a one-year ‘transition-to-work’ programme in their final year of school or college. Part funded by the Engage to Change project, the programme is a collaboration between supported employment organisation Agoriad Cyf, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, research partner, Cardiff University, educational institution, Coleg Llandrillo Menai, Engage to Change lead partner, Learning Disability Wales, and DFN Project SEARCH.

The students are based full-time at the Ysbyty Gwynedd Hospital in Bangor, and have three department rotations throughout the 12 months as they gain 800 hours of skills acquisition and study for an employability qualification. The programme also includes an onsite teacher and full-time Job Coach employment specialist to help them make a successful transition from education into full-time employment. Ten students have already graduated, with 70 per cent going on to secure employment. The latest, 2018/19 intake includes a further 10 students. Job roles to date have spanned patient care positions, lab technician and pharmaceutical roles, reception posts at a GP practice, and employment in foodservice operations.

The ‘successful partnership’ also runs programmes based at Cardiff University and the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board’s Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

The recent graduation means 1,000 young people have now graduated and secured full-time employment through DFN Project SEARCH programmes UK-wide. Further local DFN Project SEARCH programmes in Wales will be announced in the fourth quarter of the year. DFN Project SEARCH says it its locally managed programmes are ‘a proven way of helping young people with learning disabilities get long-term careers, as well as helping businesses and organisations get a more inclusive workforce’.

There are now over 60 local partnerships across the UK, with over 1,000 young people with learning disabilities given a pathway into work already. Another 12 schemes are planned by the end of 2019.  DFN Project SEARCH CEO, Maura Lynch said: “Our vision is to ensure that everyone with a learning disability or autism spectrum condition can attain high-quality employment in their local area. The partnership with Engage to Change at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is meeting this objective, bringing students competitive and transferable job skills, and the ability to achieve meaningful employment. The Health Board is also experiencing the transformative benefits of engaging in our programme – gaining access to a new, diverse, and talented workforce with skills that match labour needs.”

Project SEARCH was founded at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the US in 1996, by Erin Riehle, the hospital’s Emergency Department director, who felt that with many patients having learning disabilities, the facility should commit to recruiting people from this group. The DFN Charitable Foundation, meanwhile, is a UK-registered charity established in 2014 by David Forbes Nixon to promote programmes which significantly improve the employment prospects of young people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum conditions.

The Engage to Change project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund in partnership with Welsh Government.