The first Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week has been launched, which aims to give people with learning disabilities the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the workplace.

The week, running from November 11-17, is organised by Inclusive Employers, an organisation that helps employers to develop an inclusive workplace, and learning disability charity Mencap. It aims to improve the employment chances of people with a learning disability, as well as raise awareness of the benefits for businesses in thinking differently about who they recruit.

Only 7% of people with a learning disability are currently in paid employment, despite the UK's unemployment rate being less than 8%, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Participants in the week include the House of Commons, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, South West Trains, Anglia Ruskin University, communications agency Strudel and McDonald's UK.

Richard McKenna of Inclusive Employers said: “Inclusive Employers' initiatives like Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week give our members new perspectives on inclusion and opportunities to harness different talent, strengthen teams and create opportunities for people who are often excluded from workplaces. Working with our member and partner Mencap, we have developed this initiative with the intention of breaking down barriers and creating cultures where all people are valued and all people can add value.

“As the UK's leading membership organisation on inclusion, we continue to champion inclusion in a creative and commercially focused way.”

Research from Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that people with a learning disability stay in jobs longer and are more reliable. They are proven to have low sickness rates and higher job satisfaction levels. Employing a person with a learning disability has been shown to offer a potential saving of £2,000, based on sickness/absence cover and recruitment costs. Many people with a learning disability are able to work and keen to do so.

Barriers to employment

But a lack of work experience is just one major barrier to people with a learning disability who are searching for their first job. Other barriers include access to transport and socioeconomic issues. But work experience provides a confidence boost, as well as the chance to learn new skills and benefit from the daily routine of going to work. Having work experience on a CV also makes it easier to get that first job.

“Evidence shows that there is much work to do to improve routes into employment for people with a learning disability," said Mark Capper, business development manager at Mencap.

"People with a learning disability have the same right to work as everyone else and they will become valued employees when given the right support. However, having a job is not just good for the individual; it is also beneficial and profitable for the businesses that they work for. Working with our partner, Inclusive Employers, we have developed this initiative to help businesses unlock the potential of working with people with a learning disability.”

Public regard

Companies themselves also benefit through employing individuals with a learning disability. Mencap's research shows 77% of members of the public think more highly of organisations that employ people with a disability. There is also strong brand recognition among the learning disability community and the loyalty factor to employers is high as well.

Liz Suttle, national human resources manager at McDonald's UK, said: "Work experience is a great way for people to build confidence and get a taste of what working life is like. We employ more than 92,500 people in the UK and our restaurants offer jobs with a culture of flexibility, opportunity, equality and development. Our customers come from all walks of life and it’s important to us that our employees do too."

Barbara Davenport, head of employee wellbeing at South West Trains, said: "We encourage our people to maximise their potential and we strive for a culture that encourages mutual respect and teamwork. We offer a broad range of job opportunities and are very proud to be supporting Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week with Mencap and Inclusive Employers."