seashellA Seashell Trust-run college is aiming to raise the numbers of people with a learning disability in paid employment through a new internship programme, launched as part of Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week.

Office of National Statistics findings show that just 7% people with a learning disability are in paid employment, but Royal College Manchester's training course is seeking to improve their employability and raise awareness of the benefits for businesses in thinking differently about who they recruit.

Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week is organised by charity Mencap and Inclusive Employers, which helps employers to develop an inclusive workplace and a key goal this year is to improve the lack of experience that many people with learning disabilities cite as a major barrier towards gaining paid employment.

Students at the college have a range of complex disabilities, including learning disabilities, autism and communication disorders. A group of 9 final-year students with support staff are now based permanently at the Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre in Wythenshawe.

Along with their onsite classroom-based learning, students have a range of roles at the conference facility and leisure centre, including a daily litter pick, two-hourly monitoring of the toilets for cleanliness, setting up rooms for conference and wedding receptions, laundry and gardening.

Carol Honeini, Seashell Trust's supported internship manager, said: “All the students accepted the transition from college extremely well. We are using a special assessment tool to measure the students’ progress over the year.

"This focuses on job-specific skills and experience; job search skills, social skills, challenges. It enables us to chart progress as new skills are developed and to support them to find appropriate work that is both enjoyable and relevant.”

Marked difference in the behaviour of the students
Many of the students have no speech but now get real-life practice in communicating with people using iPads or picture cards, which is vital for their independence and confidence.

“Students now go into the cafeteria and order their own lunches, communicating independently with the staff who now know them by name,” Honeini added. “Interaction between our students and others outside their own circle of staff is very heart-warming to see.

“I have seen a marked difference in the behaviour of the students, they are calm and happy when at the centre, and some are even humming and singing to themselves. Their confidence seems at a high. They are very communicative and are always accepting of people around them and more physical tasks.”

Two students, Georgia Ireton and Robert Barber, who particularly thrived setting up the function room for a wedding, have been put forward by staff at the centre for a Manchester City Council Be Proud award.

Nicola Moore, operations officer for the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre, said: “I am so grateful for the support the students have provided at the centre. I came in work for a meeting with my trainers only to be surprised to find that not only had the students got the equipment together but the whole room was set up - and what a good job they had done.”

The goal is to provide young people graduating from Royal College Manchester with real job skills so they are employable, either independently or with support.

To find out more about Learning Disabilities Work Experience Week visit: www.mencap.org.uk/workexperienceweek