In terms of employment, people with learning disabilities appear to be the most disadvantaged group in Scotland and more work needs to be done to increase their employability, according to a new report.
The report, Mapping the Employability Landscape for People with Learning Disabilities in Scotland, by the Scottish Commission for Learning Disabilities (SCLD), found that the employment rate for people with a learning disability is in the range of 7-25%, compared to a disability rate of 42% and an overall employment rate of 73%. For people with a learning disability who are in work, 65% to 70% work less than 16 hours per week; and only half are employed in the open market. SCLD’s report notes that it is important to recognise the distinction between real, sustainable employment and part-time or sheltered employment that can effectively act as a substitute for day care.
At the launch of the report, Alexander McTier from the Training and Employment Research Unit at the University of Glasgow, stated that in terms of employment, people with learning disabilities appear to be the most disadvantaged group in Scotland.
There are a number of factors behind this. For instance, the report says there is a substantial challenge in overcoming low expectations that parents, teachers, college lecturers, employers and society at large have of people with a learning disability. People with a learning disability are not always encouraged to see themselves as having a valuable role to play in society and the labour market, unduly limiting individuals’ aspirations of what jobs and careers they are able to do.
Weaknesses were also identified in the education system, including poor quality of teaching, institutional admission policies, physical access, segregation, and delays in appropriate learning support being provided. In addition, while 52% of school leavers with a learning disability go to college, there is a danger of ‘cycling’ between different courses rather than being supported along a pathway into employment as well as insufficient support to make the jump to further education, higher education or employment.
Cultural change is also needed among employers. For instance, some still carry misconceptions about people with learning disabilities and their ability to carry out routine jobs, and employers need to be encouraged to invest in the career development and progression of employees with a learning disability over the longer-term.
Supported employment services also came in for criticism, with a lack of a strategic, co-ordinated approach highlighted as leading to variation in standards across the country. Also, a lack of quality standards, underpinned by accredited staff training and lack of long-term sustainable funding was also hampering services.
But there was consensus on what works to support people with learning disabilities into and in employment, with the approach set out in the Supported Employment Framework remaining good practice. Key points raised were the importance of:
• Being employment focused from the start, working with parents and carers to raise expectations and developing a family commitment to moving into real, sustainable employment
• Thorough vocational profiling so that each client’s skills, qualities, ambitions and support needs can be fully understood leading on to good quality work experience placements in real work environments
• Job matching that remains person-centred led and builds on the vocational profiling. Proactive engagement with employer that takes into account their needs and concerns
• Maintaining strong relationships with employers and providing ongoing support and advice to them. Ensuring reasonable adjustments are made for the employee and that they are working in a supportive environment
• Experienced job coaches to provide on/off the job support and aftercare and gradually phase out the support as appropriate.
The SCLD’s report contained a number of recommendations for action, noting that it will require long-term commitment from parents, carers, schools and colleges, as well as employability services and employers to increase the employment rate of people with learning disabilities.
The recommendations include establishing more effective joined-up employment pathways for people with a learning disability and securing extra resources/funding for learning disability employability services.
More specifically, the report recommended that Scottish Government give greater priority to employability/employment of people with a learning disability and set Scotland’s employers the target of 4% of employees to be people with a learning disability.
For local authorities, it recommends they develop directories of employability services for people with a learning disability and stablish supported employment services in all local authority areas.
It calls on Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to collect and report learning disability data so that people accessing MAs, national programmes and employment can be monitored and reported. It also recommends they embed learning disability good practice in its contracted provision with providers of SDS programmes promoting the Supported Employment Framework as best practice.
For Scottish Funding Council and Scotland’s Colleges it recommends bringing a greater focus on progression into real, sustainable employment. This may require more developed joint working with employers so that learners are developing skills in real workplaces not just college settings.