Supportive Employers come together to create opportunities for supported interns

Warwickshire’s businesses, colleges and training providers came out in force once again for the second Supportive Employers Inc. forum with around 40 representatives from businesses joining Warwickshire County Council (WCC) and the Careers and Enterprise Company in Coventry and Warwickshire (CEC).

The morning session was the latest in a planned series of events to bring businesses together to share ideas and best practice on providing supported internships to people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) following on from May’s inaugural event.

The government has committed to a 20% increase in the uptake of apprentices with SEND by 2020.  Nationally, there are nearly a quarter of a million people currently in education with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Of this number, while nearly 80% would like to get a job, a mere 6% actually go into paid employment.

The Supportive Employers Inc. partnership between the county council and the CEC is looking to create a network of businesses that can offer work experience and potentially apprenticeships.

As well as representatives from WCC and the CEC, other agencies were represented including the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions who advised businesses on how they could access support from the department.

Giving the national picture was Claire Cookson, newly-appointed Chief Executive of the DFN Foundation, a charity which specialises in providing employability skills programmes for people with SEND.

Among the stark figures that Claire highlighted was the cost to the economy of people with SEND not working – an estimated £1million to the taxpayer in social care over the course of a lifetime for each person with SEND.

Also speaking was Natasha Hope who started her career as a supported apprentice and is now enjoying her job at the British Forces Resettlement Service where she is a hugely valued employee. When asked what she hoped would be an outcome from the meeting, she said:  “If one thing comes out of today, I would like to see more businesses give opportunities to people who don’t have as many qualifications as other people their age.”

The overall positive effect on staff morale, increased disability confidence in employees, enhanced skills developed by staff and the bond created within teams were also recurring themes. As they left, businesses signed pledges, promising levels of support to the programme ranging from offering work experience through to taking on an intern.

Future forums will help employers to understand the technicalities behind taking on a supported internship so that the intern’s needs are met and appropriate adjustments made to the workplace.  The Department for Work and Pensions will also provide advice on funding and support to help businesses make offers.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, said:

“The county council is committed to increasing the number of people with SEND who are getting opportunities to take on paid employment.  The county council is looking at every way possible to increase our own take up of interns and we will encourage and work with local businesses to increase the breadth of offer across the county and across a range of businesses. We made another very significant step at this forum.”

Lizzie Mara is one of the CEC’s Enterprise Co-ordinators based at Coventry and Warwickshire’s Chamber of Commerce. She said:

“Young people with SEND are less likely to take exams that employers recognise, such as GCSEs. They also have higher rates of unemployment than other students. Many young people with SEND would benefit from additional cover support such as supported internships, apprenticeships and employment, extended workplace interviews, supported enterprise activities and volunteering. With the support and encouragement, many of these students can access the broad range of career outcomes available to their peers including apprenticeships, employer training schemes, university or employment.”

Maxine Wheeler, the Apprenticeship and Work Experience Manager with George Eliot Hospital, outlined the trust’s ambition to widen participation and create opportunities for  supported internships with a view to these being transitioned  into full time Apprenticeship employment for up to 12 people across a range of disciplines including catering, estates, administration and GETEC.  She said of the forum: “It has been an invaluable exercise and helped me to realise that this is not just achievable but that it could really make a huge difference to the NHS as it seeks to achieve its ambitions in widening participation and making employment opportunities within the NHS available across all of our communities.

“Today has given us the contacts to tap into the talent pool and see if we can find some suitable interns – and ultimately staff – that we can work with. It’s really exciting and I hope that other enterprises have been as inspired as I have because we can make a difference and our organisations will be all the better for it.”

For further information, contact faywinterburn@warwickshire.gov.uk