Supportive Employers come together to create opportunities for supported interns

Warwickshire’s businesses came out in force for the inaugural Supportive Employers Inc. forum with over 40 representatives from businesses joining Warwickshire County Council and the Careers and Enterprise Company in Coventry and Warwickshire (CEC).

The morning session was the first 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).

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 Employer 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.

Speakers included Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, who stated the council’s commitment for 100 young people to access supported internships within Warwickshire across a range of different employers. Other speakers included Louise Saunders of National Grid, Deborah Pendleton of the RSC and Sandra Trainor of GEFCO, all of whom spoke about their businesses’ experience of supporting interns.

Giving the national picture was Claire Cookson, Deputy 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.

Harvey Duncan, a 23 year old man who had undertaken an internship at Hereward College also gave the audience his own insight into his own internship and how it had benefited him. Having worked at the college after finishing his education, Harvey is now set to return to his family home in London and seek full-time employment, armed with the skills and experience he has acquired through the internship.

The businesses who have already gone on the journey gave inspiring accounts of the benefits of taking on a supported intern, not least of all was the pipeline of talent, with people with SEND consistently displaying great attention to detail, a conscientious approach to duties and attendance and the opportunity for businesses to make efficiencies via job carving.

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.

Mark Ryder, Strategic Director for Communities at 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.”

Lizzie Mara, Enterprise Co-ordinator for the Careers and Enterprise Company in Coventry and Warwickshire, 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 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.”

CASE STUDY: Louise Saunders – National Grid

Louise Saunders is a Safety, Health and Environment Manager for National Grid.  She set up the Employability supported internship programme in 2014 at their Solihull office, a year after the programme was developed and successfully launched at the business’ Warwick head office the year before.

Together with a small team, Louise has built partnerships with Selly Oak Trust School and Woodlands School in Coleshill, offering four internships each year. From an employer’s perspective, Louise said there are huge benefits of supporting students with SEND, from team bonding and developing team skills, to increasing employee’s disability confidence.

Louise added, “we see a huge increase in the intern’s confidence and social skills in a very short space of time, which often astounds both parents and the schools themselves. They learn real employability skills and are treated like employees, experiencing placements in a variety of functions from portering to data validation.  And we know our programme delivers real results, as we are achieving on average 55% of National Grid’s interns going onto achieving paid employment, many within National Grid – a vast improvement on the national average of only 6%.

“For me personally, being a part of this wonderful programme has been a highlight of my career and I know many of my colleagues share this view. I would love to see many more employers offering supported internship programmes and discovering the benefits it can bring to them as well as to students with SEND.