The Supportive Employer Inc. forum is a group of Warwickshire businesses formed on the foundation of a partnership between Warwickshire County Council (WCC) and the Careers Enterprise Company (CEC) to tackle employment for young people with SEND. WCC set a target of placing 100 young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) into supported internships and other employment opportunities by September 2020.
In May 2019, a range of companies and training providers came together to forge links with the aim of providing internships and valuable work experience to learners at Warwickshire’s special schools and colleges. Among the delegates was Maxine Wheeler, the Apprenticeship and Work Experience Manager with George Eliot Hospital, who outlined how far the trusts’ ambition to take on up to twelve interns has come.
The trust currently has four interns with SEND, aged between 16 and 24, on a nine-week placement. It is hoped that these will lead into paid apprenticeships and therefore lead to full-time employment.
This is planned to be the first part of a three-year programme in which four interns are taken on each year. Maxine is looking at building relationships with local special colleges to ensure there are enough suitable candidates for the internships.
Maxine said: “We want to be involved in a long-term solution with a long-term strategy to support young people in the community with sustained employment. Being part of this supportive network is great and. as we move forward, we will look to make strong links with other partners in the trust as well.”
In October 2019, Warwickshire businesses came out in force for the Supportive Employers forum with over 40 representatives from different businesses to share ideas and best practice on providing supported internships to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
Nationally there are nearly a quarter of a million people currently in education with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Out of this number, while nearly 80% would like a job, only a mere 6% actually go into paid employment. Supportive Employers are a group of businesses dedicated to tackling this issue.
Cllr Izzie Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, spoke passionately about the council’s commitment for 100 young people to access supported internships across Warwickshire with a range of employers. Claire Cookson, Deputy Chief Executive of the DFN Foundation (a charity which specialises in providing employability skills programmes for people with SEND), highlighted the shocking impact of people with SEND not working. For each person with SEND who doesn’t work costs an astonishing £1 million to the taxpayer in social care over their lifetime.
There were a range of other amazing speakers including Harvey Duncan, a 23 year old man who undertook an internship at Hereward College. He spoke of how much the internship benefited him and how he is now planning to seek full time employment, armed with the skills and experience he acquired through the internship.
The businesses gave inspiring accounts of the benefits of taking on a supported intern. Common themes were:
- Increased disability confidence in employees
- Enhanced skills developed by staff
- The bond created within teams
- A positive effect on staff morale
Future forums will help employers understand the technicalities of taking on a supported intern so that the intern’s needs are met and appropriate adjustments made to the workplace.
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 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.”