LORD Don Touhig met with colleagues from learning disability charity Hft and hygiene provider phs Group, and some of the interns from their supported employment programme, last week to learn about the opportunities they offer in partnership with DFN Project SEARCH.
Lord Touhig was given the opportunity to explore the range of work that takes place at PHS’s head office in Caerphilly. He spoke to some of the graduates of the DFN Project SEARCH scheme about their experiences of gaining permanent paid employment as learning disabled adults and learnt about the benefits that both they and phs have seen from taking part in the scheme.
He also participated in a Q&A session with the current interns and graduates where he asked questions about their jobs and was himself questioned about his role in the House of Lords.
Reflecting on the visit, Lord Touhig said:
“I’d like to thank everyone involved for the most exciting couple of hours on Friday. I was bowled over by what I saw – everything you’re doing is inspirational.
“For the students, what is on offer is truly life-changing and I’m sure they themselves and their families will forever be grateful. I hope to stay in touch with the team and help where I can.”
Julie Harries, Work Based Learning Lead at phs, added:
“We are extremely proud of the programme. Hosting the scheme for Project SEARCH interns with learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum conditions over the past few years has been such a valuable experience for us as a company.
“We first became involved in the programme as an initiative to ‘give back’ to our local community, but we’ve been delighted to find that the experience has enhanced every part of our organisation. As much as our interns learn from our phs colleagues during placements, they provide just as many opportunities for our colleagues to learn and develop too. By becoming mentors and placement support, our people are learning new skills every day, as well as learning about disability in the workplace, how to make reasonable adjustments and remove any barriers faced by our interns.
“It brings us a diversity of individuals, a diversity of thought, and as evidenced by how many interns we offer permanent roles afterwards- it brings us fantastic team members. PHS Group is more reflective of the society we live in and a better business as a result of this project- and we would recommend that all businesses look into providing more opportunities to students like these.”
Among learning disabled adults, only 4.8% currently have a paid job because of significant barriers to accessing employment such as a lack of support from employers and negative attitudes.
Hft currently works with DFN Project SEARCH, a transition-to-work scheme for young learning disabled or autistic adults, on a number of programmes across England and Wales. Their aim is to help bridge the gap between education and employment by creating supported employment internships in varied sectors across the UK, and with a number of reputable employers like phs.
Victoria Hemmingway, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at Hft concluded:
“This visit was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the work Hft does as a supported employment provider. It was also an opportunity to explain the difficulties learning disabled adults face when searching for employment, and how important the right support is to help learning disabled adults find meaningful, long-term employment.
“I’d like to thank Lord Touhig for taking the time to visit the site and for wanting to learn more about the barriers facing learning disabled adults.”