Young people in Dorset with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are to be given a helping hand to find work.
Dorset Careers Hub has convened a range of businesses, education providers, local authority organisations and other partners on a one-year programme entitled Removing Barriers.
Its aim is to raise the number of locally-based employers who are confident about taking on and supporting young people aged 16 to 19 with SEND.
Around 150 employers registered in the Dorset and BCP council areas are already in the government’s Disability Confident scheme but only three are in the top ‘Leader’ tier and seen as making a truly positive difference to diversity and inclusivity.
Removing Barriers is designed to increase the number of Disability Confident ‘Leaders’ to at least ten, creating job opportunities for around 20 young people with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), the national body for careers education, has awarded government funding to Dorset Careers Hub to lead and deliver Removing Barriers.
The hub, jointly funded by Dorset LEP and CEC, has appointed Andrew Holland of consultancy sendme2work.com as project manager.
Andrew said: “We want to change mindsets and encourage more employers to come forward and take the lead to attract, recruit and champion disabled talent.
“We will be running a series of events to reach out to employers and will provide training, mentoring and coaching.
“Employers should know there are grants available from the Department for Work and Pensions that can help when you take on and retain people with disabilities and special education needs.
“Help includes financial support from the Access to Work scheme to help with travel-to-work arrangements.”
Chelsey, an apprentice in business administration at the Bournemouth disability charity SAMEE – one of the three Disability Confident leader employers in Dorset – spoke of how the opportunity to start a supported internship two years ago had changed her life.
She said: “It really helped me with my confidence. Sometimes, because of my autism, I get really anxious about new things and places, but everyone at SAMEE made me feel really safe and secure.
“My manager always gave me extra time with every job I had to do which meant that I wasn’t rushed, and they always made sure that the workplace was quiet and calm around me which made me feel really relaxed.
“Everything they did for me meant I could concentrate on doing my best work, and I was really excited when they offered me my first ever paid job as their official Business Administration Apprentice.”
The launch of Removing Barriers comes at a time of acute skills shortages in many industry sectors.
And the scheme’s backers point to recent research by the Department for Work and Pensions showing that 73 per cent of employers who make work-related adjustments to accommodate disabled staff say it is easy to do so.
Rebecca Phillips, strategic lead at Dorset Careers Hub, said: “Removing Barriers is all about encouraging Dorset’s SMEs and larger companies to come on board and help level up opportunities so all young people can fulfil their potential.
“There are many national employers operating in Dorset who are Disability Confident but we want to reach those firms actually based here who are keen to play their part too.
“The guidance offered through the programme should encourage companies to set aside any previous concerns and take the plunge, knowing there is someone by their side throughout.
“Our focus is on young people with an EHCP who want to work but need to address and overcome challenges to find a position.
“From the employer point of view, there is huge value in cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce where everyone matters, yet nationally only 5.9 per cent of adults with a disability are in paid employment.
“More than six out of ten say they would like to work but there are too many challenges in their way.
“As its name indicates, Removing Barriers aims to change this. Success means we will truly transform people’s lives.
“And employers should know that once they have taken the step, and the company culture has shifted, they will always be able to confidently hire from this cohort.”
To reach ‘Leader’ status on the Disability Confident rankings, employers are expected to act as champions of disability employment within their local and business communities and supply chain networks.
For more information and to register as an employer on Removing Barriers, email Andrew Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further details about Dorset Careers Hub can be found at https://www.dorsetcareershub.co.uk/about-us.
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