Podcast Episode 65 It’s not only about finding work, it’s about matching the skills of the person with the job. This is the view of Derek Groves, from Employment Futures, who discusses the idea of vocational matching and the many benefits it brings to a young person with additional needs and to employers. He also talks about how employers still have some way to go in terms of being flexible in their employment practices, especially when it comes to the use of a traditional interviewing process which simply does not allow some young people to showcase their strengths.
Another issue that Derek addresses is positive disclosure, that is how much to disclose to an employer about an individual’s additional needs. Although, as he says, its a personal choice in many instances, it can help the employer match the person with a job role and ensure that reasonable adjustments are possible without being costly or disruptive to the workplace.
The work of organizations like Employment Futures is so important in breaking down the barriers into work and helping employers change their perceptions about employing young people with additional needs.Show Full Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 65 of the Journey Skills podcast. No prizes but guessing the theme of this week’s podcast, yes it’s work, but to be honest I make no apology for that because I believe that this particular interview will add to our knowledge around work and that’s no bad thing.
I’m talking to Derek from the North East Autism Society about their Employment Futures program. And again, although it’s a UK-based organization, it’s a bit like the last episode when I spoke to the Able Coffee Roaster guys in Los Angeles, much of the information that’s shared is universal. Although the North East Autism Society is clearly focused on helping a particular group, what Derek says is very transferable for anyone looking at the employment issue.
Derek explains how the Employment Futures program works by being very person-centric and trying to find people jobs that fit their specific skills or Vocational Matching as Derek calls it. He also talks about the dreaded reasonable adjustments and again highlights the lack of understanding of this term. He also shares some of the challenges they see and provides I think some key advice, especially around positive disclosure.
You could say this is an all Australian final as you may have noticed that Derek is from my part of the world and it’s a final because the podcast will now take a short holiday break and we’ll be back again on September the 9th. However, I’ll be taking the opportunity to do a series of videos over the summer highlighting previous podcast episodes, not just about work but also, about daily living skills and relationships.
DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Derek Groves who’s the Employment Service Manager for Employment Futures which is the department of North East Autism Society which is based in the North East of England. Employment Futures is an organization which is focused on helping young people with additional needs access employment opportunities. Welcome, Derek!
DEREK: Hi, thank you very much, Debra, for the opportunity to talk today.
DEBRA: Can you tell me a little bit about first of all yourself and then also about what Employment Futures is all about?
DEREK: Yes, so, I’m a father of a son who’s on the spectrum and so I’m very keen to make some changes happen within the field of employment. From a personal level, to see that he can go on and get into a satisfactory job which he can contribute, add value and enjoy and also the work that I do now; working with individuals and seeing once they do find that right fit in an environment that’s good and productive. The joy that comes from that, it’s a very special feeling.
DEBRA: What does Employment Futures do? It’s part of a large organization, so how is it different than the rest of that organization?
DEREK: I guess we consider ourselves the baby of the organization. The North East Autism Society as a charity has been around for over 35 years. It is grown from a small collective of parents starting a school to now delivering education services, residential care services, family support, day programs. They didn’t have an employment service and it’s only 3 years ago that we identified really that there was that gap in provision, a need for that and demand out there and so along with the CEO and the support of the trustees, we launched Employment Futures as a department. It started up very small, just the 2 of us as a team working with a very small provision to support a handful of people. It’s grown over that 3 year period to now having 12 staff and last year, we reached 191 people. So, it’s growing and we believe that it’s having an impact. Certainly, the joy of seeing somebody in their first job and being productive and enjoying that is fantastic.
DEBRA: What kind of programs do you have within Employment Futures?
DEREK: So all of our programs and employment services start with quite a thorough assessment. We really believe in person-centered planning; putting the individual and their needs at the centre rather than trying to fit them into a standardized program or training course. So we need to start that by really understanding what’s going on for that individual in their world. That profiling we use a tool called Dua Profiler which really gives quite a holistic look in terms of financial position, what’s their situation with regard to benefits, mental health position, a sensory profile so understanding what environmental factors need to be considered in looking at workplace and putting all that information together really gives us the opportunity to develop that person-centered plan. And that’s how we start all our programs.
DEBRA: So once you find out information about them, what’s the next step after that?
DEREK: So we develop with them an individual action plan from all of the things I’ve identified. It might be really poor sleep routines and poor sleep habits and trying to withdraw and address that before putting them into all a situation of a workplace. We develop that action plan in agreement with them around what are the priorities, what do we really need to focus on. And some of them are real health and well-being stuff so, you know, sleep patterns is a big issue for many of the participants we work with. Then the action plan goes through usually one to one, working with a job coach to support them through those activities to move them forward.
And then we can engage in the actual process of linking them with an employer. So there’s a second person from my team called an Employer Engagement Officer, which is a full-time role, out there educating employers out there representing the individuals we work with and selling the skills and abilities and the talents that they’ve got to employers. And their role is really pivotal but it’s the combination of the two. One we can work with participant and overcome some of the barriers that they might currently have but you’ve also got to work with the employers and educate them and talk to them about reasonable adjustments. So that’s the two working together.
DEBRA: When you said before you put together a personal plan, sometimes do you find that people will come and they need to upskill before they can even get to the employer?
DEREK: Yes, certainly, for many people progression to structured training may be part of their pathway to employment. So, we try and work by matching people to both their skills and their interests. If you can find a job that you’re good at and you enjoy, you’re streets ahead; you’re a long way there to making it work for the long-term. So, we start with that mentality, but in many cases, there will be some skills that they need in order to get into a career in that field. So, we do work with training providers and access different provisions that will get them that next step along the way.
DEBRA: Let’s say they find a role for a young person that you’re helping; is there an interview process that they go through with the employer?
DEREK: Yes, we deliver our training with the employer. So, often our employers will have some or limited knowledge about autism but because the employer engagement officer also knows the individual and how autism specifically affects them, they’re able to deliver meaningful training, able to give training to a line manager or a supervisor so that they can understand how to best support this person in the workplace.
We’re also disability confident lead, leader organization, so we promote and advocate for disability confident, reasonable adjustments in the workplace. We also, with some employers are doing what’s known as a workplace assessment so if they feel that the circumstances, the environment, the factors that were mentioned before regarding a sensory profile may contribute to a person’s anxiety or distress, we can go into the workplace with the support of the employer and understand the environment the person’s going to be working in, make some reasonable adjustment recommendations for them as well. So really, in order to make it sustainable and working for both the employer and the employee, you got to be talking about that full picture and reasonable adjustments.
DEBRA: What kind of employers have you been able to work with so far?
DEREK: They’re really quite a broad range. It’s necessary because the variety of personal interests that people who come with, you need to work across a broad range of industries and sectors. There is definitely the IT community whether it’s from their ability to make reasonable adjustments; I’m seeing larger employers across the region who are quite flexible in a way that they can support individuals. It’s also an area where there is a skills shortage and skills in demand for that sector. So it seems more amicable to taking people in and making those kinds of adjustments in order to make it work. But we work across a really broad range of sectors.
DEBRA: Can you give me some examples of reasonable adjustments? What have employers done?
DEREK: Yes, they can be quite simple things. So, one of the misconceptions that we overcome with the employers is that it’s going to be expensive, that they’re going to have to change a lot of things in order to make it work. And in many cases, the adjustments are really quite simple. The young man who’s working in an open-plan office, for example, is wearing headphones and playing his own music to tune out all of the peripheral noises that would be otherwise be quite distractive for him, would build up and cause him some sense of sensory overload but being to wear headphones and letting the employer know that this is part of his strategy. It works for both the employer and for the employee.
DEBRA: Can you give me some examples of challenges that you’ve found with the reasonable adjustments where I guess organizations have maybe struggled? Have there been examples of that?
DEREK: Yes, one of the things that I think we would like to see more progress in is around standardized recruitment. Many of the larger organizations struggle with adjusting the interview application process to suit people that might have challenges with social communication. It’s, to some level, somewhat frustrating because we know that the evidence is that interviewing people for 20 minutes doesn’t necessarily get you the best person for the job. And we’re strong advocator of working interviews, we try and encourage employers where they’re able to adapt to providing a working interview situation where the person can go in and practically demonstrate what they can do rather than trying to sit and talk about it for 20 minutes.
DEBRA: The young people that come to you? Do they come through the North East Autism Society or did they come from external?
DEREK: Mostly, they’re external referrals. Some through self-referral, they’ll identify from the website or our Facebook presence that actually we’ve got some services they might want to access. Others will come from a Job Centre referral, so they are registered with an unemployment service. I think the specialism that we have and the differences that we have any provision make us attractive for job center to refer them to us as well.
DEBRA: I guess as a parent of a young person who’s getting to work age and you want to look for roles for them, what kind of tips would you have for parents to help them I guess make the transition into work and make it easier for their young person?
DEREK: So vocational matching. The idea of trying to match the job and the role to the skills and abilities of the person. There is a bit of a science to it but if you can start with what their key interests are, what things really they get enthusiastic about and what things are their strengths, what are their good characteristics and traits. And everybody has a combination of those. If you can work with those, identify those and then look at how do I match those particular employers that value those skills and abilities. It’s the strongest way to go forward by vocational matching.
DEBRA: You mentioned about the job coach, what’s their role with the young person?
DEREK: Yes, so they’ll be working with them on the individual aspects that they’ve identified. For many individuals, it will be about things like managing their anxiety and teaching them some self-regulation techniques where they might be able to identify when they’re getting anxious and identify some strategies that work for them, that they can use and implement to kind of self-manage that to some degree. It could be around practical things like CVs and then preparing for a combination of talking with employers.
One of the things that I do think still differentiates us is we talk about positive disclosure: How do you talk to an employer? When do you talk to the employer and what do you say if you’re going to disclose that you’ve got autism? It’s an area that I don’t think there is enough conversation about. I think that it’s a very important conversation to have. And I think that people often walk into it unprepared. So, preparing an individual for that conversation in the workplace is an important part of what we do as well.
DEBRA: Do you think that transparency is an essential part at the very beginning?
DEREK: It is a personal choice and we always advocate it’s not a legal requirement that they have to disclose and many will have reservations about doing so because of a past experience that they’ve had but we do encourage that. Particularly a disability confident employer, if you’re able to disclose and do so when it’s framed in a positive manner, the employer usually has a desire to help and support so if they’re not informed, don’t know about the needs, they’re not able to do all they could in order to support an individual.
DEBRA: Have you noticed that employers changing then in their perception of employing young people with additional needs? You’ve been going for about 3 years you said, so have you noticed changes?
DEREK: Yes, I think so. I think that there’s more public awareness of it and that drives employers change, behavior changes. I think that we’re starting to get more publicity around those good case scenarios and that also drives some competitive nature among businesses when they see that actually, somebody else in the same sector is doing a great initiative at working. Other employers are more likely to onboard and do their own programs and initiatives. So I think that’s a new trend that we’re seeing.
DEBRA: Do you also think there’s a better understanding that employers need support as much as the young people?
DEREK: Yes, I think that there are support mechanisms out there but I don’t think they’re widely understood. I mentioned disability confident and I know that that campaign is still growing and employers are coming on board to that initiative. There’s also access to work and many employers either are not aware or unfamiliar with just how flexible it is in terms of supporting non-physical disabled individuals. There’s a vast amount that can be done through an access to work grant.
DEBRA: In terms of the future then for I guess two parts of the future really; the future of what you’re doing at Employment Futures but what do you also think the future of young people working in a more wide range of industries will be?
DEREK: I think it’s great, potentially. I think they’ve got a lot to contribute. We know individuals who’ve been very successful in work and I think the more that that’s public and the employers are aware of that, the greater the acceptance and the greater the level that they’re prepared to, to take people on and make those reasonable adjustments in the first place. I do see it trending in the right way. I do think we’re still a long way to go. There are still organizations that are very traditionally based in their recruitment and not inclined to make those adjustments so I’d like to see that trend continue.
DEBRA: Key takeaway? The idea of vocational matching and how important that can be in terms of finding a young person a role that they really want to be in and that really takes advantage of their skills.
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