Regular readers will know why we started Journey Skills. Fear of the future. Fear of what would happen to our daughter when she finishes full time education, which is coming towards us way too fast. So, one year on from when we launched Journey Skills, I am pleased to say I’m not afraid anymore. It has been a pleasure and privilege to talk to and share the stories of so many fantastic people. I’ve found some fabulous solutions to many of the problems I anticipated, which has made me very optimistic for my daughters future.
One key part of my daughter’s independent future will be a job. Finding paid work is not an easy task for young people with additional needs, often because of negative perceptions around their ability to work. Hence, nothing takes away my future fears more than hearing what is possible and what forward thinking people are doing to change the world of work my daughter will jump into in a few years. In my latest podcast, Providing Opportunity Not Charity, I talked to Steve Chapman and Matt Clifton, from Skillnet Group, who are doing their bit to alleviate my fears.
Matt is the Chief Executive and Steve is a former client of Skillnet. Steve now mentors young people placed with employers on internships. He also spends time educating employers as to why those with additional needs make excellent employees. Skillnet Group started in part as a result of a white paper issued in the UK in 2001 called ‘Valuing People’. While you might not have time or inclination to read all of it, the executive summary is worth a read, even if to be a good reminder of how far we have come.
This report identified where change was needed and this, along with the frustrations felt by a small group of people who believed the services being offered did not enable people to develop, grow or progress led to the creation of the Skillnet Group. The focus is on developing initiatives where choice and control are put into the hands of the people using them. The focus is on real work where people with additional needs are valued and seen as contributors not passive recipients of care. A key part of the operational structure of Skillnet is that they are not a charity, something Matt was keen to stress. Matt recognises that there are many charities, across varied sectors, doing excellent work. However, he also believes that often the concept of charities can reinforce an imbalance of a power where there are helpers and people being helped. Skillnet is a social enterprise and operates very much as a business. It sell services as a supportive and nurturing employment agency.
Steve illustrates what can happen when opportunities are provided. If you listen to the podcast you will hear Steve explain how his initial involvement with Skillnet was through attending courses, and how he quickly realised that this wasn’t enough for him. He felt his strengths lay in talking to others, particularly employers. He knew he could help change the attitudes of employers towards people with additional needs. Steve passionately believes everyone has a need and desire to earn their own money, and are empowered as a result of doing so.
Organisations like Skillnet Group, Ignition Brewery, REDinc and The Ark Project give hope. While these organisations may not necessarily be the right fit for my daughter, or your child, somewhere out there is the solution. In the meantime I shall keep looking and sharing what I find and I hope you will continue to come on the the journey with me.