Tag Archives: future

Finding The Right Fit Into Work


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
Podcast 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.

Resources
Employment Futures
Employment Futures on Facebook

Please subscribe to this podcast and if you have a story you would like to share I would love to hear from you just email debra@journeyskills.com

Please Review Us On iTunes

If you liked this podcast and would like to help us, please do the 1, 2, 3:
(1) Click Review on iTunes (2) Click ‘View in Itunes’; and (3) Click on ‘Ratings and Reviews’ (just to the right of ‘Details’) and leave a review.

Why Reasonable Adjustments Are Just That


Podcast Episode 61  We all understand why work is an important step toward independent living, but all to often the employment opportunities are limited for young people with additional needs. Continue reading

Guilt Trip – No Postcards Please


Guilt! More Guilt! Lots of Guilt! That’s one of the things that I really got from the latest podcast, Wake Up To Sleep, even though it was about sleep. But guilt does surround us if our child is not sleeping. In fact, so many things we do as parents and carers to children with additional needs carry around feelings of guilt even when they’re not warranted.

Vicky Dawson from The Children’s Sleep Charity talked about how parents feel guilty when they can’t do something as basic as getting their children to sleep. They feel judged, and maybe we’ve all done it. Perhaps we’ve all once thought, well if those kids had proper bedtime routines…. But it’s a very small minority of parents who don’t care when their children go to bed, so in 99.99% of cases, the judgment is ill-informed. It comes down to what is expected of us as parents how our children should be according to some arbitrary “norm” and we all feel guilty when we fail to achieve this arbitrary gold standard.

Like many parents my guilt started very early with, “what did I do?” and “am I responsible for how my daughter is?” Of course, over time I’ve realised that’s not the case but, intermittently, those thoughts return and need to be slapped away.

Guilt when my daughter has to go to the hospital. This used to much more of a regular occurrence but now we are down to about once a month, so less guilt you’d think. Of course not! In fact, it has got a bit harder as she has gotten older and questioned why she has to go to hospital. We are in transition at this point from a children’s to an adult’s hospital, and although we have always tried to make sure medical professionals talk to her, not at her (not always easy), and try to involve her in decisions, there are some decisions she isn’t actually mature enough yet to make. These decisions may impact on her long-term health and potentially her independence. So with hospitals, there is a decent serving of guilt for putting her through things she hates, and she tells us she hates, but which we know will help her long-term.

Guilt she doesn’t have enough friends. This is my problem alone because as I’ve said before I’m not even sure she is one of those people (unlike me) who needs lots of friends. But as I’m responsible for her social life, then I get the guilt of feeling have I done enough?

Guilt she watches too much of her tablet. Yes, we ration her, but sometimes when she’s been busy and is clearly overwhelmed and needs time alone we do let her retreat. Maybe not perfect parenting but practical parenting and we do have every parental control possible on. However, as her favourite viewing choices are The Big Bang Theory and Friends, I’m claiming this as an educational tool!

Guilt about being happy when I have a break from her. I’ve got over this one pretty quickly when I realised she relishes this time even more than me. Away from parents means she feels grown up, independent and all the things she strives for. No need for guilt on that one.

I could go on but then I’d feel guilty for taking up too much of your time! So let me sum up what I really think about all this guilt. It’s not my fault but it will be at fault if I don’t do absolutely everything I can to give her every opportunity she deserves to live the kind of life she wants to live. So note to self, STOP IT!

Living With Dyspraxia

Podcast Episode 41. What is Dyspraxia? If you don’t know or if you do and want to know more this week’s podcast is for you. Continue reading

SMART Planning

We all know planning ahead can help us reach our goals more easily, but when it comes to actually doing the planning well that’s not quite as easy. What got me thinking about planning was listening to the latest podcast Planning Ahead again where Laura shared the way she has helped her son plan for his independent future. I have suddenly realised that time is running out for me to make sure my daughter has clear goals that will get her to a place where independent living can be her reality. It’s fine me going on about how she will be independent, but it simply won’t happen unless there is a clear plan about how the skills she will need are to be developed and learnt.

That’s not to say I’m completely unprepared and haven’t done any planning. There are many things we do as a family to prepare her. She would argue she is a bit like Cinderella doing all the cooking and cleaning around the house. Not quite true but over the last couple of years, there has been a focus on getting her to cook both for herself and the family. She even knows how the washing machine and dishwasher work.

I think listening to Laura talk about her son resonated because she has got him to exactly where I hope I get my daughter to in a few years: he’s just about to leave full-time education equipped with many of the skills he needs for independent living. More importantly, he knows exactly what the next steps will be. He has avoided that going off the cliff edge you will have heard mentioned when it comes to what happens to our children once they finish full-time education.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for this success is the level of planning that he and his family have put in. To quote Laura, “We never concentrate on the present, it’s the future you’ve got to always be thinking about.”

So, a great idea but how to do it? Laura’s strategy was to sit down and make a list of what her son wanted to do, at least in terms of what job he might do. This is the big one really because a key part of independence is always going to be linked to a job. So, making a list of all the areas they may want to work in, then going through the list together and considering each option, very honestly, makes sense. This is a conversation I have started with my daughter, but I need to do it in a more structured way.

In terms of really getting goals written down with a structure, I plan to use the S.M.A.R.T approach. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. You may have seen this acronym before but if not, the idea is to set goals that have all of these elements. So, a goal I might set with my daughter would be  “Cook a lasagne for the family without any help by the end of this year“.

This is a very clear goal even down to the dish she is to cook so passes the specific test. It is measurable because we will be eating lasagne if she achieves it. It is achievable because it is based on what we know about her cooking skills and that is that she is ready for this next step. It is realistic also because we have been working with her and she is already doing a lot of the preparation and cooking by herself. It is time-bound because we have said exactly when we want her to have achieved this.

I think using SMART goals will work really well for my daughter. She likes to know what’s happening in her life so that’s specific and measurable covered. Achievable and realistic are in part down to us as parents, we will have to make judgements on what she is ready to do, although the big issue here is that we must be careful not to underestimate her abilities.  Time-bound is very important too. Like I said earlier, I can tell the world how I want my daughter to be independent, I can believe it but if I’m not really working to a plan to achieve it then it’s very unclear when it might happen. I do have a vague notion I would like her living away from home by 25. So, setting a time frame to achieve certain skills will ensure she is always moving forward towards that independence.

What goals to start with? As I mentioned above, work will be the main thing that needs careful planning.  I do plan to put in other things as well including skills around daily living. The example above is an actual goal but I’m thinking there will also be other goals linked around this such as shopping independently to buy all the food she might need to make a meal. We are having some challenges with social media at the moment, so there is bound to be a goal around that too.  Budgeting and dealing with money will also need some clear goals.

Of course, any plan I do make is very likely to be interrupted by unexpected events, or by a realisation that my daughter can do more than I think she can, or that some of the goals set for her need to be delayed or extended.

Using this clear goal approach has helped Laura enable her son to be independent but in a very structured way. This “helping hand” approach is a tactic that many parents use to help guide the way for their children, and it’s something that allows them to gain the confidence they need to live a more independent life. It’s one I plan to replicate and use with real purpose. It’s time I was more SMART.

One Year, Less Fear

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.

Can You Relate?

Talking with Antonia Chitty in last week’s Podcast made me start to think about the impact having a child with additional needs has on our relationships.   As she said many parents feel they don’t have anyone or anywhere to go to discuss the pressures put upon their relationships.

If you’re lucky you have support around you, but often people don’t understand the pressures. I guess that’s why we gravitate to other parents who face similar issues. Over the years I’ve made some good friends, and these friendships have started because they have understood what I’m going through and vice versa. It’s not always easy watching friends enjoy their children in ways you will never be able to.

I still remember vividly when my daughter was born and she was taken away suddenly to the special care baby unit. For a while we didn’t know whether she would live. But she’s a fighter and still is. If you’ve had the same experience I don’t need to remind you how it felt. If your child’s diagnosis was later, then you would still have had a similar experience. Coming to terms with a diagnosis can cause the same emotional stages as dealing with grief – loss, depression, anger, bewilderment and, hopefully, acceptance.

Then, in years to come, there may be empty nest syndrome for us to NOT look forward to. That is where most parents can look forward to (or not) their children becoming more independent and moving out to work or university. For many of us who have children with additional needs, this won’t happen, or at least not in the same way and certainly not as quickly. We fully intend out daughter to be independent of us, but she will be at least 25 by then, and we’ll be keeping an eye on her from afar.

Antonia reminded me we cope in different ways under stress. Some might be feeling angry about something but their partner might not appear to be as concerned. Perhaps we don’t understand why they don’t feel as angry as we do, but the reality maybe we are both at different emotional stages of coping. When everything feels like it’s becoming too much, Antonia advises getting help. Acknowledge that our situation is taking its toll. Relationships do break down, and there is a higher occurrence of this with kinds of pressures we face. But there are strategies for coping that can be learnt.

We are under different pressures at different times of our children’s life.  We need to find friends who understand the stage we are at. We mustn’t forget our partner is more than just a fellow parent and that, hopefully one day, it will just be us and them again.  It’s also important to remember that we are not alone, and that we all worry about our children’s future whether they have additional needs or not: that’s called being a parent!

For a better description of the difficulties and of the pressures upon our relationships, listen to my discussion with Antonia Chitty. She has a wealth of experience talking to parents just like us. If you’re not sure about listening to a podcast this article offers a great introduction. Antonia’s words of wisdom are well worth the effort and I thank her for reminding me I’m doing ok.