Team Domenica – Supporting Success In The Workplace

Podcast Episode 45. Successful sustainable employment opportunities for young people with additional needs comes when support is provided for not just the young person but also for their employer too.This is the message in this week’s podcast with Lisa Campbell-Squires from Team Domenica. Team Domenica is a social enterprise charity with a vision to help people with additional needs reach their full potential in the workplace.

Lisa explained how Team Domenica was started by Rosa Monckton in response to her own daughter’s lack of training and employment opportunities. They now operate a café (Café Domenica) as well as training facilities and work with local employers using a supported internship model. Lisa also spoke of her own journey and why she had been inspired to get involved with helping young people with additional needs access employment opportunities.

Lisa explained the various programs on offer at Team Domenica, which includes a first-year introductory program that works on developing communication skills, social skills and general employability skills. This involves all the young people working in Café Domenica as well as work placements with local employers. This not only helps develop skills around teamwork and problem-solving but also allows the young people to experience different work environments, which helps them identify what types of job role really interest them.

When candidates reach the second year, they begin the Supported Internship Program. This program is based in a workplace with a specialist job coach who works with the young person and the employer. The job coach helps them work on the skills they need in their new roles which might also include how to manage their time in the workplace or travelling to and from work. The “end goal” of the Supported Internship Program is to move the young people into paid work. The success rate for doing this is very high and the team are justifiably proud of this. However, it’s not just about finding each candidate paid employment. It’s about finding them a job that they enjoy within a supportive and positive work environment.

The support from Team Domenica does not end once a young person has found paid employment. The support continues and then focuses on helping the employer deal with any issues that may arise in managing the young person at work. Lisa talked about the high numbers of young people who having completed a supported internship program and found paid employment are not in that paid role after 6 months. Lisa suggested that a reason for this was often to do with a lack of understanding when things “don’t go according to plan”. The young person may be struggling in the work environment and the employer may not have the knowledge or experience to manage the situations. To help combat this issue, Lisa and the team at Team Domenica, continue to provide long-term support for each of their candidates long after they’ve completed their supported internship.

Team Domenica has developed a very successful model for training young people with additional needs. This is clearly down in part to the focus on ongoing support for not just the young person but for everyone that is involved in helping that young person keep a job they enjoy and feel valued in.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 45 of the Journey Skills podcast. This week I’m talking to Lisa from Team Domenica. Now I’m guessing you listened to this podcast for the same reason I make it and that is to find ideas and solutions that you think might just work for your young person. And if again, you’re like me and concerned about the long-term employment opportunities for your child, then this week’s podcast is going to give you some really interesting ideas about what you should be looking for when thinking about the what next to them after full-time education.

You probably already guessed I’m a fan of supported internships, apprenticeships, work placements whatever you prefer to call them because I think they give the best opportunities for employers to actually see how capable and productive our young people with additional needs can be. Perceptions need changing and everyone I talked to who is involved in providing this type of job training tells me that it really works. The key though is that extra support for employers as well as employees. In lots of ways, we need to retrain employers to change their perceptions as much as we need to train our young people to change their expectations.

This is one area where I think the Team Domenica approach has things we can learn from. On a model isn’t going to walk into a job, she will need to work itself into a role whatever that may be. And her employer will need to work to understand how she fits into their organization. Lisa actually makes a very good point about why so many of our children come up with less than logical career choices. She says it’s partly because they don’t actually go down the usual route that most young people have which is a part-time job or weekend job.

So the Team Domenica approach takes that into account in their programme. But first you’d be in lack of foundation year, building confidence, self-belief, a bit of an understanding of what work actually is, then the second year is the more traditional supported internship work placement approach and final year is as much about supporting an employer as it is about supporting young person who’s actually in that paid job. It strikes me that each year is actually as important as the next and that this building block approach is much more likely to lead to long-term sustainable paid employment.

DEBRA: This week I am talking to Lisa Campbell-Squires who is the programme director of Team Domenica which is based in Brighton on the south coast of England. Welcome, Lisa.


DEBRA: You tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do at Team Demenica, and a little bit about Team Domenica as well or what the programme is all about?

LISA: Well, I’ve come from a teaching background, originally so I started off in mainstream education and then I moved into a special educational needs and I worked in several specialized units and then ended up working in a special school place sixteen and worked with the whole range of young people. I think after 7 years working there, I started to sort of realized that when they left us things, seem to just disappear. Sometimes, it goes on to some further education but then again inevitable was that a lot of the young people that so many resources and who had so much potential I see them walking around in the streets with their parents and it just seemed to end and it just felt such a waste. At that point, I decided to do a Master’s and one of the things I think I really took from that was that I did quite a lot around NeuroScience. We were looking at the brain development of young people aged 19 to 25 and it’s a lot of new research outside and that’s such a critical period in, this is just generally, young people’s development because that’s when the prefrontal cortex develops and that’s when your understanding of yourself, problem-solving, risk-taking develops. And that is exactly the age when education stops young people to learning disability. And those are exactly the skills that young people learn disability needs.

[Talks about Team Domenica in specific] So while I was doing my master’s, I saw an advertisement for Team Domenica and it just looked perfect, so I applied for Team Domenica and that was right at the beginning. So Rosa Monckton set up a charity after her daughter, Domenica left education and she was in catering and she found that there was nothing for her to do. So Rosa decided that she wanted to do something about it. And Rosa is incredibly dynamic, visionary woman and she makes things happen. So she set up Team Domenica to try to provide a route for young people there with disabilities to enter the workplace and to break down barriers and to sort of ensure that they were better connected to their local community. And like everyone else, had a sense of belonging in everyday life. What do I do here, well, so arriving here, set up all the programmes that we now run. I like to think that they’re very innovative in their approach because we’ve tried, we obviously you know, they all educational but they are educational I feel in the best sense and that they’re very learning-by-doing and very relevant skills. I think we’re bringing to young people with a big focus on developing communication and social skills. A lot of social interaction embedded throughout our programme, so we have at the moment we started off with one programme called the Sports Employment Programme. We’ve now got four because we’ve realized there are lots of gaps. We have the Sports Employment Programme which is like a pre-year to our supported internship programme and within that, we offer a trainee in the cafe, enrichment activities which are all team-based activities with a focus on developing communication skills, social skills and leadership skills using initiative problem-solving ready for work. And in that as well as a lot of friendships are formed and as well of a lot of team-bonding goes on. That’s sorts of things to be very important in the young people’s happiness while they’re here so we have enrichment in the afternoon, and then in the morning we do cafe training and then we do some employability skills qualifications alongside training to embezzle all skills. And laid on top of that, every young person has access to send a work experience with a job coach and during that year, we really get to know the young people, we get to know their strengths and where we see things that they find difficult, we try and fill in the gaps. That’s very personalized this programme. At the end of the year, they come out with a profile where we really know them well. They come out with a professional CV and they come out with a sense of knowing where they want to go because young people with learning disabilities, they don’t have the normal access to work experience as all the young people do.

[Talks about Team Domenica’s goals and processes] They didn’t usually have Saturday jobs. They’ve not usually had holiday jobs. And so often, if you send them away, what you want or what you want to do, they would just come up with something that they’re familiar or something that they see around. It’s not often based on making an informed choice. What we really want is the young people to start taking ownership of their lives and to make informed choices about what they want to do but that has to be based on experience. We’re very fortunate and that we work with over twenty-five local employers. You know, so we got a whole range of jobs out there and two types of employers and so the young people can have a taste and try and we get a very good sense after, you know, a year because it I think it takes that in terms of building that confidence in order to gain experience, the work placements of what they want to do. So though, fundamentally, a lot of our preparing for work is based on cafe training, it doesn’t mean everyone has to go into a cafe because I think the beauty of the cafe training and it works so well because everybody works in the cafe, irrespective if they gonna move on into cafe work or restaurant work. They’re learning so many skills that are very transferable into the workplace because they’re learning customer service skills, barista training- they’re learning to be reliable, to look smart, to take instructions and they’re working in a team. So most of those skills are very transferable into the workplace. I think with the work experience in the cafe training and obviously, with our enrichment where they’re working in a team and building their sense of self-confidence. I think all those come together to just really fully prepare them for the second year which is the support internship programme. So that is where that’s mostly based in the workplace with a job coach, specialist job coach. They work with our young people in their place of work. So the job coach will work with the employer, the parent and the young person in basically carving out the job, breaking down the tasks into manageable steps for creating resources and they work very closely with our team back here as well. And the young person also come back here for one day a week for personal mentoring and we sort of embed all the functional skills they need in that workplace. So I’m giving you an example. A young lad who’s working as a pastry chef but he does have to change quantities according to demand and he would have to teach him how to double recipes but she find incredibly hard to start off with and he’s not very good at doing that. And so we sort of look at the skills they need in the workplace and we teach them back here with our training leaders and we also work on all other associative skills. It might be about traveling to and from work, about being on time, being reliable. We teach them how to take breaks. A lot of young people have never had to manage their own time. It’s about managing their time in the workplace as well. So we’re working in all these skills with the job coach. At the end of that year, post-internship, we hope to move people into paid work.

[Talking about the Next Step in the process] We’ve been really successful this year because we’ve got seven out of nine of our young people into paid work and the two that haven’t it’s because it wasn’t right for them, because we’re not trying to push people into paid work. We’ve realized that they’re probably are better off in a more supportive work environment so we’re actually looking at setting up internal businesses where they can actually work on site. So one of them is working towards a cake-making business. From the cafe that we can sell to local people when she can make the cake when she can end being paid for that work once we develop the business. So we’re always looking for opportunities to think creatively, really, about how we can get people into work. We feel that everybody who comes here, who wants to work can and just thinking about how we do that, how we make that happen. So following our supported internship, we really notice and we feel there’s a big gap here actually but follow on work for the young people and the employer is absolutely crucial to sustain that job. So a lot of young people get paid work but if you look at the statistics for six months, you know, there’s a huge fallout and lots of people have lost their jobs. So we’re really committed to giving that long term support to the young people, their families, and employers. And so far, with everyone we’ve gotten work over the last two years, everybody still got their jobs so we’ve got we’ve kept people in work.

DEBRA: What do you think they don’t last up to six months? What’re some of the reasons that you’ve seen?

LISA: It’s often that honeymoon period. Everyone’s really excited about what’s the offering paid work and the employers really want to help but I think what happens is that sometimes a lack of understanding when things don’t go according to plan. And I think the employer feels unsure about how to manage certain situations and sometimes the families, I think if you’re unsupported in knowing how to manage some of their anxieties and stresses they see with their young people. So I can give you some examples. One is around appraisals. Obviously when employers are running appraisals, they’re used to doing it in the way they do it and there’s a lot of literacy involved in reading all the forms and there’s a process involved where people have to sit and listen to a lot of information and they have to give a lot of information and you know employers really need support in that process to make it accessible to young people and to help them sort of goals and targets to encourage to progress not just to sort of let them be getting on with the same old thing because that’s what we want young people to develop in their job role. And employers just need support often around that sort of process. They also need support sometimes around managing young people’s anxiety because obviously, it’s a huge period of transition. For anybody, transitions are difficult but for young people with learning disabilities, it’s huge. They’re becoming more independent. They’re surrounded not by their peers anymore. It’s a real huge period adapting to a work environment. People aren’t there for them, they’re there to do a job and to take direction and sometimes they can sort of get a bit lost in that.

[Tells us more reasons] And the levels of anxiety can then prevent them from doing their job or the employer may see it as non-compliance. And so it’s coming in, we had a young person who experiences very high levels of anxiety. When there’s a decorating being done and the rooms have moved and they had new staff on and the employer, you know, felt that they didn’t really know how to manage a cynic that could jeopardize that young person’s place longer term, but we went in and we talked to them about sensory overload and we talked about change and we talked about ways they could help manage that situation perhaps in the future and we gave them some tools and resources. The consequence of that is the employer, I think, they learned a lot and I felt real that that actually really helped them to probably better understand other employees and perhaps some of their members of the public, in terms of what we’ve talked about anxiety linked to autism. And also, I think it made them feel really good because they were able to help and I think employers just that’s what they want to do. I mean in our experience, all employers have been amazing but they just don’t necessarily know how to do it, so that second year is absolutely I think crucial for that and it’s also for parents as well because we’re supporting parents in letting their children become more independent and that’s a scary process. I think for them to know that we’re there to catch things and then they can come to us if there’s a problem. I think that allows parents to let go and allows the young person to really flourish with their independence and to stop traveling to-from work by themselves.

DEBRA: How do you identify employers and what some of the challenges in getting employers to take someone out?

LISA: We’re very lucky because we have a process by which we got one person whose job is to go out and find employers and she’s our Employer Engagement Manager. And so, she goes out, but we’ve identified a whole range of employers often in locality because everyone’s, you know, we’re in Brighton and we’ve looked at big employers, small employers and we’ve gone for once that are well-known but equally we’re very influenced by our young people so our young people come to us and they might make suggestions about where they want to work so then we approach them all types of work and then we look into it. So like the minute we’re looking we really trying to sell some office posts from work because we found somebody who is amazing in the post room but actually sort of trying to find, you know, big enough post room where they can hopefully get paid work. So that’s an example to say that’s being driven by the young person themselves. And so in doing that, we’ve ended up sort of branching out into so many different types of work so we work within the creative industry, we work within catering, retail, hospitality. So I think it’s a case of going in providing employers with a flavor of Team Domenica and that knowing that we’re gonna give them support and they make a commitment and then I think we just prove what we do by doing and then of obviously, word of mouth as well and our employee feedback, with other people. So it spreads. We’ve got quite a good reputation now and we’ve got really good feedback from our employers and so I think then that gives other employers confidence to take a chance and take on one of our young people.

DEBRA: So when the candidates come to you, they walk in the door or they come from another place, what sort of process, do you have an interview process for them?

LISA: Yeah. What we do first of all is we want every young person that comes here is got to be driven from their desire. Quite straightforwardly, people have to want to come here, they have to be prepared to commit. Those criteria absolutely critical. And we have interviews where we get to know them and we also have lots of questions. They didn’t have to know what they want to do but we really want to see a drive and a commitment from them in terms of this is what they want because it’s not right for everyone we don’t want the pushing people into doing something if it’s not what they want to do. That is sort of procedure. We don’t have criteria, that level of disability. It’s about people’s commitment and desire to want to find work.

DEBRA: And once they start, they didn’t go through that three-year programme?

LISA: Well, when people come in, once we’ve already spoken, we take people and we do what’s best for them so most people come in and they don’t have an absolute, definite idea about where they want to work. I mean, if people do and they’re very clear and it’s based on experience and it seems the right thing for them and their parents and families as well then we will just put them straight on supported internship programme but a majority of young people come and they have not really quite got confidence in the workplace and not really quite sure what they want to do. And they often come here having been quite isolated. And so the first programme, really gives them the skills and the sort of confidence and strength, resilience really, to go into the second year and it’s been successful because in that first year, you know, people showing courage to see the first year because they got a real chance to practice working in the cafe and they get experience of going out and meeting employers and working from different work placements and they also get to make friends. And those friends and bonds are important in working. All our young people here, they have the same desires and wants as once everyone else, it’s no difference. And that is, you know, to have a sense of belonging. And to have friends and have a purpose in their life which is where work comes in to get up in the morning and know where you want to go. I think this first year is sort of really sets people up with the skills and the right network, really, then move on into the second year where they’re mostly based in the workplace and they’ve already created all the connections from the first year and so they go out feeling very supported and they know that they can come back and they’ve got sort of a big family of support.

DEBRA: What’s the place for the future for Team Domenica?

LISA: Short-term, we’re opening another cafe in Hove livelihood so that’s gonna widen the opportunities we can offer. Our cafe here, we got the training center upstairs but I think what’s gonna be great is now we’re gonna have a cafe in Hove and it’s gonna be a very different type of cafe, with a whole range of different people coming in now and out. And it also offers a very different sort of experience as well because I think we think it’s gonna be busier but it’s gonna be fast the pace, quicker. So people are gonna have to work at a quicker pace. In terms of long term plans, Rosa, our founder, is incredibly ambitious and she would like to see this expanded, I think long term, nationally. So we’ve got a really good model. It’s working. We can see by our outcomes but we now need to sort of just make sure that all our processes and procedures already in place. Once we’ve got that in place, we can then sort of use that model to generate other ones around.

DEBRA: What do you think has been the impact in the local community of Team Domenica?

LISA: I think one of the things that have been so lovely to see is just the candidates serving the public in a very natural way. The public now comes in, our customers come in and it’s seen as very normal interaction and learning disability is not seen as something that’s hidden away or special. It’s just seen as a normal part of diversity in the community and we’ve noticed that since we’ve sort of more visible and our people have been visible, we’ve also been contacted by a lot of other groups in the community which is, you know, it’s bit like an octopus, spreading tentacles. A lot of other people have been interested. We’re now training doctors. Our trainee doctors, you know, they come in and they join in in our enrichment programme with our students. They learn, you know, breaking down barriers and making people sort of think differently. The local police have come in asked us to go in morning sessions and offer us autism awareness training and they’ve talked to us about our candidates having cards that they can carry around with them so that then known in the local community. Because what we’re doing as well as not only finding people work, but we are branching out into the community in becoming more independent and they also need to all those structures out there in order to do that and we also work with lots of local enrichment providers and again that has widened out our young people’s opportunities because there are things to do in the evening and it means our young people socialize in the evening and meet and do the normal things they should be doing like any other young adult.

You know, this has been a journey for us because we’re trying something new. And what I think we’ve worked is when you have to be brave, when you’re trying new things, and we are constantly reflecting on what we do and trying to make it better but I think, fundamentally, we know what we’re doing is working because we’re getting amazing outcomes and we’ve seen most incredible transformation in the young people that come in here. When they come and when they go out which is witnessed by their parents, families, and employers. So I think, we’ve really all believe, so strongly, that what we’re doing is working and we want to expand what we do to help others and hopefully change that right from 6 percent employment up to a rate which is at the moment we’ve managed to get 40 percent and we’re gonna obviously aim higher but we would like to see that change so that a lot of in our society we can actually see young people with a learning disability, everywhere, where we go in the workplace and seen as normal is not seen as unusual because they deserve and have every right to partake in society.

DEBRA: Thank you very much for your time, Lisa.

LISA: Okay, thank you.

DEBRA: Key takeaways? For one really, that we need to support both the young person and the employer to help them work together for the long-term.

Cafe Domenica
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