We all have a group of people we feel most similar to, who we identify with. For many of us, it is a group of other parents on a similar journey to our own. My daughter’s group at the moment are her friends at her specialist school. Her friends are in her own word “just like her” and that makes her feel secure. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say and I totally agree. However, there is one problem and that is that this doesn’t reflect the real world of work that she will one day go out into.
So, when one of the ideas discussed in my latest podcast was around an integrated workforce it made me think about the kind of workplaces young people with additional needs really might want to be part of. The main topic of the podcast Enterprising Ideas at Acceptable Enterprises was around creating sustainable economically viable businesses in order to then meet social objectives. But a key part of their model was the idea of 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3, which is where they try to employ in each of their businesses 1/3 people with additional needs, 1/3 people who have faced challenges in their lives, such as mental health issues, and 1/3 people from the local community.
David, the CEO of Acceptable Enterprises, argues this is much more reflective of the real world. It also creates more opportunity to change perceptions and increase understanding on all sides. Breaking down negative perceptions seems to the first job to be done to enable people with additional needs to be considered on an equal playing field when it comes to employment. So, by bringing people together in this way this must help change perceptions. Work also helps to tackle another major issue, that of social isolation and creates a community both inside the workplace and then outside in wider society.
David also discussed a “perception” that if a company employs people with additional needs, it will impact on the quality of the product or service. The online reviews Acceptable Enterprises receive strongly refute this idea. However, as he suggested the prospect of making reasonable adjustments when hiring employees with additional needs can be quite daunting. However, if you listen to the podcast you will hear how Acceptable has very successfully made these reasonable adjustments.
The most successful employment opportunities, I have discovered, have involved organizations being part of the community right from the start, such as REDinc and Ignition who both strive to become part of their local community and, by doing so, change the ideas people might have about people with additional needs.
Now I’m starting to wonder if we need to take this a step further and be working towards an integrated workforce, not just projects that help young people with additional needs but projects where the focus is also about encouraging everyone to start working together. Surely this would help change perceptions quicker and combat social isolation at the same time.