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Employing people with a learning disability – what does Good look like?

Employing people with a learning disability – what does Good look like?

Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs
Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs

Gwyneth is a familiar sight to other staff in our Sheffield office. She comes in once a week, and is supported to do a variety of office jobs. Gwyneth cleans (scours!), does the shredding and other jobs.

She’s well loved by the staff, but woe betide anyone who tries to make a drink whilst she is in the kitchen! Similar arrangements are in place at many of Dimensions other offices around the country.

Another 40 people we support are involved as ‘experts by experience’ – quality checking places where people live, interviewing and training new staff, and helping us develop a Dimensions culture that has people with learning disabilities and autism front and centre.

In all its recruitment, Dimensions follows the “Disability confident” approach to employing people with a disability, which should help recalibrate the workforce over time.

A small team of Dimensions staff are dedicated to delivering high quality supported employment opportunities with companies in areas of the country where the Local Authority makes suitable funding available.

Last but not least, every support plan for every individual supported by Dimensions should include a discussion of local opportunities for employment and/or volunteering.

Is that good? Well, Dimensions is a large organisation. We employ nearly 5000 people and support over 3500 individuals.

We have a bold policy position on employing people with a learning disability. We’re not at “Good” yet.

In my view I don’t believe we’re anywhere near good enough, and it’s also my view that many other providers can make substantial improvements too.

I think Good looks as follows:

  • It is when Dimensions has enough experts by experience to fully cover our work across the country – and we’re not quite there yet.
  • It is when Dimensions is able to help people into supported employment roles in all parts of the business – and here, we’ve barely started.
  • It is when in each part of our business we are using assistive technology, and taking approaches such as job carving to increase the number of people with learning disabilities we employ.

I particularly love our story of Alicia and Charlotte, a profoundly deaf support worker successfully supporting a blind lady with a learning disability. It’s heartwarming, inspiring, and I believe shows that there are very few obstacles that cannot be overcome with the right approach.

Knowing that we can get things so right, sometimes, I spoke to Sharon Allen, CEO of Skills for Care, to get her take on how to increase the number of people with a learning disability we employ across all areas of our business.

Sharon’s thoughts

It’s really positive to see the impact of Dimensions’ work to employ more people with learning disabilities. That said, I know as a sector we still have much work to do to make sure that the social care workforce reflects the 6.7 million people of working age in England who are disabled.

As I read Steve’s thoughts I saw that Skills for Care can learn a lot from Dimensions as we seek to recruit not only more people with learning disabilities, but other disabled people too. As a result, we’re currently reviewing what we can do to make that aspiration a reality.

With that in mind we are working with CHANGE, an organisation led by disabled people, who have offered their expertise in making sure our policies and procedures support colleagues with learning disabilities.

As part of our workforce planning process all roles are open to people with the right skillset and talents, regardless of any disability, and we are looking at how we support new colleagues when they join us.

Another area we’re focused on is supporting colleagues with mental health issues which affect 1 in 4 adults in this country every year.

We’ve signed up to Mindful Employers, and we’re creating a bespoke training package and toolkit to help managers support colleagues who may experience mental health issues in the workplace.

We’ve also invested in training colleagues on the Mental Health First Aid programme and have a company-wide well-being programme to ensure colleagues feel valued (which we’ve had great feedback on from our colleagues).

We’re working with colleagues from Essex Jobcentre Plus on one of their pilot projects which brings together key stakeholders from Business Disability Forum, UKHCA, Caretech-UK, Allied Healthcare, Mind and Scope.

We hope the work from this project will support further work with Health Education England, VODG and Disability Rights UK to update our resources that support social care employers to recruit disabled workers.

We also hope to extend the scope of the project to support disabled people to find work and advance their careers.

So I think Good looks like this:

  • When the number of disabled workers in the social care sector is a true representation of society including in organisations like Skills for Care.
  • When we have a clear and sustainable commitment to employing disabled people that is embedded in the policies, procedures and practice of every one of the 19,300 adult social care organisations in England.
  • When we have more help and advice for social care employers to support them to take on more disabled workers as ‘experts by experience’, to contribute their invaluable experience to organisations.

In the meantime I’m going to continue to learn from progressive organisations, like Dimensions, who are already some way down the road to making sure the composition of their workforce represents the people they work with.

This blog is particularly timely, as sharing learning can only speed this process up and frankly this really needs to happen as soon as possible.

Read more about recruiting disabled workers in your organisation.

We hope to launch our new resources in the next few months; I encourage you to sign up to our e:news to keep up to date and to agree the steps your organisation will take to encourage more disabled people to be part of it.