Unemployed people with disabilities are being helped into work through an innovative £900,000 programme, piloted in Scotland by Mitie and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).
The “Think Differently” initiative is designed to encourage employers to actively recruit candidates with autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health problems. It will enable a minimum of 60 candidates across the UK to take part in a 12-week training programme designed to gain real-life work experience and a recognised industry qualification.
It is currently being piloted in Glasgow and Airdrie in Scotland. A total of 10 candidates are on placement with Mitie in roles including quantity surveying, electrical engineering, painting and decorating, and administration.
The project has received almost £500,000 in funding from CITB, with a further £400,000 investment from Mitie and partners, and is supported by disability recruitment partner Remploy, The National Autistic Society, and construction training organisation Geason Training.
As part of the initiative Remploy and The National Autistic Society will refer candidates to the programme and deliver disability training to Mitie employees. This Disability Coaching Model will upskill existing staff and enable Mitie to offer inclusive work placement opportunities across its business. Geason Training will deliver training qualifications to all participants.
Mark McCafferty, regional HR manager at Mitie Property Services, said: “We are delighted to have been provided the opportunity to develop the Think Differently concept into an innovative partnering programme. We are certain that it will provide an excellent opportunity for participants, who may have encountered significant barriers to employment, to enhance their skills, confidence and provide an alternative ‘job interview’ model.
“It is widely accepted that disabled job seekers can be disadvantaged by traditional recruitment methods and that work trials can provide an effective alternative route to finding employment, so we are excited at the prospect of identifying future Mitie talent throughout the duration of the project.”
Jenny Paterson, director of The National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “Recent research by our charity revealed that just 16% of autistic people in Scotland are in full-time employment. The vast majority want to work, and we know that they have strengths which are hugely beneficial to employers, but they often face many barriers to securing work, such as unclear application processes and high-pressured interviews.
“Think Differently is such an important project because it gives autistic people hands-on experience in a sector that has been difficult to access in the past.”
Connor Cusack (pictured) left school aged 16, in June 2015. He undertook a variety of employability programmes designed to build his readiness for work and was delighted to be interviewed for apprenticeships in his preferred area of painting and decorating. However, the interview process and its reliance on strong interpersonal skills proved difficult for Connor and he found himself unable to progress beyond this stage, impacting upon his self esteem.
In May 2016, Connor was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism which can make social interaction more difficult. At that point, Connor’s mother, Christine, made contact with the National Autistic Society Scotland (NASS) to enquire whether it may be able to offer Connor assistance to secure employment. NASS explained that Think Differently would appear to be an ideal opportunity for Connor and were delighted to introduce him to the project.
After initial work with NASS and Geason Training, Connor began an eight-week placement with Mitie Property Management’s painting team on 19 September and completed this on 25 November. Connor has since been offered a full-time apprenticeship with Mitie that is due to start in the coming weeks.
He says: “It’s been really good for me. I’ve learned so much and I already feel so much more confident.”
Christine Cusack said: “Prior to taking part in Think Differently, Connor had been very low on confidence. His line manager and colleagues have made him feel so welcome and part of the team. I have noticed a huge difference since he started the project – he is now showing increasing confidence in all aspects of his life.”