Young people with learning disabilities empowered to get into paid work

19 March 2019

Steps have been made in Scotland to ensure more equality in the job market, for those with learning disabilities.

According to Jamie Rutherford, head of employability at ENABLE Scotland, a Scottish charity, working for an equal society for people with learning disabilities, “No one asks young people with learning disabilities what they want to be when they grow up.”

Data from Mapping the Employability Landscape for People with Learning Disabilities in Scotland shows the employment position of people with learning disabilities in Scotland is significantly poorer than the general population, and that of other disabled workers. The report shows that out of the  26,349 people with learning disabilities in Scotland, only 7% are employed and 6.2% are in further education.

Unemployment rates in Scotland. Courtesy: Scottish Commission for Learning Disability Employment

However, the Scottish government has seen this disparity and has moved to rectify this inequality in the labour market by increasing the participation of people with learning disabilities in Scotland’s workforce.

On 13 March 2019, the Scottish government launched The Keys to Life framework to ensure people with learning disabilities are supported to live more independently, play a full part in their communities and achieve their aspirations.

The framework will raise the profile of employing people with a learning disability, as well as improving experiences in school and the transition from school to further education or employment. It also covers healthy relationships and the right to become a parent.

The minister for mental health, Clare Haughey, spoke at the framework launch. “We want Scotland to be an inclusive society in which everyone can play a full role and we are absolutely committed to changing attitudes and to showing the positive contributions that people with learning disabilities can and do make.” She spoke alongside Christina McKelvie, minister for older people and equalities.

Frank McKillop is the policy and public affairs manager at ENABLE Scotland, a Scottish charity that works for an equal society for every person who has a learning disability. Reacting to this news on their website, he wrote: “The publication of the new Implementation Framework provides an opportunity for all of us to renew our determination to work with the Scottish government, COSLA and other stakeholders over the next two years and beyond to achieve an inclusive and equal society for every person who has a learning disability.”

A snapshot of disabled people in Scotland. Courtesy: www.gov.scot

ENABLE has been hands on to ensure this happens by running a programme in schools called Stepping Up. The programme is designed to provide a tailored transition plan to young people with learning disabilities. These plans fit each individual’s needs and aspirations— whether they want to attend college or university, or seek employment.

Apart standard employability coaching (developing CVs, interview tips etc.) the charity also offers an invaluable service– giving young people an opportunity to do work experience, internships or apprenticeships in an area they are interested in.

Liam Campbell, a team facilitator at ENABLE Scotland, says arranging time for young people to experience the world of work is important to help them cast their vision, as a number of them lack awareness of the labour market and the opportunities available to them. He says many of the young people who have passed through the programme have transformed immensely.

Speaking on the phone, he said: “They have improved in all aspects, they’ve become independent, improved in their confidence, motivation, self-esteem, and even just talking to somebody, holding a conversation is a huge progression which we see is made possible through interaction at work.”

Shona MacPherson, senior programme manager at Developing Young Workforce (DYW) Glasgow, which champions the “work while you earn route” to employment, said over email correspondence that DYW is encouraging young people to seek out apprenticeships, as they are growing in Scotland. “We have a role to reduce unemployment by 40% by 2021 and we recognise that encouraging more employers to recruit young people directly from education will help this reduction.”

Campbell added that they assist young people by placing them in modern apprenticeship positions, depending on their interests. So far they have placed people in business development, social media, warehousing and hairdressing positions.

MacPherson added: “We would like all young people to have a meaningful work placement prior to leaving school and widen their current network in order for them to explore careers they may have never previously considered.”

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