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On Monday 3rd December, Engage to Change marked the International Day for Disabled People with a Valued in Work workshop hosted by Cardiff Business School. Designed by the South West Employment Institute (SWEI), the action learning event brought together employers and supported employment professionals from ELITE to support employers to craft better working relationships with those that help them to recruit and employ people with learning disabilities. The event was chaired by Dr Stephen Beyer of the National Centre for Mental Health (Cardiff University) and led by Liz Garnham from SWEI.

Delegates were welcomed by Prof. Rachel Ashworth, the Dean of Cardiff Business School, who underlined the School’s commitment to promoting Public Value through its work, and its commitment to deepening employer engagement around the employment of people with learning disabilities and autism. The day was highly interactive, giving attendees the opportunity to strengthen and build relationships, share learning, and talk through issues and solutions during breakout sessions. Dewi is a store manager at a Co-op in Cardiff. “It’s an excellent day,” he said. “It’s really nice to network and meet people from different backgrounds with different views on how we recruit, perceive and portray people with learning disabilities, and how we need to change our mind-sets to get them into employment.”

Dewi was joined at the event by his colleague Carol, a Learning Facilitator for Co-op Food, and they’re both looking forward to working closely with Engage to Change project partner ELITE Supported Employment. ELITE will attend Co-op’s Store Manager Area meetings and Carol hopes to broaden the partnership from Cardiff across South and West Wales.

“I think it’s about thinking outside the box, thinking about how we do things differently and how we challenge ourselves. So it does get you thinking,” said Nicki Flower, Learning and Development Manager from Bridgend Council. She’s now thinking about practical solutions in some of the Council’s hard-to-recruit areas, including how recruitment practices could be altered, where roles are advertised, and how to best link in with college leavers and school leavers from special education schools.

Employment of people with learning disabilities in both the public and private sector is currently lower than that of other disadvantaged groups. Valued in Work offers the tools and facilitates the connections to enable employers to capitalise on a largely untapped talent pool, as well as accessing the necessary support to employ staff who will add unique value to their workforce.

Delegates heard from Sam and his manager Zsuzsana, who combined to deliver an inspirational story about Sam’s journey to employment from the perspective of both employee and employer. Sam has worked as a Learning Support Assistant for over a year at Craig-y-Parc School, a special education school to the north of Cardiff. Sam initially received support from Engage to Change, and his story illustrated perfectly the benefits that can be gained by employers through making reasonable adjustments to recruit and employ people with disabilities. Just one of Sam’s attributes in the role is that pupils can relate to him and view him as a role model, an inspiration for what can be achieved in their working lives.

There are real economic benefits to employers who employ people with learning disabilities and/or autism. Evidence shows that they can perform systematic but complex roles to a high industry standard, often in high-turnover posts that are hard to fill. Correcting the imbalance caused by their under-representation in the workforce presents other advantages in better reflecting the client base of businesses. Valued in Work was structured around best practice in the core recruitment processes of attracting, selecting and employing people with a learning disability and/or autism, and imparted information about the processes and outcomes of employing people successfully. Attendees came away from the day with new perspectives and knowledge, strengthened links with potential partners, and a renewed commitment to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities and/or autism through inclusive and accessible employment practices.