A multi-award winning project that supports young adults with Learning Disabilities to find and keep paid employment is looking to recruit further people to benefit from its services starting in September.

Project SEARCH is a partnership that provides real work experience based in Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, where interns learn the skills that all employers need together with specific skills for individual jobs.

The scheme supports young adults, between 18 and 24, living in Plymouth with Learning Disabilities by providing a Level 1 academic course running alongside three internships within Derriford Hospital.

In its first three years, over 60% of the interns have gone on to achieve competitive paid employment. Project SEARCH graduate interns acknowledge that the project has boosted their work skills, personal confidence and given them greater independence.

Graduate Intern, Mathew Eady, who gained paid employment with SERCO as a refuse porter within the hospital said “My job means a lot to me as I am helping to keep the hospital clean and that is very important. I am earning my own wage, before I was on benefits and that makes me proud.”

Matthew talks about the longer term benefits that employment has to offer “I would like to get my own flat and I am more likely to get a mortgage now I have a paid job. Project SEARCH is definitely worth doing but it’s not always easy and there is a lot of work to do. I would say to anyone thinking of coming on Project SEARCH, do it as you are more likely to get a paid job.”

Serco Contract Manager, Nick Pugh said “We are proud to be part of Project SEARCH and have employed seven graduate interns and they are amongst our best employees, proving that people with learning disabilities make excellent workers when given the right support. We are looking forward to working with the new Project SEARCH cohort starting in September.”

It’s not only the Interns that gain from this innovative scheme as employers acquire trained staff who are fully committed to work. Derriford Hospital’s Human Resources Director, Hein Scheffer, says Projects SEARCH touches the lives of young people in a very positive way. He said “Derriford Hospital is proud to be an employer with a diverse workforce that reflects the surrounding population and being a partner in this project has reinforced our view that employers should focus on people’s abilities and not their limitations.

“We continually reappraise our recruitment processes to ensure the trust can consider and employ the right people, irrespective of their background, to continue providing excellent services to our patients. There are now ten Project SEARCH graduates working within the hospital and have all proven to be an asset to their departments with an outstanding commitment to work. Unfortunately we cannot provide employment to all the graduates and would recommend any business to consider employing a Project SEARCH intern.”

Project SEARCH is a partnership between Derriford Hospital NHS Trust, Pluss, Serco and City College Plymouth who work together to create employment opportunities for young adults living in Plymouth who have Learning Disabilities.
There is a wide range of opportunities to experience work in the hospital for the Interns who work Monday to Friday on an honorary contract.

City College Plymouth provides a Level one Diploma in Progression course using the workplace to provide situations to evidence their learning. Course tutor, Zenta Zuka-Hill is enthusiastic about the course saying “It’s fantastic to have an individualised opportunity that could lead to paid work and a whole new outlook on life. It is hard work but past interns and their families come back to say it was the best thing that has ever happened to them.”

Jackie Humphries, a parent of an intern who has just gained employment in the hospital pharmacy said: “Project SEARCH has been instrumental in him becoming so independent. Friends and family have really noticed a big change in him for the good. The confidence it has given him has benefited him so many ways.”

Project SEARCH are now recruiting for their fifth year and are holding a series of information events to enable potential interns to see if the project is right for them. The events will take place at 10.30 am and 1pm on Tuesday 22nd April at the Project SEARCH Base Room and 6pm on Wednesday 23rd April at City College Goschen Centre.

For further information or to book a place contact Pip Critten on 07771 967804 or 01752 439008

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Up to 50 businesses from across North Devon met at Barnstaple Rugby Club last week to find out more about the business benefits and support available when it comes to employing disabled people.

Disability Confident is a national Government campaign, launched by David Cameron in London last year, which encourages employers to be positive about the skills that disabled people bring to business. The local event was organised by Pluss, a social enterprise that helps people with disabilities to find work and provides free support to businesses looking to gain a more diverse workforce.

North Devon MP, Nick Harvey, spoke at the event to show his support for the campaign locally. He said “As a nation we can’t afford to write off the talent of the millions of disabled people of working age in the UK who want to work. We need a durable solution to finding ways of supporting disabled people into mainstream employment. It’s clear from businesses we’ve heard speak tonight that organisations like Pluss and the Disability Confident campaign are key to this process.”

The event also heard from several Senior Managers from local businesses that are already making great progress in employing disabled people.

Sami Caglar, Managing Director at SFL Chimneys said “It is important to us as a business to be positive about people of all abilities because including these people in our selection pool helps us to find high calibre individuals that are committed. In our experience our employees have been very flexible, keen to learn more and want to work. They have been reliable and shown real potential for the future.

“We are delighted to be involved in this event as it helps to remove preconceived ideas and promote the abilities that so many disabled people have to offer; in turn we hope this will open up more opportunities.”

Graham Campbell, Operations Director at Atlas Packaging said “Everyone deserves a chance. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean that they have nothing to offer; on the contrary, in our experience, they have a determination and commitment that can make a massive difference in the workplace.

“We feel that events such as these will highlight the benefits and give potential employers the confidence that a disability doesn’t discount the individual.”

Martin Mogford, Operations Director at SWM Metals said “It is important to SWM to be positive about employing disabled people because there are millions of disabled people in the UK, which provides a rich pool of talented people, it therefore makes solid financial and business sense to actively recruit from this pool.

“It has also improved our corporate image since we are seen as ethical team builders who care about reputation, corporate social responsibility and the image we portray to the wider community.”

Attendees were able to explore effective strategies for recruitment and retention of disabled employees, share good practice and learn what works. To find out more about how your business can become disability confident, please contact Richard Morgan in the Barnstaple team on 01271 375402 or visit www.pluss.org.uk

1.   Pictured (L to R) Nick Harvey MP, Steve Hawkins (Pluss), Martin Mogford (SWM), Graham Campbell (Atlas Packaging) and Sami Caglar (SFL chimneys).

Edward Rawcliffe, 27, from Ashburton is a Horticultural Assistant at Dame Hannah Rogers Trust (Seal Hayne).

Edward is a hard working and incredibly likeable man. When you first meet Edward his personality shines through despite being a man of few words.

Edward has dyslexia and is on the autistic spectrum.

Edward Rawcliffe at flower bed

Edward’s words

“I came here on a traineeship and started to be paid by Hannah’s in December 2013. This is my first job with a proper working wage. Before that I had been a volunteer. My job involves planting seeds, sowing and watching the plants grow. I do label writing, weighing, picking and harvesting. We do salads and herbs to sell in our shop and restaurant. I also do construction work like the propagation bench and fences.

“I work with Emma and I also work with a volunteer. I get on well with them. Now I help the volunteer and that has made me feel more confident. My reading is better too. I learn about vegetables and write about them in my book. It feels good to be learning. I am more confident around other people now, less shy. I see people and go to clubs.

“Pluss gave me a lot of help to find this job. I always knew I wanted to do horticulture but it was difficult to find work. We went through different things like job club and looked for jobs online, and we found the job here.

“It feels great to be earning my wage and I have bought another motorbike.”

Emma Tame, Horticulture Facilitator, Dame Hannah Rogers Trust

“Ed is responsible for keeping plants healthy. He is really good at digging and sowing, and his weeding and tidying are spotless. He has very professional standards and his work always looks beautiful. He is incredibly conscientious and always willing to get on with whatever you ask him. He always gives the impression that he loves working. He is punctual and has never had a day off – he doesn’t ‘do’ illness! I can honestly say his garden wouldn’t be anything like the standard it is without Ed. He puts in a huge amount of quality work that I just couldn’t have done alone.

“Ed is a really lovely member of the team. It is a small team and he is core to it. He is very well liked on site and is also lovely with guests; polite and friendly. People genuinely like being around Ed – he has a really nice vibe about him. People also comment on what a great worker he is. If I am doing a session for guests with disabilities he now supports me in a practical way.

“Ed is also starting to direct our volunteer who has less experience. He wasn’t sure about doing this to begin with but his confidence has really grown. His progress has been excellent. His reading and writing have really improved too. It’s been wonderful to witness the progress he has made; to watch him grow in confidence and independence.

“Ed originally started with us as a volunteer. Following this Ed undertook the Pluss Traineeship® which meant Pluss funded the first six months. This made Ed’s post viable. Once he became a trainee, we formalised goals and targets; we continue with that now. It was good for Ed to prove that he was capable of fulfilling the role and I now have a very reliable, increasingly experienced Horticultural Assistant.

“It’s also been great to have Wendy from Pluss visit us regularly. It’s good to know that Ed has the support of Pluss behind him by proxy so that if any issues were to arise we could call them in – not that we need to because he is blooming brilliant!”

Following an external assessment by emqc Ltd in February Pluss are delighted to announce that we have been successful in achieving the Merlin Standard. The Merlin Standard been designed by DWP to recognise and promote sustainable excellence within supply chains.

Merlin Standard Logo

Pluss is a social enterprise that helps people with Disabilities and Health conditions into employment. As a key part of our work, we deliver Work Choice, the DWP’s specialist disability employment programme, across the South West, West of England and West Yorkshire, with support from sub-contractors including Workwise – Calderdale Council, Pentreath, Shaw Trust and Skills for Work – Bradford Metropolitan District Council.

Pluss was assessed on the four key Merlin Principles of Supply Chain Design, Commitment, Conduct and Review with a total of 50 criteria being evaluated in all.

Lead Assessor Andy Richardson reported that “Key to Pluss’ success are its strong values that drive both strategic direction and operational practices. Many of the Supply Chain Partners commented that they enjoyed working with Pluss because of these values and operating principles as they were very closely matched to their own. These values in turn invoke a sense of respect and trust throughout the supply chain and underpin many of the other strengths”

Pluss’ commitment to continually innovate and drive change for the benefits of disabled people looking to find work was noted “The production of the “Right Job – Right Support” is an excellent example of how the changing needs of customers and wider stakeholders are being considered at a strategic level.”

Pluss CEO Martin Davies said “We are fully committed to the principles and goals of the Merlin standard, and achieving this accreditation is evidence of our good practice in developing and managing our supply chain and has only been achievable due to the excellent partnerships we have across our supply chain. We would like to give especial thanks to all of our supply chain partners for their on-going work and support in achieving excellent outcomes for our customers. We look forward to continuing grow and develop our valued relationships in the future.”

Barry Savill, from Exmouth, is a Workshop Brake Liner at Devon Fleet Components in Exeter.

He is a quiet and unassuming gentleman who is hard working and diligent.

Barry has a learning disability.

A photo of Barry Savill, Devon Fleet Components, Exeter

Barry’s words

My job is to strip the lorry brake shoes, clean them and then paint them. I use the sand blaster first, and greasy ones have to be washed by hand. Once they’ve been painted I reline them and then they’re refitted onto lorries.

I do enjoy my job, I like knowing I’m the best at it. I like having a set routine for the day and knowing what I’ve got to do that day.

I get on well with Simon, sometimes we take the mickey out of each other. If I have questions Simon is always helpful. I get on with the other guys too.

I sometimes find it hard talking to people and getting used to new people. I don’t like surprises but I do like to try and help out everyone when I can.

I’ve had a job for a long time. Having a job is important to me. I’m proud and happy to tell people I’ve got a job, my parents are happy for me too. I settled straight in here and learned the job easily. It didn’t take me long to settle in with the people, they’re all really supportive. I’d recommend Pluss and Tina!

Bob Gamlin, CEO & Owner

Barry looks after the relining, he’s taken his forklift training and we’ve thought about other training but he’s actually really happy with his role. His role is very specialist and important and we know his quality of work is always the best and that he’ll just get on with his job. Barry’s difference to the business is immeasurable.

He can be aloof but he comes out of his shell and takes part in team nights etc. We’ve learned how to work with Barry and what processes work for him and, therefore, us. For instance it would really stress Barry to tell him there’s a rush, so we have certain ways of communicating with him for priorities.

We’ve got a very good relationship with Pluss; we always have Pluss there to liaise with for support and handling things together. I’m happy to give chances to people who might need extra support and I’ve always had positive experiences when I have.

Barry’s always been the first one here in the morning and he’s never been ill! I’d definitely recommend Pluss to other businesses looking to recruit.

A landmark training scheme which helps young people with learning disabilities find paid employment is seeking interns for the next cohort due to start at Torbay Hospital in September 2014.

Project SEARCH offers young people with either a Learning Disability or Autistic Spectrum condition an opportunity to take up an internship which runs over an academic year.  In Torbay, the project is run jointly by South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, South Devon College and Pluss.

The internship consists of three 10 week rotations in different departments of Torbay Hospital plus daily on-site classroom time where the interns work towards a qualification in Employability and Personal Development.

Anyone interested in scheme can find out more at a drop-in open evening between 6.15pm and 7.15pm on Monday 24 March 2014 in the Anna Dart Lecture Theatre at Torbay Hospital’s Horizon Centre. 

To book a place at the Project SEARCH open evening, please contact South Devon College, on 01803 540611. 

Judith Day, Pluss Employment Adviser, Project SEARCH, said  “We are all very excited to be running the third Project SEARCH internship at Torbay Hospital this autumn.  This fantastic partnership between Pluss, South Devon College and Torbay Hospital is just the first step in getting these young people into paid employment.”

Speaking after his graduation, Stuart Lovell, one of the 2012/2013 interns, said:  “I have had fun on this course and I have done three rotations.  The staff have been helpful on our course and in our rotations.  I know my way round the hospital and for me it’s been really good because I got a job in the Medical Devices Library.”

The closing Date for internship applications is Friday 4 April 2014.

Four charities that make a huge difference to lives and communities across Devon and Somerset were each presented with a £500 donation to put towards their amazing work.

Exeter Phoenix, Exeter City FC ‘ Ability Counts’, Exmoor Pony Centre and Jeremiah’s Journey were all presented with their donation from Pluss by MP Ben Bradshaw just before the match on Saturday.

After the presentation, all charities were given complimentary tickets to stay and watch the match against Dagenham and Redbridge.

Scott Walker, Sport Development Worker at Exeter City FC ‘Ability Counts’ said “Exeter City FC Ability Counts encourages and enables football players with a range of disabilities to participate in a sport which can make a huge difference to their self-esteem, health and personal development. We are very grateful to Pluss for their generous donation which will enable us to buy more equipment and kit for the players to use on a regular basis.”

Patrick Cunningham, Director at Exeter Phoenix said “We are very pleased to receive this award and to be recognised by Pluss as a local charity that is committed to maximising opportunities for people of all abilities. We have endeavoured in the past year to increase access to the arts through offering more British Sign Language performances and holding our first relaxed performances.

We also provide work experience opportunities to people with learning differences. Having their expertise in the organisation helps us to further identify and overcome potential barriers to customers and consequently makes it easier for people to use our services and attend events. This money will be very important in helping us to hold even more accessible performances as well providing access training for our staff.”

Jeremiah’s Journey donated their complimentary tickets to a family that they currently support who are affected by terminal illness. Father and Son, Anthony and Xander Goodfellow, were delighted to attend and said “It is fantastic to be here to receive the cheque on behalf of Jeremiah’s Journey and watch the match together. It’s been a great experience for us.”

Linzi Green, General Manager at the Exmoor Pony Centre said “We were so pleased to receive this wonderful cheque and will be using it to buy feed and keep for the most recent young stock taken in by the charity this year.”

The four charities were nominated and voted for by Pluss staff. The winners were chosen as they’re all working on projects that match Pluss’ vision and values.

The photographs show (L to R): MP Ben Bradshaw, Jamie Vittles (ECFC ‘Ability Counts’), Anthony and Xander Goodfellow (representing Jeremiah’s Journey), Jane Lillis (Exmoor Pony Centre), Patrick Cunningham (Exeter Phoenix) and Paul Love (Pluss).

6th Mar, 2014

A little bit Danish

Paul Wilson, Pluss Business writer and BASE ChairmanEvery now and then an unremembered story surfaces into the public arena and casts fresh light on who we are and what we are capable of.

Amid the horrors of World War Two, a simple statistic has become the basis of a newly published book by Bo Lidegaard. The statistic is this: that in war-torn Denmark, occupied by the Nazis from 1940 onwards, 95% of the country’s considerable Jewish population survived.

It’s a curious statistic which became quietly submerged in the decades since 1945 by a rising tide of revelation about the extent of collaboration and complicity across Europe with the efforts of the occupying forces to identify, demonise and eventually deport communities of Jews who had been settled for anything  up to a thousand years.

Two things seem particularly remarkable in this tale.

One is the shear drama of how it was done. On a signal at dawn on the 6th October 1943, hundreds of Jewish families, gathered in by the Danish people from across the country, were ushered onto boats in the small fishing port of Gilleleje and transported across to the safety of neutral Sweden under the noses of the occupying forces. The Germans, methodically searching for Denmark’s Jews, found virtually none.

The other is the extent of the conspiracy, if we can call it that. There are many examples of individual heroism saving Jewish lives during the war. Some, like Raoul Wallenberg and Oscar Schindler, are well-known; many others remain anonymous.  But here is an entire people, from King Christian and his civil servants through to an army of ordinary shopkeepers and fishermen who befriended, hid and smuggled its Jewish community to safety without a single citizen yielding to the blandishments of the occupying Germans.

The reason why this happened seems to lie in the country’s sense that, Jew or gentile, everyone living in the country was a Dane. There was no ‘us and them’. To protect the Jews from being singled out for being different seemed to be ‘a human and a national duty’. This was a country strong and assured enough not to want to scapegoat a group of its vulnerable citizens.

This is a week, of course, when Uganda’s beleaguered long-term President has discovered there is much political mileage to be had in setting one part of his country’s population against a smaller group under the pretence that difference deserves to be persecuted.

It’s an easy line to take when times are tough. It makes us feel better if there’s someone to demonise. It’s human nature to settle on blaming people less strong, less resourceful than we are.

Those of us working in sectors which strive to support people who are in some way different or vulnerable, people without a voice, people needing a hand up, tend to operate with a belief system that maintains that, eventually, people’s better angels will win out.

Hearing a story like the one told by Bo Lidegaard feels like chicken soup for the soul in encouraging this belief.

I suspect that, for a while at least, when I’m listening to my better angels, they will have Danish accents.

Written by Paul Wilson, Pluss Business Writer

MP Ben Bradshaw will be presenting four Devon/Somerset charities with sponsorship awards at an Exeter City FC match

The four charities that make a huge difference to lives and communities across Devon and Somerset will each be presented with a £500 donation to put towards their amazing work.

Exeter Phoenix, Exeter City FC ‘ Ability Counts’, Exmoor Pony Centre and Jeremiah’s Journey will all be presented with their donation from local Social Enterprise, Pluss, by MP Ben Bradshaw just before a match at Exeter City Football club.

Local media are invited to attend the presentation that will take place on Saturday 8th March at 1415 at Exeter City Football Club. Interviews and photo opportunities will be available.

We have been advised that it is best to park in the local side streets or in St James’ Park which is a 5 minute walk away. Please then report to the media entrance (which is the players entrance next to the club shop) by 1415.

RSVP to Geraldine Scott-Smith, PR Officer at Pluss on geraldine.scott-smith@pluss.org.uk or 07766 367267.

ERSA, the sector body for the back to work industry, has today declared the 2014 Employability Awards open for entries.  The inaugural awards last year attracted over 170 entries from across the welfare to work sector. This year, the awards are specifically aimed at attracting entries from the entire spectrum of employment support, including Jobcentre Plus, welfare to work and skills providers. 

The 2014 awards aim to celebrate and champion best practice from across the employability world, highlighting the day to day hard work and dedication of individuals and organisations working to support people into, or towards, employment and to progress in work. 

Pluss is happy to be sponsoring the award for Large Employer 2014. This award seeks to recognise a large employer who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to helping jobseekers overcome barriers to enter and maintain work.

Kirsty McHugh, ERSA Chief Executive, said:

“We are extremely pleased that Pluss are supporting the Large Employer of the Year award. Pluss works with thousands of employers, supporting them with information, mentoring and job matching, to help them recruit a jobseeker with a disability and support both parties through the beginning of that employment period. By sponsoring this award Pluss are highlighting the important role that employers have to play in supporting jobseekers into employment.”

The ERSA Employability Awards welcome applications from a diverse range of organisations, including JobCentre Plus, housing associations, local authorities, colleges and universities, as well as those delivering government commissioned support for the long term unemployed.   Award winners will be announced at a special ceremony on 2 June 2014 in front of the Employment Minister, Esther McVey. 

This year a further three categories have been added to the awards to reflect the interests and passions of the sector. The Youth Employment Award and Disability Employment Award will recognise organisations with outstanding practice in supporting young people and those with health conditions and disabilities into the workforce.  The Lifetime Achievement Award will reward the work of an inspiring individual who has dedicated their career to helping jobseekers overcome barriers to gain and sustain employment.

The deadline for entries is 5.00 pm on 14th March 2014. Finalists in each category will be announced at the ERSA AGM in April, with the awards themselves presented at a special ceremony in London with the drinks reception kindly sponsored by Specialist Recruitment Partners and the programmes sponsored by Kennedy Scott.  The awards are free to enter and are open to all, regardless of ERSA membership.

Click here for the award entry form and here for the full descriptors and criteria for each award.

13th Feb, 2014

Time to Talk day update

Zoe from our Bristol team emailed to let us know “The Bristol team embraced the Time to Talk day and we had 29 conversations with customers, staff and family members on that day. We also had a discussion at the team meeting the day before. We received the resource pack from Time to Change so we plan to display the posters in our reception area where customers can see them.

“It would be good to do this again next year and we hope to get even more conversations going! We agreed as a team how valuable it is to be able to talk about mental health amongst ourselves and our customers.”

~Jayne

Pluss were delighted to be co-sponsors of Disability Confident recently, an event targeted at employers to promote the benefits of employing people with a disability.

The event included a range of powerful, motivating speakers and we are pleased to share John Flynn’s (Wiltshire Police Force) speech from an employers perspective.

“I am John Flynn, Deputy Head of Contact Management for Wiltshire Police. I look after anything connected to customers calling us either by the phone or walking into one of our Enquiry Offices and the Control Room that deploy Police officers to incidents.

You’ve heard from Supt Charlie Armstrong about how Wiltshire Police started this work back in 2011 and how we looked at our recruitment processes. Charlie gave me a simple three word instruction, “Make it happen” and it was at that point my personal journey began.

Robert’s story

Today I’d like to tell you a little more about Robert’s story and, for me, the three most important things I learnt and experienced. They are:

  • Challenge yourself and your organisation
  • Understand the culture you work in
  • Realise how YOU can create opportunities by investing in people

Then I’d like to share with you where we are now and how this incredible investment has allowed us to mature into a far greater diverse employer.

You’ve seen and heard firsthand the difference it has made to Robert’s life by having sustained employment. Robert first joined a team of staff answering our 101 calls. He was tutored with the same approach as all our other new starters, we just had to make some reasonable adjustments in terms of the equipment that Robert needed to carry out his role. That was simple.

During his training it became apparent that Robert’s wasn’t able to remember some of the processes and information that he was being shown, so why was that? We didn’t know. Sadly, it became apparent that he was going to have difficulty passing his training. The easiest thing to do would have been to let Robert go – “Sorry Robert, we tried but it didnt work out”. Well, sorry, but not on my watch!

I wanted to know why Robert had struggled to retain this information so with Robert’s agreement Pluss arranged for him to have a dyslexia test. This showed that Robert did have an issue with his memory. For 42 years of his life, Robert also had an invisible disability that none of us knew about, but it was the investment we had made in him that allowed us to discover this.

Charlie Armstrong earlier told you that what we have to do is see what people can do and not focus on what they can’t and this is exactly what we now needed to do with Robert.

I soon realised that Robert’s capabilities would lie in a more clerical role. Well, that’s easier I thought, Wiltshire Police has 2,500 people with lots of back office roles. I’m going to get Robert into that type of work. So I thought I will go off and chat to the managers of those other areas and get something identified that Robert can do – easy! But was it? At that moment in time I actually felt I was standing in Robert’s shoes and experienced how someone with a disability must feel when trying to find employment.

I would say “I’ve got this guy in my department who has a disability”  but before I had been given the chance to say what he could do I was met, on many occasions, with the ”Ah sorry I’ve not got anything” response. Why ? Because some managers don’t want to think out of the box and look at their own processes and see how they may have to be flexible to help people who may need that extra support.

What I hadn’t done at that point was take a look in my own world. I realised that there was lots of tasks that Robert could fulfil for us and that is where Robert is now, adding value to my department every day he comes to work.

So, what is it I want you as Managers, Recruitment or HR people to take from this story? That’s simple, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What can I do differently to make it happen? Would I have been one of those managers that wouldn’t have give Robert a chance?” and be HONEST with yourself because its only at that point you will learn how and what YOU need to do to make a difference.

Many of you may already work in organisations that have signed up to be a Two Ticks employer. That’s great, but remember its takes 10 minutes to sign up but it’s individual managers that have to have the drive, the vision and the passion to challenge your own processes but most of all the culture within your organisation. Are you going to do something differently to create those opportunities that people like Robert need you to do? Trust me, if you do then you will never experience job satisfaction like it again.

Where are we now?

So where has Robert’s experience lead Wiltshire Police to? Over the last couple of years we have used a number of different vehicles to bring disabled people into our organisation.

One example is a gentleman who joined us in March 2013 on a Pluss Traineeship®. This means that Pluss pay his salary for up to 16 hours per week and Wiltshire Police host - in effect he had a six month working interview. He was trained in the same way as all of our new staff and because we have a great assessment tool I was able to show that his performance and capabilities were at the same level as staff coming through the more rigid and traditional method. Would a formal interview have been the best method to check and test that? Perhaps not.

I now have three other Pluss people on traineeships within my department. We manage their needs on a one to one basis. This includes the roles we feel they are suitable for and the number of hours they work. By working with them individually we ensure we can balance the needs of our organisation with what is best for them too.

So what would I like you to take from me today? It’s really, really simple. All of these things are within your gift – it’s down to you as department managers or recruitment people. Think outside of the box, challenge your cultures but most of all create those opportunities that are within your grasp and help disabled people give something to your organisation………..because they can!

John Flynn 

In December, the Government published its Disability Employment Strategy. Last week, the two Ministers for Employment and for Disability co-chaired a round table event at Westminster as the first step in exploring how to turn the strategy’s high level principles into a delivery plan. In other words, how do we get from the world of ideas to a set of cold, hard decisions that will improve the lives of disabled people aspiring to work?

It won’t be easy.

It should be said that the Government’s strategy says a lot of positive and constructive things. It recognises the need for specialist provision alongside a mainstream employment programme. It accurately describes the supported employment model, acknowledges it as best practice and recognises its strong evidence base. It affirms the real potential of an Intermediate Labour Market approach. But it doesn’t spell out how these things can best be achieved consistently and on a national scale.

Spending two hours in a House of Commons committee room last week made two things clear to me. Everyone wants to see more disabled people employed. And lots of people aspiring to this broad objective have contrasting and sometimes competing agendas.

Even when we narrow the focus down to the specific employment programmes (both specialist and mainstream) that will help individuals to gain and retain the right job, there are some conflicting ideas within the strategy which will need to be resolved in the coming months.

I would argue that there are three main tensions inherent in the strategy which the delivery plan, expected later this year, must resolve.

  1. The tension between the notion of quality and the principle of a black box approach. Only a minority of Work Programme primes even mentioned the word disability in the minimum standards they negotiated with DWP, and few people would argue that a majority of disabled customers have received a quality service from the Work Programme. As for Work Choice and its successor programme, we must ensure that quality is not pushed to one side to accommodate too-high management fees or marginalised in the race-to-the-bottom that is discounting. In short, DWP must decide how high to set the bar when it comes to quality and what role, if any, it will choose to play in driving up standards of service that individual customers experience. I hope DWP is brave in committing strongly to a quality-driven agenda.
  2. The tension between the prime provider model and a desire for increased localism. The prime provider model addressed a number of problems resulting from the confusion of multiple small-scale contracts, but there is increasing recognition that the ‘solution’ has generated some unintended consequences.  The way in which supply chains have been developed has, in a number of cases, excluded some local expertise and reduced the potential for innovation. The search is now on for an approach in which primes are much more frequently enablers and talent scouts than bureaucrats imposing the rules or middle men taking an agent’s cut.
  3. The tension between wanting to make sure those who are furthest from the labour market are not ignored, and payment by results. On Work Programme, a job-outcome payment model driven by differential pricing hasn’t worked. The market, left to its own devices, has failed an enormous number of disabled people. The commissioning approach to both the specialist and mainstream employment programmes in future must ensure that there is no commercial incentive for people furthest from the labour market to be parked.

Finally, there is the challenge of managing access. A decision to employ a specialist programme running parallel with mainstream provision means the need for a mechanism to decide who goes on what programme. And here’s the rub. Can the sector come up with a system that has value for everyone? One that reduces the randomness of assignment by benefit type? One that allows both customers and providers on each programme to hit the ground running? One that offers value for money for taxpayers in a gateway that ensures consistently that the right support is being offered to each person?

With a little imagination, I think it is possible to develop a practical gateway to employment support that can attract the support of all parties. I also think it is possible to resolve those three critical tensions at the heart of the current strategy. And with those elements in place, we might finally be in a position to start challenging some of the labour market inequities that are faced daily by people with disabilities and health conditions who want the independence that work brings.

Written by Paul Wilson, Pluss Business Writer

6th Feb, 2014

It’s time to talk day!

Today is the first Time to Talk day as part of the mental health campaign Time to Change. The campaign aims to stop the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health issues face. Individuals and organisations across the UK have pledged to have conversations about mental health on the day: with the aim being a million conversations in total.

A local man, Paul Gooding, from Torbay has pledged to help get conversations going on the day by sharing his story.

Paul, 50, is a Link Worker at Torbay Voice. He was helped to find his job by local social enterprise Pluss. Paul is a Royal Navy veteran and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had been unemployed for 18 months before finding his job at Torbay Voice.

“My day to day job involves promoting and supporting Torbay Voice: which is a group of people who have used or are using supportive services in Torbay; examples of people involved are those with mental health issues, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, older people, people with drug and alcohol misuse, and people who’ve experienced domestic violence.

It’s about getting out promoting Torbay Voice to people using supportive services, setting up our bi-monthly meetings, and getting speakers to attend on relevant issues, I support Torbay Voice with admin duties too. I’m working with outside agencies to bring more members into Torbay Voice; it’s about supporting more people to become involved, empowering them to feel confident and move their lives on in positive direction, at a pace which suits them.

I have been here since September 2012 and it’s a fantastic team. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Everybody knows roughly about my background and my issues, and they’ve just taken it in their stride. I enjoy meeting people and having a purpose during the day, I love my work.

I served in the Royal Navy and had an injury when I was about 18, carried on serving, and went to the South Atlantic in 1982. That’s when things started going slightly wrong. I suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as it’s now called, which wasn’t recognised until very late on. I’m still working through it and still get upset by it. There are times when things will make me jump or run and the team just says “Alright Paul!” and let me go until I’ve calmed myself down.

The physical disability left me unable to do the activities that I used to do when I was younger and the type of work that I was used to. This is my first office job and I’m finding it a lot easier. It’s mentally tiring but easier on the body itself.

I was unemployed for 18 months. Finding work was difficult because of the restricted number of hours I could work, due to my health. Employers aren’t supposed to look at the physical disability but I’ve gone into interviews where they see my walking stick and they just switch off. They say everything’s ok and that you’ll hear from them, and then you hear nothing. It makes me angry.

There are a lot of people out there with various disabilities who can do a damn good job given half a chance.

When I was referred to Pluss, we went through what was available, different types of training and skills I could improve on. Gavin from Pluss always brought forwards various jobs that were available for us to have a look through and we saw the one for Torbay Voice Link Worker and the rest is history!

Being in work gives a purpose to life, it’s something I enjoy, meeting up with people and helping where I can. People here accept you for what you are.

 Going on I’d like to maybe work with one of the Forces’ charities and maybe start my own business making wooden toys and rocking horses.”

Paul Gooding

 

Today is the first Time to Talk day as part of the mental health campaign Time to Change. The campaign is aiming to stop the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health issues face. At Pluss, alongside thousands of individuals and organisations across the UK, we’ve pledged to have 2,000 conversations about mental health today. As one of my pledged conversations I chatted to one of our customers, Dan and his new boss Richard, about Dan’s mental health issues and how they’ve affected him in work.

Dan, an Administrator at Leeds furniture supplier, Vision Office, said “I’ve got schizo-affective disorder, I get mood changes suddenly and I can get anxious. Stressful situations are not good for me, my thoughts race. My medication also causes slight tremors, which means that there are certain things I can’t do.

“I was doing an admin job in my early 20s when I had a breakdown. I’ve been an outpatient as a mental hospital for a few years and also as an inpatient before. As a result my confidence was low and it took me a long time to get better. I was referred to Pluss by Jobcentre Plus. Work has really helped, especially as it started as part time and now I feel confident that I could go full time.

“My job involves looking after the social media, answering telephone calls, responding to enquiries and dealing with customers. I also do business networking online, and to write and edit the company’s e-newsletter.

“Being in work has helped me in lots of ways; employment has increased my confidence, given me new skills and professional development. There is more routine in my life, which is very welcome. I’m with people now, rather than alone. I’m proud to be in work, it’s made my life better.”

Richard said “Dan’s been really good at learning Twitter, etc. and customer service is all really good on his side. I think his confidence lets him down sometimes: he does a lot more than he thinks he does. I have to be out and about so I have to have someone here to look after the office and I know I can leave him here.

“I got a really strong gut feeling with Dan and everything has gone really well. Pluss got to know me and my business first and didn’t just chuck anyone into the role. Pluss is giving me some financial support by paying Dan’s wages for the first six months as part of their Traineeship® programme and my relationship with their team is really strong. I’ve already recommended Pluss to other businesses!

“My vision for the company was to always support diverse employment, including people with disabilities and health conditions; it’s more than Corporate Social Responsibility, it’s a personal thing too. My goal is for the business to thrive, expand and support people into work at the same time. That’s the vision, hence Vision Office.”

Having my chat with Dan and Richard was a great positive experience. Dan was really friendly and welcoming when I visited them and really reminded me that the benefits of being open about mental health issues can include finding a great, supportive job and manager that really suit you!

I’m sure, like me, many of you would like to see the day when mental ill-health is no longer stigmatised. We know that a quarter of us will experience it at some point in our lives and we probably currently know people affected. I’m hoping to have a few more conversations about mental health today with my team members, friends, family, and customers and colleagues across the country. I hope you will too.

Jayne Mills, Marketing Manager, Pluss.

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