Changing lives for the better
The BBC’s Employable Me TV show has highlighted the challenges faced by young people with disabilities finding full-time work. Connecting catches up with Mark Pickles on the progress of National Grid’s pioneering ‘EmployAbility – Let’s Work Together’ programme, which tackles that very issue.
Changing lives for the better
“We’re also doing what we can to spread the word about the programme and encourage other businesses to become involved”
Mark Pickles, European Intraday Trading Project Manager.
From our first programme in 2013, when we took five students from Round Oak School into our Warwick offices, we have expanded the scheme to 24 students in our 2015/2016 group.
Source: National Grid.
Our programme is about giving a chance to people who don’t always get one. Through EmployAbility, we aim to offer internships to students with disabilities to give them an opportunity to develop skills and confidence in a business environment, as a first step into paid employment.
From our first programme in 2013, when we took five students from Round Oak School into our Warwick offices, we have expanded the scheme to 24 students in our 2015/2016 group, with internships in four offices: Warwick, Hinckley, Solihull and Wokingham.
We have learned an awful lot along the way: things like building networks, working with partners, planning career paths and starting the process of finding work in April rather than June. It’s a challenging space to be in, but if it was easy a lot more companies would be doing it. However, we now have a model which is tried and tested and we’ve documented every aspect so that rolling it out to a new site is much easier.
Preparing our interns for the challenge
For our interns, who are understandably nervous coming into a new situation, often from a very protected environment, we try to prepare them as best as we can. We match them up with past interns who have been transformed by their experiences and who can let them know what to expect. Our graduates organise a ‘Work Inspiration Week’ so students can come and get an idea of what’s involved before they commit. Past interns also go into schools to talk about their experiences.
Another thing we’ve learned is to engage with parents earlier. Some parents have been quite cynical at the start of the process, but when they see how their children blossom and gain confidence they are inspired and share their experiences with other parents. We’re trying to create as much cross-fertilization as possible.
Spreading the word about our programme
We’re also doing what we can to spread the word about the programme and encourage other businesses to work with young people with disabilities. We’ve run conferences and invited colleges and businesses along, and also sent speakers to external events to talk about our experiences.
After attending one of our conferences, Sheffield College was inspired to set up its own programme. A number of National Grid colleagues spoke at an event to which the college had invited local employers, and as a result of our inspiration, it’s signed up companies to the programme including Amey and John Lewis. Parkway College in Hull also wants to learn from our programme. It’s currently working with Siemens, which is considering providing internships at their new wind turbine factory in Hull.
Securing paid employment involves challenges but of the two intakes that have completed their internships at National Grid, around 60% are in full-time employment. Others have gone on to further education, pursuing a particular career path in mainstream colleges, equipped with greater skills and confidence.
National Grid is committed to EmployAbility for the long-term. It’s now embedded in our organisation and we have already started the selection process for the 2016 group. It is something that connects us to our local communities and makes a real difference, improving the lives of people who have had a hard start in life.
Read more about the BiTC award shortlisting for ‘EmployAbility – Let’s Work Together’ here.