How Supported Employment Can Help Your Company

1st of August 2018 Article by Laura Napper
How Supported Employment Can Help Your Company
How Supported Employment Can Help Your Company

Laura Napper, managing director of Twilight Cleaning and Facilities Management and regular ECJ blogger, shares her experience of implementing supported employment within her company.

At Twilight Cleaning, we've tried a number of different ways of recruiting staff, from advertising on job sites, to social media, word of mouth and job agencies, all with mixed success. Finding candidates with the right blend of ability, experience and passion for the job can be a challenge.

It is easy to desire that all-encompassing correct and box-ticking ideal candidate, but (and I'm laughing here...) we all aspire to be, at least, our best selves. We have been taught to say everything an employer wants to hear, but whether we can deliver is really in the eye of the beholder, or time will tell. It is risky employing anyone at all sometimes.

I think it is fair to say that supported employment isn't conventionally measured in that same way, and this does not make it unsuccessful in the slightest, simply different. The team at Kent Supported Employment (KSE) offered me bespoke specialist support for the people with disabilities and/or disadvantages who wanted employment with us. The aim is to not only to find suitable work, but to professionally support potential employees with a disability/disadvantage to prepare and sustain that paid employment.

Supported Employment supports an individual in finding a job - it is there for people who in my opinion have been squeezed out in the job market through no fault of their own. I remind myself about square pegs and round holes, and that we don't all fit that 'norm', and it is OK to be different.

Currently five per cent of their clients have disabilities including physical, brain and sensory difficulties, and the remaining 95 per cent of their clients either have a learning disability and/or are on the autistic spectrum or have significant boundaries to seeking, finding and sustaining employment independently.

How do we get past the dilemma - I need to know more about you but I don't know if I can ask?

Don't be shy, that is how we approach it, and when we employ people, through their terms of employment we give them a chance to prove themselves. The interview itself is most likely to be one of the most liberatingly open and honest interviews you would ever have hosted.

It is incredible and so very different to meet people who are handing you their best bits like any other interview, (at which they are also joined by their employment advisor) and in the same sentence, unlike any other interview, they will tell you exactly what their disability happens to be, and how or if it would have any impact on their day. Can you imagine that level of honesty at any regular or ultra-competitive interview? Probably not.

Is different a good thing in the cleaning industry?

Yes, there are strengths in everyone. If you are concerned or unsure, don't be - look again. The support received is for as long as it takes. I felt that we as a company were supported by KSE alongside the candidate, which was extremely reassuring.

And if you are a strong leader there really is nothing that cannot be taught to people who want to work but need a bit of extra guidance - while at the same time helping those who want to work and have a career. I am confident I can teach 'my way' or "the Twilight way" to anyone who wants to learn. If we have obstacles, then like with any other staff member, we as a company try to find a way to overcome them.

At the first meeting with one person, (who is now a long-serving staff member) he was shy, unable to hold eye contact and his body language was awkward at best. The meeting was in a place he knew and was comfortable with (I hated the place, it was crowded and noisy... but it's not about me!).

We talked, and eventually we were able to get some conversation going and since then we have gone from strength to strength. Once a few shifts were underway (alongside a job coach from KSE) confidence started to build, we strengthened our routine, and built a solid working friendship.

This person has an amazing sense of loyalty and openness. I didn't know how much I would gain from this as a company or personally, but I admire this person for the qualities they have. I don't waste both our time thinking about what he is not, but what he is and how he can thrive - and so far, this has proved successful.

Don't get me wrong - we have boundaries that are set and rules that are followed; training is ongoing, but this is not more than I would do for anyone else, and I really cannot stress this enough. There have been times where I have had to understand the differences - autism mainly, can mean taking very literally what you say.

I have had to remind myself not to do the unsaid stuff, like for us in our toilets, for example asking a cleaner: "Can you sweep the toilets?" Why oh why, would anyone sweep the toilet? But I didn't mean what I said, really did I? I meant: "Please sweep out the cubicles" or "Sweep the floors in the toilets". That is my fault, I am not saying what I mean.

Another example: one of our cable tidy straps had clearly gone missing and our guy replaced it with a long (but clean) sock he had brought in from home, so I asked: "What is that?" He simply said: "It is a sock." Again, it's me - I need to communicate and learn to say what I really need to, rather than assume he is indeed a mind reader. We use an awful lot of pragmatic language, we can't expect everyone to know exactly what we mean - we need to be clear and I know if I have made a mistake, it isn't him, it's me.

The transition stage and settling in to a position

Kent Supported Employment has been a stepping stone or like a third arm in bringing someone suitable to my workplace and helping them transition into their job until they are independent. Right from the start, the team has helped me to employ a member of staff with a disability, they have given valuable HR advice and guidance, and support in the workplace. It has taken commitment from all sides. I have committed to learning and trying to understand those that want to work with me. I really wanted to do this when I heard about it and I have never looked back.

Accepting the differences is nothing to lose.

Trying to accept differences in people makes every difference to them. I have personally been told "I want to buy a good phone like everyone else, but no-one will give me a chance to prove myself". This is sad. This person has much to offer and all they need is a chance to shine.

Feel free to tell us what your thoughts are on this or to ask any questions get in touch or find me on Linkedin under Laura Napper. I am always happy to hear from anyone in the industry.


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