DFN Project Search leading the way for young people with hidden impairments

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During UK Disability History Month we hear about Claire Cookson’s mission to get 10,000 young people with learning disabilities and autism into work in the next decade with DFN Project SEARCH and what she believes still needs to be done to break boundaries and disrupt the perceived expectation of those within the neurodiverse community. 

Claire Cookson is one of the principal voices for supported employment in the UK who, as CEO of DFN Project SEARCH, is leading the charge to help thousands of young people with learning disabilities and autism progress into full-time paid jobs over the next decade. 

It’s no easy task for Claire and her team with national statistics showing that just 5.1 per cent of people with a learning disability or autism who known to local authorities in work and the remaining 94 percent “unfortunately, and disappointedly, dropping off a cliff after leaving education,” said Claire, who has made it her mission to challenge the status quo and support these young adults into the workplace. 

“We want to get 20,000 people into jobs in the next 10 years. That’s what we work towards, and I feel absolutely compelled to work with the phenomenal DFN team to raise ambition across the country and raise aspiration. There is some amazing practice in the UK and there are areas where there isn’t a strong supported internship route for people with learning needs, and that just feels really unfair,” Claire continued. 

“Everyone deserves the right to aspire to their very best future, but that seems to be something that traditionally we have denied to young people with learning needs. My work is not done yet here. There is so much that we want to achieve and I really want to be part of this for a long time. Until there is systematic change, I think that’s what I’m looking for. This needs to become the norm, this needs to be just what happens. I am not going to stop until we’ve got so many thousands and thousands getting jobs a year.” 

DFN Project SEARCH works to build a more inclusive society by helping to create much improved career opportunities for those with learning disabilities and autism through 76 supported internships schemes across the UK, and the charity succeeded even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

New data from the charity and the class of 2019-20 shows that:

  • 209 interns secured employment during the national lockdown 
  • 175 interns found full-time, non-seasonal jobs paid at prevailing wage and in an integrated workplace
  • The average hourly salary was £8.73, above the National Living Wage for all age groups
  • No gender pay gap, female interns earn the same (or slightly more) as male interns
  • Interns worked on average 25 hours a week, considerably more than the 16 hours threshold 
  • 25% of interns were from a BAME background, nearly twice as many as the UK population of 13%

Data show that interns have similar employment outcomes regardless of their ethnicity, type of disability or gender.

These figures reflect the response of DFN Project SEARCH during the Pandemic, bringing its community together and driving collaboration to ensure that young people on DFN Project SEARCH supported internships stayed on their journey to full time, integrated, competitive employment.

The performance is even more impressive considering that disabled employees have had higher than average redundancy rates during the Pandemic.

Latest Government research shows that 71 per cent of disabled people employed had been impacted by loss of income, furlough, unemployment or feeling at risk of redundancy. The insight also found that 42 per cent of employers felt discouraged from hiring disabled applicants.

“One of the things that I am particularly proud of during the Pandemic is the number of DFN Project SEARCH graduates who have been working in and securing key worker roles during the crisis,” Claire said.  

“The past two years (almost) have been truly transformational as we have responded to the challenges of the Pandemic and it is fair to say that the social hierarchy has been challenged. We have never been more equal, no one can buy protection from the virus. Society has been forced to reassess what we consider key and essential roles to be and communities have started to value and celebrate people as individuals.”

“Our interns have risen to the challenge in frontline roles and continue to do amazing work across vital industries like healthcare and logistics. They share anxieties like all of us, but they have overcome these to be part of a more inclusive workforce. What’s more is that their work ethic has shone through and they have shown themselves to be able to understand and adhere to new ways of working and follow stringent health and safety guidelines.”

You can learn more about DFN Project SEARCH at https://dfnprojectsearch.org/

About DFN Project SEARCH 

DFN Project SEARCH programmes throughout the country are creating life changing opportunities, offering young people a one-year transition to work programme in their final year of school or college to enable inclusion and empowerment.

Evidenced-based and outcome driven, the programme is a proven way of helping people with learning disabilities get long term careers as well as helping businesses get a more inclusive workforce. Today it is running over 76 UK schemes and has supported more than 1,475 young people into full-time paid work.

DFN Project Search now has a target of getting 10,000 young people into work during the next 10 years, which will be transformative for them, their families, communities and business.

For more information please go to https://dfnprojectsearch.org/ 

DFN Project Search
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