Blog – The importance of work experience for people of all abilities.

Internships are crucial for young people, but also vital for employers

Renee Flourentzou, Head of School at West Lea’s Learning for Life Campus

It’s safe to say that the current employment landscape is challenging – earlier this summer over 500 people applied for two jobs in a London pub. With an incredibly competitive market, it’s important our young people are provided with relevant work experience and training in order to help them stand out and provide valuable skills to an organisation. This is arguably even more important for young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) to increase their opportunities and help them build confidence in their abilities. This view is one we at West Lea School have been championing for years.

We believe it’s important to equip students with a ‘suitcase’ of skills to help them flourish no matter what situation they face in life after education. Raising awareness of the options available to them and supporting them in securing these opportunities increases their self-belief which not only aids their development, but also gives them a real chance in gaining workplace experience and skills, whilst also helping employers discover a pool of hidden talent.

Initiatives like our Supported Internship Programme, not only help to raise aspirations and provide students with the opportunity to gain vital experience, but also offer multiple benefits for businesses, including:

  • Establishing a more inclusive and diverse work community.
  • Dispelling any misconceptions about young people with SEND and allowing for a deeper understanding of what every individual can offer.
  • Working closely with individuals in the early stages of their career helps to ensure they become the perfect fit for the company.
  • Raising awareness of disabilities can help businesses attract a new, more diverse customer base.

These benefits not only help to improve the number of high-quality applicants available to businesses, but also creates a workforce that reflects a more inclusive environment and provides young people with the opportunities they need to set them on a positive path.

We find often businesses are hesitant to take on interns with SEN as they believe they don’t have the support structure in place or time to invest in specialised training. However, as part of this, we provide job coaches to guide and aid students and businesses throughout the internship.

A job coach offers extra support for the intern but also works closely with the business to identify their needs and how to intern can add value with their skillset. We’ve received some amazing feedback from organisations we work with, including the Head of Service at the London Borough of Enfield, who’s intern now has a full-time role, commending the impact of having a job coach by saying, “the level of support from the job coach has been fantastic and really helped to settle the intern into their role and support us as an employer.” A support network like this enables both the young person and the business to be properly equipped and ensure the internship is a success.

Over the years, we’ve seen the value this support has had on both students and businesses. Nando’s in Enfield recently took on one of our students with autism and mild learning difficulties. He quickly settled into the role and with the help of his job coach, quickly became an invaluable member of staff. So much so, he was offered a permanent role within the company and now trains other staff members and often receives positive online reviews from customers, with particular praise for his customer service.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak cannot be overlooked and has created even more complex challenges for young people. However, it’s more important now than ever that we support one another where possible. Offering internships enables businesses to provide this invaluable support to our future generation, whilst also benefitting themselves from skilled workers, and fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce.