Shared training: A programme responding to the needs of employers

Maureen Hefferon heads a project which has developed in-house training courses for prospective employers and co-workers who realise that employing people with learning disabilities makes good business sense.

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Shared Training is an innovative project which has developed in-company training for managers and supervisors, to enable them to make the natural supports of the workplace more accessible to employees with learning disability. The project is a partnership venture between St Michael’s House and ADAPT, which is a major initiative supported by the European Social Fund to assist companies and their workers to anticipate and prepare for change in the workplace.

The Employers’ Research Pack, ‘Including employees with learning disability’, is an in-company training programme which provides a flexible, accessible and effective package for employers and managers in a variety of business types. Training materials were produced in consultation with human resource and training representatives from a variety of businesses. An Employers’ Advisory Group was established—from state, semi-state and private sector companies—to assist the project and to ensure a strong business focus. Feedback was received from sixteen companies which helped to shape the Disability Awareness module A number of major employers participated in a pilot staff-training scheme. These included Telecom Éireann and Bank of Ireland—who had no history of employing people with learning disability—and Superquinn, which has had considerable experience in this area.

People with learning disability were part of the training team; they were key influencers in the project development. A Clients’ Advisory Group was established to seek their opinions on what changes, from their own experience of supported employment, they felt needed to be made. Among the group’s recommendations, which were incorporated into the ‘best practice’ approach of the training programme, were clarification of contracts and conditions, direct feedback from employer/manager, training available within the workplace, and education on learning disability for co-workers and employers.

The training programme encourages employers and managers to examine their in-company systems to enable them to recruit, train and manage employees with learning disabilities successfully. The practical orientation of the package focuses on aspects relevant to particular companies, with emphasis on re-equipping the company’s own training division so that internal change can be more effective.

Margot Brennan, Project Training Coordinator, worked with employees with learning disability and employers to produce the training pack which is in two parts. The first is a 40-minute presentation on disability awareness which is co-presented by a person with a learning disability. The second module is a one-and-a-half hour workshop on recruitment, training and performance management. Workbooks, a video and reference materials are also provided. Feedback from employers recommended that these materials be introduced to companies by disability agency staff, who are perceived by employers to bring expertise.

Those who took part in the programme concluded that employing people with learning disabilities makes good business sense, and that there should be high expectations for their success in a company. Valerie Judge, of Telecom Éireann, says: ‘Working closely with Shared Training, we were able to identify job functions that matched the skills of individuals with learning disability, and with the support of Shared Training the employees were brought up to speed in a relatively short period of time.’ One co-worker emphasised the importance of having a person with a learning disability as co-presenter of the programme: ‘Having people with a learning disability speaking was the best part, as it made you realise how important work, and doing the job well, was to them.’

Training sessions also gave employers and managers the opportunity to discuss disability issues at organisational level. As one supervisor said: ‘When we started to explore the possibility of employing a person with learning disability, there seemed very few obstacles….I really think we simply needed a forum to talk about it.’

On 11 May 1998, in Dublin Castle, the Employers’ Resource Pack was launched at a seminar entitled ‘Including employees with learning disability: An innovative approach to working in partnership’. Presentations were given by employers and by employees with learning disabilities. Christy Lynch, chief executive officer of KARE, spoke about the challenge for disability agencies to provide an effective supported employment service.

Tánaiste Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, launched the Employers’ Resource Pack, and commented: ‘The development of shared training represents a new departure aimed at overcoming the problems of developing and supporting adults with learning disabilities to secure employment in mainstream service and manufacturing organisations. People with learning disability are an untapped resource for employers seeking to recruit effective and reliable staff. Employers who have experience of employees with learning disability find these workers make a positive contribution.’

Shared Training’s Employers’ Resource Pack comes in a presentation box containing a Leader’s Guide, a video, reference notes and workbooks. It is available from the Department of Research and Service Development, St Michael’s House, Management House, Sandyford Road, Dublin 16 (tel: 01-295 9788, fax: 02-295 9919).

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