WAAW: What's the impact of work experience?

Many of the young people at Seashell aim to progress into work at the end of their course and work to develop the skills they need to make valuable contributions into a range of employment opportunities. School students begin Careers lessons in Key Stage 3 and undertake their first work experience placements onsite in Key Stage 4. When appropriate, our college students complete work experience placements in the community. Robert, a young man with autism, has progressed to the college’s pilot supported internship, a scheme designed to promote the development of work skills and demonstrate just how much our young people have to offer in the workplace.

When any young person applying to the college attends the assessment, Seashell gather information about their interests and ambitions for their future life after college. Robert arrived with a number of positive skills which would be useful in the workplace, including some numeracy and good organisational skills, and completed work experience both at Seashell, where he demonstrated his ability to work with other students and unfamiliar members of staff, and in the community. While he initially struggled to interact with his peers and experienced significant anxiety in noisy environments, Robert grew much more confident with time and now enjoys socialising with other young people.

As part of his work skills sessions onsite, Robert learned how to complete several office tasks (such as mailing, laminating, shredding documents etc.), produced road safety posters for use onsite, prepared garden beds and planted a number of vegetables. He demonstrated that he was diligent and careful with his work, and when tasks became more difficult, Robert persevered and used his judgement to seek assistance when necessary. With time and practice, Robert grew accustomed to work requirements such as the gloves worn when handling soil and became more confident when faced with new tasks and changes to his routine.

Work placements in the community included a local farm and a placement at Think Money. During his first sessions on the farm, Robert was very wary of the smaller animals (chickens, ducks and dogs) approaching him but enjoyed the outdoor work and learned how to work with larger animals by grooming the donkeys. After working on the farm for several sessions and reviewing what to expect, Robert’s confidence and tolerance grew and he assumed more responsibilities for tasks such as selecting the right feed and collecting the tools needed to make bird boxes. At Think Money, Robert worked to collate papers and organise packs of leaflets given to new staff.

The internship programme has enabled Robert to focus on preparing for entry into the workforce. As part of the team of nine final-year interns, Robert continues to extend his interest in outdoor and clerical tasks – for example, at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre, Robert and the other interns complete tasks such as litter-picking, gardening, preparing rooms for conferences and weddings and working in the laundry. The skills Robert learns during these placements extend beyond the specific tasks: he can better understand expectations for the workplace and how those expectations might differ from the college environment, how to interact with colleagues and work as part of a team, and practice transferring his knowledge and understanding into a number of different settings.

Figures from Mencap demonstrate that just 10% of all people with learning disabilities known to social services are in paid work, and the National Autistic Society’s Don’t Write Me Off found that just 15% of all people with autism are in full-time paid work. For autistic students at Seashell, who also have severe learning disabilities, a part-time role may be better able to meet their needs.

For young people with autism and learning disabilities, work placements present additional challenges such as the need to support communication or additional time to adjust to new environments. But with the right support, Robert has grown into a dependable, capable intern who is consistently impressing the people he works with. He has a lot to offer – and we know that when he leaves the college and progresses into work, his future employers will surely be impressed, too.

At Seashell, we know the value of work experience placements for our young people. They grow in confidence, demonstrate new communication skills and are more likely to progress into supported work or voluntary placements after finishing their education. That’s why we’re working to ensure that we can offer similar opportunities to more young people in the future.

For more information about the work we do with employers, please see our Employment Services page.

Are you an employer wondering how work experience placements might work for you? Download our Valuing Employment Now brochure for more details or contact us at info@seashelltrust.org.uk or by telephone on 0161 610 0100 to request more information.