CfESEND blog: Supporting learners into employment during the pandemic at City College Norwich

Blog by Elaine Dale, Director of SEND at City College Norwich, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

As we return from half term we are all fired up for a productive time in supporting our learners. The teams at college have been reflecting on their practice to better support learners with the current restrictions.

We have also been sharing our effective practice with you in a recent webinar highlighting our employment agency model MINT which has fantastic results for our SEND learners gaining sustainable employment. Please visit the ETF website for this recording and resources. Thank you for the positive and encouraging feedback:

  • “Thanks so much, I have learnt a lot.” Natalie Simon, London.ac.uk
  • “A great presentation.” Saara Byrne, New Friars College
  • “Thank you so much. Fantastic work being done.” Julia Walker, Southend College
  • “Thanks so much for today and your great work.” Carol Robinson, National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi)

Our employment agency staff have not been deterred by the pandemic and have focused on employers who have been working throughout this time. As a result, our supported employment agency MINT has recently celebrated supporting 20 learners gaining employment since March throughout the period of the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions.

Employment Job Coaches used video conferencing in place of their usual face-to-face employability skills training sessions, and Blackboard Collaborate (the virtual learning environment) for more intensive one-to-one support with finding and applying for jobs and employability lessons.

The learners MINT supports all have some form of barrier that has made it harder for them to find employment, ranging from anxiety or other mental health conditions, autism, learning differences, to physical disabilities. 

One of the distinctive elements of MINT’s approach is that its Employment Job Coaches continue to provide learners with access to regular in-work support even after they have secured a job – helping to ensure a successful transition into their new working lives.

“A job in an industry I want to work in.”

Alex White is one of those who has recently secured employment thanks to MINT. The 23-year-old, from Rockland St Mary, came to MINT in January. He was hoping the service could help him get a job in the construction sector, in line with his interest in planning and civil engineering.

As part of the pre-employment project run by MINT, Alex was given the opportunity to gain some work experience with construction firm Tarmac. Although this placement was cut short by the beginning of lockdown, Alex found it “a good introduction” which confirmed his interest in working in this area.

During lockdown Alex took part in MINT’s employability workshops and continued to have regular phone contact and video calls with his Employment Job Coach, working on finding and applying for jobs, doing mock job interviews, and reviewing his progress.

This hard work paid off when Alex was recently offered a technician role with WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering professional services consulting firms, which will see him undertaking administration for the company on some of its highway’s projects. Looking forward to starting his new job, Alex said:

“The interview went well. Thanks to the work I had done with my Job Coach, I had responses prepared for some of the questions they asked me. I am definitely looking forward to starting. It’s a first step for me, a job in an industry I want to work in.”

“MINT helped hugely with my confidence and motivation.”

Twenty-year-old Dominic Thrussell, from Norwich, started working with MINT last October, hoping it would help him build his confidence and communication skills, allow him to explore different career options, and give him practical work experience.

His time with MINT, before and during the lockdown period, has provided him with all these things. Dominic says his Employment Job Coach helped him to remain positive and motivated, despite the challenges brought about by lockdown.

Dominic gained work experience with JobCentre Plus in Norwich and received weekly support from his MINT Employment Job Coach with searching for jobs and preparing for interviews. He also found MINT’s employability workshops helped him to learn how things work in the workplace.

Thanks to this support, Dominic successfully applied for an Apprenticeship position with board games and collectables retailer Zatu Games. Dominic says that he has “settled in” to working life and that starting the Apprenticeship “massively boosted my confidence”. He continues:

“MINT helped me hugely with my confidence and motivation and with my transition into the professional workplace. Before I came to MINT, I really didn’t think I would have been able to get a job. I’d recommend MINT to anyone who’s struggling to find employment.”

Employment outcomes “a credit to the young people.”

Reflecting on the diversity of young people and employers that MINT works with, the 20 job outcomes span a wide range of jobs – in administration, care, cleaning, hospitality, retail, and warehouse work – and include a mix of full and part-time jobs and Apprenticeships.

MINT Pre-Employment Coordinator Adam Savvas commented:

“Lockdown represented a significant extra challenge for the young people MINT works with, so it was really important that we were able to maintain our usual level of contact and found new ways to provide our employability skills training and one-to-one support with searching and applying for jobs.

“The fact that 20 of the young people have found work is a credit to them. They are very tenacious, they want to work, and they remained positive and kept going throughout the unusual and challenging circumstances of the last six months.”

If you would like to know how to implement a supported employment agency or to find out more and to discuss how to develop leadership approaches, with either Corrienne Peasgood, the Principal or me (Director of SEND), please do not hesitate to get in contact. This offer is part of our ongoing support through ETF leadership discussion, so please do get in touch via CfESEND@ccn.ac.uk

Please also keep a watchful eye on the SEND Excellence Gateway for resources, webinars and updates. 

I look forward to seeing in one of our upcoming webinars but for now, take care and see you soon.

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