The STEPS (Support Towards Employment Progress and Satisfaction) team help people with learning disabilities to find work, whether that’s full time or part time, paid or voluntary. Led by Jayne Lea, it’s a close knit team who support the 244 people registered with STEPS. Around 70 people are in paid work and the rest in voluntary roles.
The team support adults aged 18 upwards, in a variety of roles. Jayne explains: “it’s not just the traditional ‘working with animals and children’ roles. The guys we support work in shops, on farms (with alpacas!) in offices, hospitality and even at the cemetery.”
The STEPS team are pictured with (far left) Viv Tsesmelis, Deputy Director of Partnerships, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
When I ask how long people tend to stay with STEPS, the team laugh: “We never like to let them go!” The team’s ethos is to be there for as long as it takes people to become independent. Jayne continues: “We have an exit strategy which we implement when the time is right. Our goal is independence but we can and do step back in if we need to.”
Claire, one of the team’s support workers, explains that the biggest barrier to someone getting employment is having a learning disability. “The first hurdle is the recruitment process itself with employers often asking for online applications and psychometric testing. If our guys can’t get past that they can’t even get a foot in the door.
“Even when we’re looking at jobs like temporary supermarket roles, a candidate can face two or three interviews plus a group task,” Claire continues. “The recruitment process shouldn’t put them at a disadvantage but for someone with social difficulties it can be terrifying to go through. It’s so frustrating because you know they’d be fantastic at the job, given the chance.”
The team are also frustrated by the lack of entry level jobs available. Although apprenticeships are a great opportunity for some, the entry criteria can often exclude people with learning disabilities. “And yet,” as Jayne explains, “they are perfect opportunities for our guys because they learn on the job.”
The STEPS team don’t spend all their time helping people to get jobs, although that’s a big part of their role, with the weekly job club providing one to one support for job finding and applications. Sometimes they are asked to step in when someone is at risk of losing their job. Often it’s about suggesting different approaches to local employers and challenging the ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Angie, one of the team’s co-ordinators, tells me how important it is to manage people’s expectations about employing someone with learning disabilities. “We help employers to think differently about what people can do and perhaps adapting the job description if there are particular tasks getting in the way. Fear of the unknown is also a big issue so we help employers to understand more about learning disabilities.”
“We are making inroads in Solihull but attitudes still need to change,” says Jayne. “We’ve had some real successes with local employers who have taken people on and have come back offering us other vacancies because they see the benefits.
“There are some great employers in Solihull. We are working with a Management Training Centre which has taken people on to do the catering and given them a chance. Since then some of our guys have taken on admin roles there as well. And although some began in voluntary roles they are now getting paid by the company. The manager deserves an award.”
The team see the positive impact that employment can have on people’s well being. Jayne continues: “We see ourselves as a preventative service for all sorts of health issues. Having a job, even for a few hours a week, takes you out of the house, helps to develop independence and confidence and brings you into contact with other people. That can be priceless, not just for the individual but for their family too.”
There is a lot of laughter and support between members of the team whose skills range from recruitment to social work. “That’s part of the success of the team,” says Laura, another of the co-ordinators. “We help each other, share our knowledge and skills to find solutions together. We don’t always get it right first time. That’s where teamwork comes in. We might swap roles and try a different approach to supporting someone. There is a strong culture of learning from mistakes and celebrating, especially when someone gets a new job.”
The team also acknowledge the support they get from other professionals in the council and NHS. “We are lucky that we can speak to psychologists and ask for help on how we should approach a situation. Solihull is so small, everyone knows everyone else. It’s easy to pick up the phone and ask for advice.”
Winning the Solihull Together Award is helping to raise awareness of their work both at the Council and across the wider health and care system. “We want to raise our profile with EVERYBODY and ANYBODY with the power to give us a job,” they laugh again. “We just need the opportunities. The guys do the rest themselves.”
You can see the team’s determination to break down barriers and get people with learning disabilities included in the workforce. Jayne lays down a final challenge: “If every employer in Solihull committed to employing someone with a learning disability, it would have a huge impact. It doesn’t have to be a full time job. 3 hours a week could make a big difference to someone. Imagine the joy of going out for a few hours each week, possibly getting a uniform to wear and being invited out to the company ‘do’.
“Let us come and talk to you and give our guys a chance to prove themselves.”
You can contact the STEPS team by:
Phone: 0121 704 7495