Victoria Clutton calls for employment barriers to be removed for the long-term ill, as ASTRiiD (Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development) marks its first year of success.
Opportunity, purpose and income have been afforded to determined Victoria Clutton for the first time in her life, after innovative UK charity ASTRiiD connected her skills to meaningful work – something that was always beyond her reach.
The 37-year-old, from Lincoln has battled the debilitating symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/ME since the age of 16, making the past two decades of job hunting an impossible task.
Describing the condition as ‘a physically and mentally intolerable disease,’ Victoria endures chronic pain, extreme fatigue, sensory overload and on very bad days, brain fog which can mean she is unable to concentrate or speak.
Despite these daily challenges, Victoria remained eager to further herself, ambitiously looking for ways into employment when she felt able. She said: “Many people with CFS/ME don’t work because there’s so many obstacles to consider, not because of a lack of willingness or laziness. I tried to find an accommodating role but with the baggage of a chronic illness, traditional recruitment processes and employment environments present major challenges.
“A typical day for me is worlds apart from a typical day for a healthy person, so I don’t tick any of the rigid boxes associated with what work is supposed to look like. For example, part-time work – which I believe is still wrongly seen as not being meaningful, equates to working 16 hours a week, but this is way beyond my capabilities. It’s frustrating and disheartening because it feels like you’re being labelled by society as being unemployable. There needs to be a fundamental change.”
Persevering with her career dreams, at the end of 2017 Victoria graduated with a degree in Maths and Computer Science via The Open University – an accomplishment that was 14 years in the making. She explained: “I took several long breaks from my studies because my health was so up and down and ended up facing many difficult situations as a result.
Unfortunately, medical interventions have always fallen short of helping my symptoms – at one stage I was prescribed strong pain relief tablets to cope but this worsened my already indescribable tiredness and I regularly slept up to 22 hours a day. In spite of this, I was deemed fit for work and the Jobcentre declared that I could work from home. Without any employment history or skills to offer, I couldn’t find a suitable position that was flexible enough to fit my additional needs, which led to being unable to support myself financially – I struggled to buy food and nearly lost my home.”
As a new graduate, Victoria hoped her job prospects would improve but disappointingly, found herself facing the same barriers. She added: “Trying to get a start on the career ladder is stressful at the best of times but with the extra worry of a chronic illness, it becomes a very complicated and overwhelming process – questions run through your mind constantly like ‘when should I tell the employer I have an illness?’, ‘will I even be considered for this role because of my additional needs?’ or ‘will I be able to take breaks at a moment’s notice?’ and ‘how will my benefits be affected?’. All that apprehension vanished when I discovered a new charity called ASTRiiD – I’d finally found an easier route to employment.”
Through its unique matchmaking platform, ASTRiiD invites jobseekers like Victoria, who have chronic, often incurable health problems, and their care-givers, to join its free online community. Here, they can describe their talents and provide details on how and when they can work, while companies list their flexible paid or voluntary positions available; ASTRiiD then links them up.
In May 2018, Victoria became one of the charity’s earliest connections when she secured her first ever job with global engineering consultancy, Altran where she has continued to impress bosses with her skills, attitude and work ethic.
Responsible for overhauling the company’s intranet system, Sharepoint Coordinator Victoria has made the role her own by maximising her specialist computer science background and recently committed to a six-month extension to her original contract. She said: “Entering the world of work for the first time has been an exceptional experience and while I might struggle to find a balance sometimes, I’m reveling in the challenge. As well as learning how to interact with people in a workplace environment, I’ve realised what my capabilities and hard limits really are and subsequently found ways to work around any issues.”
Being able to work from home enables Victoria to complete her contracted eight and half hours per week at her convenience, whether completing tasks outside of office hours or working short periods at a time.
Victoria said: “Altran is an incredibly understanding employer and takes a more modern view on how employees can complete their working day. I’m fitting my job around my needs, not the other way around and I strongly believe other companies should be taking this approach wherever possible to promote inclusivity. I feel like, thanks to ASTRiiD I found the holy grail of employment opportunities!”
Following her success, Victoria has been invited by ASTRiiD to share her experiences with around 100 guests at its first birthday celebration in London this week (Thursday 6 December).
ASTRiiD chairman, Steve Shutts commented: “My late brother, David Shutts OBE founded the charity shortly after his stage 4 cancer diagnosis, with the aim to galvanise the ‘invisible talent pool’ – skilled people like Victoria who have dipped under the employment radar because of a particular diagnosis but are ready and eager to work, if given the chance.
“We’re extremely proud of Victoria’s achievement and have no doubt that her story will inspire the business leaders, employers and other chronically-ill people looking for flexible work at our special event to get behind our mission to make the invisible visible.” Victoria finished: “ASTRiiD provides the most positive and relaxed process for jobseekers that I have ever experienced. By focusing on showcasing my skills and what I can contribute to an employer, rather than having to lead on my limitations not only gave me the confidence to apply for a job but allowed me to believe that I had a real shot at it because I knew the organisations advertising vacancies were open to employing people like me. This was always one of the biggest sources of stress when I’d previously looked for work and by simply removing this barrier, my life has truly changed for the better.”
For further information on ASTRiiD, to sign up as a partner, become a member, advertise a position or donate, visit: www.astriid.org.uk/. To stay updated on social media, join the conversation using #InvisibleTalentPool via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
ASTRiiD (Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development) is aunique UK charity with the mission to provide meaningful work for people with long-term health
problems and their carers.
Founded by David Shutts OBE in July 2017, the charity’s online matchmaking services allows businesses to tap into the ‘invisible talent pool’ – highly-skilled people affected by chronic illness, who have dipped under the employment radar with the potential to bridge the UK skills gap. For a long time, this community of people has been invisible to employers, and employers invisible to them. ASTRiiD aims to make the invisible visible.
ASTRiiD became a registered charity in January 2018 and has attracted hundreds of UK members and
businesses of all size and sectors since. Registered Charity No. 1176645.
For more information visit www.astriid.org.uk
About David Shutts OBE
Beginning his career as a Ministry of Defence apprentice before joining the Royal Navy in 1985, David Shutts OBE climbed the ranks culminating with a promotion to Commander in 2004. As a senior naval officer at the helm of the fleet’s most technologically-advanced warship at the time, David was awarded an OBE for leadership. At 45, he took a new challenge as vice president of global sales for a maritime logistics company, before moving into the role of regional director at a business organisation in 2014.
A year later, 10 days after turning 50, David’s life changed direction with a diagnosis of inoperable stage four advanced renal cancer – an experience that made him aware of how much work offers in terms of self-worth, self-esteem and interaction – much more than financial reward. David realised millions of others must feel like himself – cast aside because of a diagnosis, yet with valuable skills to share. His treatment and experience provided the inspiration to help people with long-term health issues find meaningful employment, while offering businesses the chance to benefit from their unique experiences. With the help of a former Navy colleague, David founded ASTRiiD in July 2017 and continued to campaign for the ‘invisible talent pool’ until he died in May 2018.
Altran ranks as the undisputed global leader in Engineering and R&D services (ER&D), following its acquisition of Aricent. The company offers clients an unmatched value proposition to address theirtransformation and innovation needs. Altran works alongside its clients, from initial concept through industrialisation, to invent the products and services of tomorrow. For over 30 years, the company has provided expertise in aerospace, automotive, defence, energy, finance, life sciences, railway and telecommunications. The Aricent acquisition extends this leadership to semiconductors, digital experience and design innovation. Combined, Altran and Aricent generated revenues of €2.9 billion in 2017, with some 45,000 employees in more than 30 countries.