A ground-breaking Inclusive Employment service in Essex is supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism to achieve their aspirations of gaining paid employment which matches their skills and interests.

Over the past 12 months, despite the pandemic, 60 adults with learning disabilities and autism have secured employment with the support of care provider ECL, working in partnership with Essex County Council. 

ECL’s specialist Inclusive Employment team has worked closely with the candidates, their families and support network to help them find and keep their ideal role. This includes career guidance, vocational skills development, CV writing, interview support and ongoing coaching and mentoring in the workplace for as long as it’s needed.

The ECL Inclusive Employment consultants also provide expert advice and practical support to employers. Over the past year the team has held positive conversations with over 500 Essex based employers about becoming Disability Confident employers who make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

One employer who has embraced the opportunity is Richard Trower, the owner of Geek Retreat, a vibrant café and shop in Chelmsford, who has employed Ellen Schultz, aged 30, who has Down’s Syndrome, for one afternoon each week.

Ellen, who lives in Chelmsford, had completed vocational training at ECL Greenacres, one of ECL’s Day Services, and gained experienced by volunteering at a pop-up café at Moulsham Lodge community centre.

Richard Trower, owner, Geek Retreat, says: “When ECL contacted me to enquire whether I would consider employing someone with a learning disability I was open to the idea as it fitted in well with our inclusive ethos. I had over 200 applications but I could see that Ellen had the relevant skills. She gave some exceptionally good answers in the interview, better than many of the other candidates. It was apparent that she was well prepared, and most importantly, she showed she really wanted the job.

Ellen was supported by ECL Inclusive Employment Consultant Caroline Giess, who helped her prepare for the Zoom interview and practice speaking loudly and with confidence. All the hard work and preparation paid off and Ellen was delighted to be offered 4 hours a week of paid employment; serving customers and keeping the café and shop clean and tidy. 

Ellen was furloughed during the lockdown but was kept involved throughout, with training meetings on Zoom which included meeting the Area Managers from different Geek Retreat regions. A WhatsApp group kept everyone connected. She’s now excited to be back at Geek Retreat on Monday afternoons.

Joe Coogan, Director of Operations from ECL, says: “Our specialist Inclusive Employment team are helping adults with learning disabilities who have career ambitions to fulfil their potential and improve their lives and we’re really pleased about the positive achievements for everyone involved, which in the context of the pandemic is outstanding.

“The service is also enabling more employers to realise the benefits of becoming an Inclusive Employer. These are wide ranging, from opening up an untapped talent pool of candidates and securing high quality, loyal and hardworking staff, to improving employee morale and commitment by demonstrating you are a recognised Disability Confident Employer. In the past sometimes it was assumed that adults with a learning disability would attend day services and didn’t want or couldn’t get jobs. Working with Essex County Council we are challenging this assumption and believe that we can help anyone get a job who wants one.”

When asked about her new job, Ellen says: “I’m very happy” adding “I’m looking forward to earning some money to buy a Star Wars bobblehead”. Ellen’s mum Mary Schultz, commented “Ellen is really enjoying her job; she comes home happy and smiling. Both ECL and Richard at Geek Retreat have been incredibly supportive.” 

Richard Trower adds: “It has been great to give Ellen the opportunity of employment, she is more than capable of doing the job and it’s reassuring to know that both Ellen and myself have the back-up of ECL if needed. I would definitely recommend inclusive employment to other employers.”

Chris Martin, Director of Strategic Commissioning & Policy, Essex County Council, says: “Essex County Council carried out focus groups two years ago which showed that large numbers of people with learning disabilities and autism in Essex wanted support to get into work.

“The collaboration with ECL to develop and introduce this ground-breaking approach to supporting both the candidates and the employers has been very positively received by everyone involved and we will be working with ECL to build on this by widening the access to the Inclusive Employment Service in the coming months.”

To find out more about ECL’s Inclusive Employment Service, see www.ecl.org/inclusive-employment