National disability charity, Motability, has recruited five new apprentices who will start their careers in the organisation’s Harlow office. 

Motability has been offering tailored customer service and business administration qualifications, providing young people with little or no experience, new practical skills to take their first step into the world of work.

The five apprentices are studying at Harlow College while gaining hands-on experience in their various teams over a period of 12-18 months at Motability.

One of the new starters, Harrison Torbey (21), found the training programme through Shaw Trust, an organisation that helps disabled people and those with challenging life circumstances or other barriers that impact on access to work. 

We spoke with Harrison just a few weeks after his apprenticeship started…

How did you get involved with the Motability apprenticeship?
I was under Jobcentre Plus for a while because I couldn’t get a job due to my epilepsy and mental health issues. They basically said I didn’t have to go on Jobseeker’s Allowance due to my physical health. But I still wanted to get back into work, so they then took me onto a scheme with Shaw Trust that helps young people with mental health issues. That’s how I found out about this. As soon as I saw it, I thought wow, that’s perfect for me and I went ahead and applied.

Did you already know about Motability?
My cousin used to work for Motability a fair few years ago, so I know that it’s a very good company. I know that they treat their employees well, and you can’t go wrong with helping other people. It gives you a heart-warming feeling.

Can you tell us a little more about the challenges affecting you?
I’ve got temporal lobe epilepsy, which is quite a common type, but obviously no epilepsy’s nice. I got diagnosed a couple of years ago so it’s still a fairly new thing to me. I’m still unaware of what triggers it but I get different types of seizures, so I get tonic clonic seizures which is when you’re fitting and going unconscious but more frequently, I get partial seizures where I’m still conscious. Half of my body just stops working basically and it can be really frustrating. I’ve also had poor mental health in the past, including depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. But I’m here now and I’m supposed to be here otherwise I wouldn’t have got this job, there’s always a reason for something.

You must have discussed this with Motability; how did those conversations go?
They were absolutely fine. Everyone was so supportive; they wanted a bit more information on my specific type of epilepsy and what sort of triggers to look out for. In the first week, they were so sweet; before I’d even started, I’d got an email from one of the ladies, Laura, double checking because one of the slides that we had to go through had flashing images. She wanted to know if I was photosensitive. Little things like that make all the difference. I’m not photosensitive, but she went out of her way. Everyone here has been so nice about it.

These are simple measures though and not having received them elsewhere in your job searching must be frustrating…
It is frustrating, because at the end of the day, yes, I’ve got a disability but that doesn’t stop my capability to work. I don’t see why people take it as that. 

Let’s talk about those capabilities. You must have had to have absorbed an enormous amount of information about Motability; how have you managed that?
We have a lot of support from our trainers who are helping us in the training scheme, in making sure we’re fully up to date with everything. If we don’t understand anything they’re more than happy to go over it again. We’ve also got our buddies: we’ve each been paired up with one of the grants enquiry advisors (GEA) so when we go out onto the floor and end up speaking with our beneficiaries, our customers, if we need any help, they’re always there. 

It’s just such a warm environment and everybody has been helping everyone else. It’s very teamwork based.

What kind of questions and topics are you expecting to deal with when you go live?
A lot of it is about how their case is going. For example, if we’ve done our pre-qualifications you have to let the customer know, they want to know how long they’ll be waiting.

Obviously, you’ve always got to be empathetic, because let’s be honest, even if someone is angry, if you then speak to them in a dull tone, they’re going to manoeuvre it back and the situation’s going to escalate. The best thing to do is to stay calm, keep a good tone of voice. If they don’t understand it, you can explain it in a different way to them. It’s harder sometimes, such as when you have severely vulnerable people on the line, they get very upset and you should just say something like, ‘Do you need some time?’ I’m more than happy to wait for a moment.

What most appeals to you about the apprenticeship – and being with Motability?
I’m learning on the job at Motability and other aspects at college. It’s nice to be able to get a qualification at the end, although I want to carry on with the company. But it’s always good to have qualifications. It’s a customer service qualification, level 2.

What other kinds of jobs might you apply that to, if you were going to?
Well, it could be call centre work such as I’m doing right now. It can be from selling a product to helping people with their vehicles, or it could be as simple as being a receptionist. I think I’d prefer to do a job like this where I’m getting something out of it by helping people.

What’s the most difficult part of the apprenticeship?
The difficult part is probably just taking in all the information. There’s a lot of it but even though it’s difficult, we’ve got our ways around it. For example, I’ve got index cards that I’ve made, so for the things that we need more at hand, instead of wasting time on the phone they’re right there.

I know you have ambitions to stay on at Motability when your apprenticeship finishes, so how do you think your role might develop over time?
I want to get comfortable in my role as a grants advisor first, because that’s what I’m here to do. Then once I’m doing that, on the site we have a thing here called mental health first aiders. Because of my past experiences with mental health I would like to become one of those; train for that and over time, I would like to become a case manager. I think that would be really nice.

As somebody who has found success in their apprenticeship so far, and who has navigated the challenges of the jobs market, what’s your key takeaway to other disabled people aiming to get into employment?
Just to take each day as it comes. I always say to myself, every day is a new day and it’s OK not to be OK. You can have the worst day, but don’t drag that on for the next few days, because that’s not helping anybody. As hard as it is, just trying to stay positive is the best thing you can do. 

To hear more about future apprenticeship or full time opportunities please contact:

See also: Shaw Trust at: