Students with autism embark on supported internships

Eight students from Abbot’s Lea School have recently begun a number of supported internships across Liverpool.

The key stage 5 students, all aged between 16 and 19, have secured exciting roles with Aloft Hotels, Cadent Gas, The Regenda Group, and the Speke Hall Garden and Estate which is part of The National Trust.

The interns will take on positions ranging from sous chefs to ICT operatives and business transformation assistants.

Over the next 10 months, students will work four days a week during which they will learn employability skills, visit other employers and industry professionals and work on building life skills and personal and social confidence. Additionally, they will have one study day a week to continue developing their essential literacy and numeracy competencies.

The interns will also get to further develop their independence as they are tasked with travelling on public transport to and from work each day. Whilst it may seem like a small challenge to most, for some individuals with autism it can be a daunting and anxiety-raising task.

As part of the programme, Abbot’s Lea School educates and supports employers before the students arrive in their workplace. During the internship, a job coach from the school acts as the go-between for the intern, the school, the employer and the family, supporting the process and being on call for any issues which may arise.

Abbot’s Lea School successfully piloted the programme last year with three interns working at AMEY Plc in Speke.

One student, Saoirse Redmond has since won the Merseyside Young Female of The Year Award and secured a job at The ADHD Foundation as a business administrator.

More and more employers around the UK are offering supported internships seeing it as a unique new form of talent acquisition. Many organisations, including technical giants such as Apple purposefully recruit workers with autism in recognition of their technical potential.

Headteacher, Mrs Ania Hildrey, said: “I fundamentally believe in seeing the best in people. I believe in my students and I believe that they are worthy of equal opportunities to live economically independent adult lives.

“There is nothing that prepares you for life than life itself and so, conversely, I am absolutely delighted that we continue to offer our students the chance to gain actual employment experience in a business environment.

“This programme acts as an ideal stepping stone into the world of work, which will, I have no doubt, further employment opportunities, including apprenticeship or a paid job. Using this method avoids the traditional entry methods into employment – a written application, a job interview or other such “snapshots of performance” methods, all of which are a known barrier for individuals with autism.”

Mrs Hildrey added: “Since launching this programme, the interest from students and their families in trying this progressive route has been phenomenal. We have also had to recruit another job coach in order to meet the demands associated with the increased number of internships taking place this year.

“Most importantly, our school and, crucially, our students undertaking the supported internship programme, break down the barriers in limiting beliefs surrounding employability of those classed as having additional, special and/or high needs. Through that, we are raising aspirations and changing the world – one step at a time – to be a better place.

“Seeing is believing and we hope that by sharing some of the amazing stories of success, many more young people, their families, staff working in education as well as employers, will join us in creating more opportunities across the Liverpool City Region and across the UK as a whole.”

Lesley Penton, partnerships manager at The Regenda Group, said: “The Regenda Group is proud to be involved with the supported internship programme in Liverpool. As a regeneration business that is passionate about providing opportunities for people and raising aspirations through education and training, the Abbot’s Lea School supported internship programme is a great fit for our organisation.

“We are providing a quality workplace experience for the interns, all of whom are supported in their roles by their job coach. Feedback from staff, students and their families has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The interns come to us with a unique set of skills that benefit the business and the work we do. This programme is so much more than a route to employment, it’s about developing independence, improving social skills and providing learni

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