Horwich Farrelly’s work placements for disabled young people are transforming the lives of many and helping the firm reach diversity goals. Ashleigh Webber finds out more
It is a depressing reality that people with a disability are four times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The barriers to getting, and remaining in, employment are plentiful, not least acquiring the work experience that many organisations require to get a foot in the door. Disability charity Scope estimates that three in 10 young people with a disability are not in education, employment or training – a proportion that is likely to worsen given the current recession and shrinking jobs market.
However, Horwich Farrelly, which provides legal services for the insurance sector, is among a group of organisations in the North West that are hoping to reverse this trend by helping more young people with disabilities gain the skills needed to get their careers off the ground.
Supporting the neurodivergent community
The firm, which won People in Law’s award for Excellence in Equality & Inclusion earlier this year, has partnered with charity Pure Innovations to deliver supported internships, including for those with neurodivergent traits such as autism.
The young people who take part in the scheme attend training sessions and several placements, including a three-month placement at local organisations including Horwich Farrelly, in order to gain employability skills. All who have been place at the firm have gone on to be offered permanent or fixed-term contract employment.
Changing young people’s lives
“The reason why the Pure Innovations programme works really well is because we’ve got a really strong relationship with each other,” says Rachel Halliwell, people development specialist, emerging talent and accessibility, at the firm. “We really think we’re helping to change these young people’s lives.”
Horwich Farrelly began working with Pure Innovations in 2018. In its first year it offered three-month placements to two young people, but this increased to three in 2019. Two interns began placements this year, but their programme has been paused due to the ongoing pandemic.
“They need to be in the office to learn the skills that they need and they need the support from their supervisors,” explains Halliwell. “They wouldn’t be able to do the job at home.”
Halliwell, a former teacher who specialises in teaching people with special educational needs, says she is frequently meeting virtually with the interns and their supervisors to ensure they are looking after their wellbeing, and is keen that their internship resumes as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so.
Developing key skills
After they attend college training and a work placement at a hospital, in which they develop key work skills, all potential interns are invited to a development day at Horwich Farrelly. They take part in informal interactive workshops so the organisation can assess who would be the best fit for its roles.
“We need to assess what their needs are, what their abilities are and they need to get a sense of what Horwich Farrelly is like as an organisation and whether we were the right placement for them,” says Halliwell.
For example, one intern who used to work at a police force decided to take a placement with the firm. She has just moved into a permanent role in Horwich Farrelly’s intelligence team, which aligned well with her previous experience and interests.
Learning and supporting
Once the interns are selected, the Horwich Farrelly employees who will be working closely with them are invited to disability awareness “lunch and learn” sessions, covering the language they should use when talking about disability, potential triggers for conditions like autism, and how they can help interns overcome any barriers they face.
Upon beginning the programme, interns are allocated a “buddy” to support them through the process and receive training on professional communication, standards of work, adapting to change and transferrable skills. They spend time in both the legal support team and the facilities team, in order to introduce them to a variety of skills and responsibilities.
All five interns who took part in the 2018 and 2019 programmes have begun jobs at Horwich Farrelly in varied roles, including positions on its facilities services team, intelligence team, reception and in the post room.
“Their confidence has developed so much,” Halliwell says. “They’re speaking up a lot more now, where at first they were very quiet. They’re really enjoying being in work and every one really can’t wait to get back to the office when it’s safe to do so.”
The current and former interns are also keen to share their positive experiences with the programme. “One of the interns who started in January was able to speak about their experiences in a video posted on LinkedIn for Disability Awareness Week. At first she didn’t enjoy work at all but now she has a positive outlook and is more proactive,” says Halliwell.
As well as being recognised by winning a People in Law Award, the partnership between Horwich Farrelly and Pure Innovations was featured on BBC News last year. It documented the experiences of two former interns who have gone into full employment – legal support call handler Harry Corcoran and facilities assistant Edward Fowler.
Looking ahead, Halliwell hopes the programme will continue into 2020 and is working towards the organisation achieving Level 3 Disability Confident status – the highest award available under the government’s Disability Confident Scheme.