Skills Development for People with Learning Disabilities in the Workplace

People with learning disabilities are often stigmatised, labelled as “slow” or “lazy”, or just simply forgotten and ignored in the workplace. Many adults with learning disabilities were never diagnosed and would often struggle with “traditional” classroom-based workplace training, that is simply not appropriate for them. This results in missed opportunities for learning and skill developments in the workplace. It does not need to be like this. All it takes is an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual with learning disabilities and build on those strengths.

To give an example of how we worked with an organisation to successfully integrate a person with learning disabilities into the work place, let’s start with a bit of background information. This multinational manufacturing company, based in the US but with a major manufacturing and testing site in the UK, was going through a restructuring plan to reduce costs. While this was taking place, Paul, while physically able, but with no reading or writing skills, was largely forgotten, being consigned for years to work in the warehouse. The restructuring naturally resulted in job losses and no department was safe. However, HR and other mid-management level felt a great deal of empathy towards Paul and fought the restructuring process to save his job. They couldn’t save his original job, but decided to redeploy him to manage the cleaning of the site.

This kind act by the management not only saved the company money by returning the cleaning inhouse (by cancelling the external cleaning contract), but also saved Paul from certain unemployment. The sting in the tail was now how does the company retrain and redeploy Paul to take over full time the job of many part time people, all within a short time of 30 days? This is where we were asked to intervene. We visited the site and spent a few hours assessing the cleaning requirements (how to clean, what to clean and when to clean) for the entire site. Once that was done, we assembled a training and deployment plan with the company. Because of Paul’s learning disabilities, we felt that a completely hands-on approach to training would work best for him. We therefore spent the entire training session out of the classroom and taught him by visiting the areas he would have to clean, in the order it should be done in. In each area we taught him using the equipment he would be using, showing him the techniques and safety points at each stage. Assessment of his newly acquired skills was conducted as informally as possible to reduce anxiety.

The documentation was split between what was legally required by the company and what Paul needed to carry out his duties day after day. All the documentation Paul needed was written as simply as possible, replying on graphics where possible.

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