Skills Development for People with Learning Disabilities in the Workplace

We have been very privileged to have been asked to provide cleaning operations manuals and documentation, and dedicated training to organisations that employ or support people with learning disabilities. The valuable service these organisations provide help deliver the necessary and life-changing skills that enable people to enjoy complete independence.

People with learning disabilities often face barriers as they try to enter the workplace, employers are by in large sympathetic, but often a little apprehensive about what to ‘expect’, or how they should ‘handle’ these people. This apprehension is two-pronged: employers are worried that people with learning disabilities will not be able to ‘manage’ the work load or have the capability to work independently, employers are also concerned about what provisions within the workplace are needed to provide a safe working environment. While this reticence seems to be made with good intentions, it actually hinders the employer, existing employees and the potential employees with learning disabilities. Employers miss out on the opportunity to employ particularly dedicated and hardworking people; the morale and general team cohesion of other existing employees improve as they work together to support the person (or people) with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities make good employees, they are hardworking and often stay with one employer for longer than the average employee.

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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