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Wollongong City Council

Almost 30 young people with mild intellectual disabilities received accredited, employment-related training through a project offered by Wollongong City Council and a Registered Training Organisation. Work placements were organised and participants had access to a Job Club for three months after the project concluded. A significant number of the young people gained the qualification and are now employed.

Background

Wollongong City Council provides a range of services to local young people. Research showed there was a gap in the provision of training and employment related services for young people with disabilities, particularly those with low self-esteem, and poor numeracy and literacy skills, and those at school in classes for mildly intellectually disabled (MID) students.

Project Objectives

The aim of the Strategic Pilot Project was to increase participants' employability through developing self-esteem, team building skills and budgeting skills.

The Council contracted a local Registered Training Organisation, Essentra, a community-based organisation with 15 years training experience in the disability sector, to run a VETAB accredited course called Employability Skills: Becoming a Worker.

The project specifically targeted young people with mild intellectual disabilities, the majority of whom had a learning disability. Most participants were aged between 18 and 20, and all were early school leavers. They had all experienced difficulties in traditional or mainstream learning environments.

Project Activities

The accredited curriculum, which had been developed by Essentra for young disadvantaged job-seekers, provided training in key areas such as:

  • The team and you
  • Vocational awareness
  • Personal presentation and development
  • Preparing for work
  • Finding that job
  • Work ethics: workers' rights and responsibilities
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Workplace communication and personal effectiveness
  • Managing as a worker
  • Money management (elective)
  • Work trials (optional).

At the beginning of the project trainers interviewed participants to find out what each person wanted to achieve from the course. Before the course started, participants and chosen support people were invited to an introductory session to familiarise themselves with course content. Support persons were encouraged to help participants maintain their interest in the course.

The group participated in a work trial at the end of the project, as well as in a Job Club that provided support to the group for an additional ten weeks.

Project Outcomes

The pilot was very successful with two courses run throughout the funded period. The first course started with seven students and five older clients from outside the target group. There were 14 participants in the second course, 11 of whom attained the competencies required for the Certificate.

The project coordinator described the learning environment as a highly motivated atmosphere. Attendance was excellent, with commitment displayed by all participants, most of whom turned up half an hour before class began.

From the first group of 12 participants, one found a job half way through the course and continued to do the course outside work time. Work trials with the others were very successful, with participants undertaking supported work experience at retail shops such as K-Mart, local small business and the kiosk at the local hospital.

Although the outcomes from the first group were positive, some participants were unable to maintain their employment. This was mainly due to a lack of social skills, which emerged during situations of pressure in the work environment. Therefore, in the second course, there was increased emphasis on social skills development. As a result, participants from the second course were more confident and more successful at keeping jobs.

Participants' confidence increased through learning new skills and through contact with their trainers, who monitored and assessed their progress and provided regular positive feedback.

All participants increased their level of employability and left the course with a greater knowledge of the workplace and how to interact with it. This was achieved through supported work placements, as well as mock interviews and assistance with resume writing.

For example, one participant, who left school in year nine and had been in a special unit for students with intellectual disabilities at school, completed a work placement at a spray painting business. He has since gained a place in a pre-apprenticeship program at the local TAFE. To do so, he competed successfully with other mainstream applications and did a written exam.

Success Factors

The project succeeded due to the rapport between participants and trainers and to the intensive support given to participants during the course, throughout their work placement and afterwards in the form of a Job Club.

The Job Club met each week and provided participants with long-term back-up, personal support and job-seeking resources. This part of the project was instrumental in helping the target group develop social interaction skills and friendships.

Emphasis was placed on establishing real life situations wherever possible, e.g. going to a local second hand shop to buy interview clothes. The simulations, work experience and monetary responsibilities gave the young people confidence in their skills to achieve education and employment outcomes.

The simulated interviews and job sessions were video taped and replayed to the whole group. This medium was important as the participants could see themselves doing what they had set out to achieve. It increased their confidence and provided the opportunity to discuss problems and achievements.

The adult environment of the course provided many of the students with their first positive learning experience. They were treated as responsible individuals and the application of adult learning principles, teamwork sessions and experiential learning assisted their progress. Sessions on dealing with aggression and learning how to be assertive allowed participants to work on social skills, making their long-term employment options more viable.

Possible Improvements

Difficulties that arose during the Strategic Pilot Project related to personal and social skills issues. Some could be resolved in the course, while others, such as drug and alcohol issues, needed alternative intervention.

Future courses would place greater emphasis on communication and social competencies.

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