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I overcame my anxiety and now I have a full-time job’ – Aberdeen teenager hails programme for young adults with learning disabilities

The prospect of going through the process of getting a job was always a daunting one for Aberdeen teenager Dylan Henderson.

The 19-year-old developed glue ear at the age of four and by seven-years-old he was fitted with hearing aids for both ears.

He always knew he wanted to work but his disability left him low in confidence and anxious at the thought of going to interviews.

However, he’s now enjoying a full-time career working for NHS Grampian after taking part in a transition to employment programme that helps young north-east adults with a learning disability to get a job.

Mr Henderson, his twin brother Ross and Cameron Flett all took part in DFN Project SEARCH and went on to achieve full-time work.

Statistics show fewer than 6% of young adults with a learning disability or autistic spectrum disorder get into paid work, compared to 80% of all young people nationally.

DFN Project SEARCH works in partnership across the public, private, and voluntary sectors to create supported internships that young people with learning disabilities undertake during their last year of education.

Confidence-boosting initiative

After successfully completing three placements, Mr Henderson was offered a full-time job as a domestic assistant at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary which he started in September last year.

He said: “If you have got a disability you can be unsure about starting a job and you are not keen on meeting new people and everything else that goes with it.

“I never had the confidence to go up to an interview and there was some anxiety. But Project SEARCH helped with that.

“Not only do they push you into the internship but they also go over the interviews with you and help you do a CV.

“It’s been brilliant for my confidence and making new friends.

“The programme is a brilliant idea.”

Supported across a number of sectors

Ross is now carrying out a modern apprenticeship for Scotrail and Mr Flett is a warehouse operative at Wellheads Electrical based in Dyce.

The programmes are based inside a host business, in this case Aberdeen University.

The partners in the successful programme also included Value into Action Scotland (VIAS), North East Scotland College, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Skills Development Scotland and DWP.

High programme success rate in Aberdeen

The charity has had 91 graduates from Aberdeen enrolled in Project SEARCH programmes since 2013 and, to date, around 80 interns are in paid employment across the north-east of Scotland.

DFN Project SEARCH chief executive Claire Cookson said: “People with a learning disability and autism spectrum conditions have a huge array of talent to offer employers, the majority of which is untapped.

“We all have human rights and the right to work is one of the most valued in terms of achieving individual identity and social status.”

Aberdeen University vice-principal of regional engagement and regional recovery Professor Peter Edwards said: “It has been an enormous privilege for the University to have hosted the local DFN Project SEARCH programme since 2013.

“Our interns gain skills and experience that are of huge benefit to them and the local businesses and organisations they go on to work for, supporting the continuing success of our local economy.

“The number of young adults with a learning disability in employment at national level remains stubbornly low and the tremendous successes of our previous graduates who are now in work is a fantastic achievement that is testament to them and to the hard work, dedication and commitment of the DFN Project SEARCH team.

“We look forward to welcoming the new 2022/23 intake to campus in August as they begin their transformational journey towards entering employment.”