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Life-changing scheme helps young people with learning disabilities find work in east London

A life-changing vocational scheme is getting a record number of young people with learning disabilities and autism into full-time employment across the UK.

DFN Project Search offers a transition-to-employment programme which has found over 1,400 young people with additional needs full-time paid work.

In east London, where it has three sites, 73 young people have secured employment through the scheme since 2012.

Data suggests the latest east London cohort earned £9.44 an hour on average, above the national real living wage.

The organisation was set up by ex-banker David Forbes-Nixon, whose own son Charlie is physically disabled with learning disabilities.

Twenty-year-old Charlie, who joined the programme last year, is currently in his dream job working as a library assistant at Queen Mary’s Whitechapel Library.

Seventy per cent of students who complete the one-year programme gain full-time employment, while nationally only five per cent of people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) find paid work.

David believes the reason why so few SEND people find employment is because most school programmes do not prepare pupils with skills applicable to the workplace.

By contrast, he has set up Project SEARCH to immerse 18-25-year-olds in a host business for 800 hours with three role rotations and career-focused coaching throughout the process.

David said: “Very often, they are the best candidate for the job.

“Not only are they great culture carriers for the organisation, [because they] rank higher on attendance than those without a disability, studies show they stay in their jobs on average 3.5 times longer than their non-disabled co-workers.”

From September 2023, Project Search will have over 1,000 young people going through the programme in partnership with 120 host businesses.

The charity is aiming to get 20,000 people with learning disabilities into jobs by 2035.

David thinks the post-pandemic labour shortage across service sectors has opened a huge opportunity for the 1.1 million UK SEND adults who want to find work.

He added that for the young people involved in the programme, contributing to society and getting paid has an amazing impact on the individuals but it also has a ripple effect on the entire family.