There is an initiative sitting right in front of local authorities’ eyes that many are failing to see.
Yet, from first-hand experience, the results of DFN Project SEARCH should speak for themselves.
Blackpool Council implemented DFN Project SEARCH, an international training programme supporting young people with learning disabilities into paid employment, seven years ago. Since then, we have never looked back and 90 students have now graduated through the scheme.
From the world-famous Blackpool Tower to The Sandcastle waterpark, Blackpool Transport to toy shops around the town, DFN Project SEARCH’s footprint is stamped all over the region as graduates and students take up vital roles in every sector.
Nationally, just 5.8% of people with learning disabilities and autism go on to secure full-time paid employment. These figures are despite around 75% wanting to work.
DFN Project SEARCH enjoys unparalleled success of getting 60% of their students into jobs, having provided them with real-life work experience, combined with training in employability to help enjoy a productive adult life and attain high-quality employment.
As a society, we are guilty of creating disabling environments that fail to prepare those with learning disabilities for work.
DFN Project SEARCH shows that with the right guidance and professional support from local authorities and colleges, people with learning disabilities have the potential to be a force for change.
Through working with DFN Project Search, Blackpool Council has been instrumental in providing enhanced employment opportunities for people with autism and learning difficulties.
The programme has been a huge boost and benefit for the entire organisation.
Having students from DFN Project SEARCH has improved Blackpool Council’s methods of communication and made us better as an entire workforce.
Being a host site of the scheme has enabled us to enable others - by boiling down what we do to make it accessible to everyone.
The programme has been empowering and we have found that best practice can be transferable to all areas of the council. We now take that learning and information and apply it in every single area. When you boil it down to simple terms, being a host of DFN Project SEARCH lifts morale. As a workforce, we are all a lot more willing to help each other, we are more understanding, and we have a sense of unity which is clear from the moment you walk through the door.
Each cohort of students face their own challenges but seeing that potential unlocked along the way is special. DFN Project SEARCH enables students to grow both professionally and personally.
The biggest satisfaction comes when you see a student going on to achieve things that they could never have dreamt of a matter of months before.
We had a brilliant young woman by the name of Anna, who was a member of our first cohort of students. The first day we met, she was very anxious; she didn’t even want to tell me her name.
You could tell she was uncomfortable, but she persevered and, with the backing and support of everybody involved on DFN Project SEARCH, the transformation in Anna is unbelievable.
Anna is now a cleaner at the local theatre. I regularly see her hurrying just to get her shifts. You used to have to push her to even engage in conversation but now it is Anna stopping me in the street, asking me how I am doing and asking me what I am up to.
DFN Project SEARCH has that life-changing impact.
Local authorities not already involved in DFN Project SEARCH are simply missing out.
It simply cannot be understated the lift and morale boost that comes alongside partnering with DFN Project SEARCH.
Having seen the inspiring work it does, the platform it provides, and the success rates that it achieves across current sites, I am surprised more councils haven’t rolled it out already.
Working in local government has never been more difficult.
Providing this pathway into work benefits the council with ready-made candidates willing and able to fulfil vital positions. Importantly approximately two thirds of graduates from the programme get jobs in local businesses. As a result, the success of DFN Project SEARCH alleviates the strain on already stretched social services by paving the way into a life of fulfilling employment for those that want to work but hadn’t previously been provided with the opportunity.
To have someone working alongside you who wants to play a positive part, and make a real impact, is inspiring and uplifting and drives everybody on.
To play your part on someone’s journey towards bettering themselves – it’s a fantastic feeling.
DFN Project SEARCH continues to be a force for good, and more local authorities should recognise its potential and help transform lives in their area.
Cllr Simon Blackburn is leader of Blackpool Council