Work experience programme for teenagers with learning disabilities


12 / 11 / 2009

  • The organisation
  • SHA Region
  • What we did and why
  • How we did it
  • The results and next steps
  • Further information and contact details

    The organisation

    City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust provides a wide range of hospital services and an increasing range of more specialised services to patients outside the area. The main focus of its services is acute, but the trust also provides a substantial range of community-based services.
    The trust provides services to 330,000 local residents, and specialised services to a population as great as 750,000 outside the area.

    The trust has over 970 acute beds, an annual income of around £220m and fixed assets of £164m. It has a team of over 5,000 staff.

    SHA Region

    North east England

    What we did and why

    City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS) developed a work experience programme for school students with profound physical and learning disabilities. The programme offers students aged 17-19 years old from three special schools in the Sunderland area the opportunity to gain work experience. During their six week placement each student is assigned a mentor who is a member of staff from the department they are based in. All mentors undertake the role on a voluntary basis in addition to their usual job, and receive training and support.

    The aim of the programme was to:

    • to empower students with their rights as individuals
    • to change perceptions of people with learning and physical disabilities and their potential for work
    • to bring equality into the workplace
    • to give the students a life experience outside of the home and school
    • to extend the opportunities available to include placements with all public sector bodies in Sunderland by September 2008
    • to reach the whole community with the scheme.

    How we did it

    The scheme was started in 2005 by Linda Selby, a Chief Biomedical Scientist at Sunderland hospital. She took a student on placement in the pathology department with the support of her manager. The initiative was a success, and in 2006 the hospital’s equality and diversity coordinator developed the disability equality scheme.

    Since then the programme has continued to grow and now offers placements in various departments across the trust including the post room, portering department, pharmacy and laboratories. Placements with North East Ambulance Service, Northumbria Police and Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust are also available.

    The following steps are taken to manage and coordinate the initiative:

    • Mentors volunteer and undertake training and CRB checks.
    • Available mentors are identified for each placement.
    • Schools select students for work placement and send profiles.
    • Placements are identified and health and safety risk assessments and job profiles completed.
    • CHS matches students to available placements by.
    • Meet and greet session held for students and mentors.
    • Identify any potential problems with match of student to placement.
    • Students are on placement one morning per week for six weeks.
    • Students and mentors complete work placement diaries.
    • End of placement presentation for students and mentors.
    • Students receive certificate of completion for work placement.

    An independent consultancy called New Skills Consulting, was asked to evaluate the work placement programme by the Strategic Health Authority and City Hospitals Sunderland. All 46 students who undertook a work experience placement from January to December 2008 completed a background information questionnaire.

     The results and next steps

    • So far 60 students have completed placements and the programme has recruited and trained 30 mentors

    • In 2008, out of 43 students who completed a work placement 38 said they would like to undertake a longer placement.

    Managers identified several important benefits of the programme including:

    • Increased awareness of disability, equality and diversity
    • Increased job satisfaction, morale and confidence amongst mentors
    • Better links and contacts with other organisations and schools in the area
    • A raised profile after the programme won an innovation and improvement award from the regional Strategic Health Authority
    • A more productive workforce because the students complete tasks accurately.

    The positive aspects of the work experience can be defined in three broad categories:

    • Work: Students enjoyed learning new skills and being given responsibility for specific tasks.
    • Environment: Students enjoyed the opportunity to do something different that was outside of their school and home environment.
    • Social aspect: Students talked very positively about their mentors and colleagues. They clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and socialise with them during breaks.

    The next steps: 

    Managers suggested a number of ways to improve the programme including:

    • Implementing robust systems, processes and support networks. A regional coordinator has since been appointed to manage the programme.
    • Identifying and training new mentors as an ongoing process and improving links with local schools through mentors visiting students before the placement starts.
    • Offering a broader range of placements with an increased focus on individual student development, running placements for more hours per week over a longer time period and rolling the programme out across a range of public and private organisations in the north east.
    • Focusing on developing real work skills, identifying students who are capable of working and providing opportunities for paid employment at the end of the programme.

    Further information and contact details

    Stephanie Smith
    Equality and Diversity Coordinator
    City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust
    Northumberland, Tyne & Wear  

    (0191) 565 6256  


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