More and more hotels are taking on staff with learning disabilities and say they are reaping the rewards of a more diverse workforce. Less than 6% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment, but this is slowly changing thanks to the likes of chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Travelodge, Premier Inn and Holiday Express.
The Down’s Syndrome Association’s ‘WorkFit’ programme aims to match potential employees with employers, finding them meaningful work opportunities that will benefit them for the rest of their lives and add value to the organisation that employs them. It’s connected dozens of people with jobs in the sector, ranging from small scale family hotels by the coast, to the five-star Rockliffe Hall in Darlington.
A 12-week work experience placement at the Marriott Metro Centre in Newcastle resulted in paid, permanent, employment for Lynsey Dixon, who is now employed as a part-time chef.
Head Chef Chris Wells said: “Lynsey came to work with me in July 2016 and I was really impressed by how quickly she picked things up.
“She was soon fully integrated in the team, taking on major tasks such as plating up meals for banquets and events, making various desserts and is a huge asset in the kitchen.
“Lynsey is well known by her colleagues in the hotel and our regular customers often chat to her and ask after her if she’s not around. Lynsey is an exceptional young lady.”
And it’s not just the kitchen staff who are happy with how it’s going.
“I feel very happy and proud of myself. I like working as part of a team with the Head Chef. I feel excited about working here and I’ve learnt new skills” Lynsey remarked.
Twenty members of staff at the hotel were given bespoke employment training by WorkFit, which covers how to support someone with Down’s syndrome in the workplace, as well as management strategies and a workplace assessment. WorkFit Employment Development Manager Alison Thwaite said:
“We provide a tailored service dedicated to training employers about the learning profile of people who have Down’s syndrome so that they can be supported in the workplace. We focus on finding the right employment opportunities for people who have Down’s syndrome and ensuring that they have the support they need to be successful in the workplace. All of our support is free of charge and without obligation and continues as long as the person who has Down’s syndrome is employed.
Like most supported employment providers, our top three fields requested by candidates are catering, hospitality and retail. This is often because these are some of the few work experience opportunities that people have been offered through college, and candidates often come with qualifications in food service already.”
The Down’s Syndrome Association want to move away from the concept of ‘giving people something to do’ to an approach which progresses employees towards expanding their experience, increasing their independence, and learning new skills through training, confidence building and opportunities for professional development.
Last year, the programme created 81 employment opportunities and trained 628 individual members of staff in working with people with Down’s syndrome.