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Interview with Carline Ikoroha, Supported Internship Job Coach for young people with special educational needs

Interview with Carline Ikoroha, Supported Internship Job Coach for young people with special educational needs

West Lea School turns the traditional education model on its head – focusing instead on shifting education out of the classroom and into the real world. This innovative approach enhances the employability of their aspiring young adults in a competitive job market while effecting a significant contribution to the success of the local economy.

West Lea is a specialist sports college for children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs. They champion independence and opportunity for their students at every stage of their development. Developing strategic partnerships with local businesses is key to strengthening both communities and companies.

During her time at West Lea, Carline has supported and encouraged over 80 students to gain valuable skills through internships, of which over 60 have been offered permanent employment.

ALT:
Congratulations on winning the award! Can you tell us about some background in terms of what you do, and for those who do not know what SEN is?

Carline:
Since 2017, I’ve moved from mainstream school into special needs school. The course that we provide is for young people between the ages of 16 to 25 who have special educational needs or disability. There are three main criteria for them to be able to join the course. They need to have an EHC which is Education, Health and Care Plan. They also need to be independently travel trained, but that can be something we can tweak if they’re not quite there and the young person will agree to complete the travel training. And thirdly that they are eager to work. Those are the three things, it’s really about us getting our young people into the world of work. That’s not always easy, as you can imagine with competition with abled bodies, as they say, but our young people have got so many different layers of talent. We go out there and support them in the workplace quite intensely at first, and then we kind of ease off and they get that independence and get to work alongside their work colleagues or, if they’re dealing with customers or clients, we make sure that we put in whatever support we can to make them be a part of their community and feel that they are people first before any disability. So that’s my thing.

ALT:
Can you give us an example of what kind of support you offer?

Carline:
So we have job coaches, we have a team of five job coaches and I’m the senior job coach, it’s about going out there. It might be that we have to demonstrate the sort of task that they’re doing in the workplace, that might not come naturally at first. Some of them might have had experience in this, but we use a system called Training in Systematic Instruction (TSI) and it is the best training ever. I recommend it to all and everyone. It’s really about how you demonstrate something to that young person with special needs or disability. So, if someone is making a mistake, you don’t say, no, you just say,‘try another way.’ They have to think in a different way to get there. It works brilliantly. It might seem really simple in the way that I’ve just described it, but it’s just really good. There are other things, we also support the employers, we’re supporting parents or carers. We make sure that we set up what we call a pupil profile, so the employers will know their specific needs, how they can work with their needs and what sort of ways that they’re best to work with. It might be through sign language, it might be through a particular way that you speak to them. It might be that they like demonstration. It might be that they want to work somewhere where it’s quiet. There’s lots of things that are put in place. And even before all that we do what we call a vocational profile. It’s about sitting down and going through, what’s the best part of the day for them to work? How do they work? All of these things are put together. So, there’s quite a lot of background seeking activity before they physically go into the workplace. The job coaches are there, reachable via phone, email, text, to support them in work.

ALT:
Throughout the pandemic have you faced any challenges? Carline:
The main thing is that we’ve had a lot of our young people on the verge of getting paid employment and, everything just got shut down. So, it was about starting again, we all worked so hard to make sure that there was another placement set up. It’s about having those conversations with employers. Those people that want to be on board with us, they know what we’re doing, and they’re happy to support us and be a part of that. They’re not just doing it for doing its sake, they’re doing it because they feel that it’s important for diversity in the workplace. So that’s been one side of it. The other side is the mental wellbeing where they’ve kind of been shut away from other people, they’ve gone into themselves. So, we’ve made sure that counselling sessions have been put on. We’ve been checking in with them, making sure that we’re trying to meet up with them, socially distanced of course, outside, and just doing exercises online. There are lots of different things that we’ve been doing, trying to make the online, learning as fun as possible, because a lot of them did struggle with technology. We’d be online sometimes at nine o’clock at night. We’d still be showing somebody something, how to do something, but we persevered and in the long term, everything worked out for the best. So those are the main issues.

ALT:
So, can you tell us, what are some of the qualities you need in order to do your job?

Carline:
I think first and foremost, you need to have a good sense of humour. That is definitely top of the list. I think to have patience, it’s about seeing them for people and not putting anything else in front of that. You know, they’ve got so many different layers of talents and we might be talking to a young person about one particular area of strength, and then we’ve discovered that their musically talented and da, da, da, lots of other things that they enjoy, that they are passionate about. I think it’s about keeping the conversations alive, keep talking, patience. I’ve got a good circle of support around me, the team around me. There’s no I in team. We all work together. Everybody’s got their specialist area, but I think it’s just about having that passion. I’ve got a disability now, myself. I say to them, if I can do it, you can do it. Sometimes you have to almost be a little bit cruel to be kind. You have to push them to go a little bit beyond what they think they can do. Parents are very good at saying they can’t do this, they can’t do that, because they’ve been doing everything for them. It’s about for them to be taking a step back and letting the young people go forward, because the world is their oyster and they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it. It might be, you just have to do it slightly differently to somebody else.

ALT:

Can you tell us a bit about the award that you won and why you won it?

Carline:

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I’m not very good at self-praise, but, I was nominated by one of my work colleagues, Jack, and that was that, it was out there. I was called to go to a meeting and they said to me, Carline, we need to talk to you about something really important. They said something happened in July. I thought, okay, we’ve got a safeguarding issue, so I’ve got my pen and everything out, and they said, you’ve been nominated for an award, and we’d like you to attend. It was only when I got there that I found out that I was one of the winners. It means a lot to me because I just do what I do. I’m not doing it for any kind of credit. I’m just doing it because I love doing what I’m doing. I think when I went up and got the award, the first thing my husband said, ‘I’m really proud of you. I didn’t realise, how much you do’, because they were reading off this reel of things I had been up to. He said, ‘okay, now I’m gonna have to maybe take a step back and stop moaning’, he’s always saying, I’m gonna take your bed to school and just leave it there for you because you’re always there. I think when you get involved in something, you have to finish what you start. There’s no good starting it halfway and then stopping. I love what I do, each day there’s something new, if I wasn’t enjoying it, then I wouldn’t do it.

ALT:

Do you think that the government has supported people who have disabilities enough during the pandemic?

Carline:
No, we need more. There needs to be more input. It is a lot harder for somebody with special needs or disability to find work. So, there is that natural mindset of people where they just think, because you have a disability, you’re not going to be able to speak, or you’re not going to be able to do anything. People often come up to me with my walking stick and say, are you all right, dear? And I say, I’m fine. Thank you. My body might not be working, but my mind at the moment is okay. I say to the interns, when you go out, make sure the word ‘manners’ is on the top of the list. Because you have a disability, don’t be saying to people, oh, I’ve got a disability so I should be treated differently. Just go out there and do the best that you can do. Just be natural, be you. When people meet our young people, they know that they’re good. I’ve kind of strayed a little bit from the question that you asked, let me come back to it. The government could do more in the sense of providing funding, but also about education to employers and the general public at large. Like I said, they are people first, so let’s make sure that that is published.

ALT:

In terms of the organisations you work for, are you a government organisation?

Carline:
We are funded now by the Government. West Lea Supported Internship Programme started a little while ago, in 2017. Enfield council is supporting us with that, we are getting the funding from them, they’ve been very supportive and are leading the way. I think it just needs to spread out across the country and across the world that, as they say, the purple pound is important, those people with special needs or disabilities, they have a right to be a part of this world as anybody.

ALT:
Just one final question. What would your message be to anyone out there, or employers specifically, who maybe are apprehensive about employing someone who has a disability?

Carline:
For those employers out there, pick up the phone ring, West Lea School, the Supported Internship Programme. We’ll have a conversation with you. There are lots of other places out there that are trying to do the same thing, it’s about speaking with people and finding out what you can do. Also, our young person might not be able to do that particular job description that you’ve got, but we could do a job carving, where employers shape the job around their needs. It’s got to be meaningful, please don’t just feel obliged to give our young person a job because you feel sorry for them. They need to feel that they are included and they’re doing something productive and meaningful. So let’s keep it real in that sense. For more information on Carline’s work and the programmes available at West Lea School, click here.