Briefing on work placements and the importance of their inclusion in the DDA part 2 It is important to distinguish between different kinds of work placements. Skill would welcome clarification as to which placements will be covered by the amendments to the DDA part 2. Skill has put together this briefing on different types of learning that may include work placements. The examples used are not actual case studies, but reflect the concerns that Skill is aware of, and include situations of which we have been informed. 1Work based learning Work based learning organisations often deliver a large amount of training in the workplace.
In a majority of instances trainees are on a Modern Apprenticeship programme and as such are paid as employees therefore are covered under part 2 of the DDA. However, in a substantial minority of cases, trainees are on other programmes where they are taught at a work based training organisation but spend a substantial amount of time on ‘placement’. Skill would presume that these trainees would come under Part 2 under the new regulations. It is certainly essential they do as so much of their programme is delivered in the work place. Tanya is on an office skills course run by a work based learning organisation.
Some of her training takes place at the work based learning organisation but Tanya has to attend two substantial work placements. Tanya is a wheelchair user and dyslexic. Some of the adjustments she requires in relation to physical access are that furniture is arranged in a way which allows her free access in her wheelchair and a desk which a wheelchair can fit underneath. In terms of her dyslexia she works best when files etc. are very clearly marked, for example with colour coding. She works much better when using a computer than when having to write down things by hand.
Her tutors have visited her work placement with her and can support her with many of the adjustments. However, if they are to be fully implemented they require the active support of her employer and other staff. The employer is clearly disturbed at the fact that Tanya requires these adjustments and mutters that he knows he has duties to his disabled employers but this does not extend to trainees who are merely on work placement. 2Further education Increasingly more and more further education students are going on work placements. In some instances these are students on a vocational NVQ programme.
Justine, who is partially sighted, is on an NVQ training course in catering at a further education college. The theoretical and some of the practical parts of the course take place at college but students also have to spend blocks of time in different work places. Two of Justine’s work placements are very accommodating. However the third, a restaurant kitchen, behave in a very unfriendly way. They refuse to print out any recipes in large print saying that this ‘is not their job’ which means that Justine finds it very difficult to carry out her assignments.
In the second week they ring up the college and demand that she is removed from the kitchen because they believe that her visual impairment poses a health and safety risk. Her tutor arranges for her to do double time at one of her other placements but this is not ideal as it means that she has a narrower range of experiences than other students on the course. In other cases they are students on an academic programme such as A levels where the work placement is not directly related to their course but is very important in giving them an understanding of how the workplace works and what they might like to do in the future.
In some instances they might be students on a more general programme (for example an Entry Level course or a programme for people with learning difficulties). In these cases the purpose of the work placement is to extend their experiences, give them an understanding of the realities of work, and enable them to try out a particular vocational area. Mohammed has learning difficulties and is studying on a life skills course. Part of this course is to have work experience for half a day a week for a term in the local community.
Mohammed discusses possible work placements with his tutor and it emerges that he would really like to work in a shop. After writing many letters, Mohammed’s tutor finally manages to arrange for Mohammed to have a work placement one afternoon a week at a local shop. Mohammed’s tutor spent some time at the placement with Mohammed supporting him in how to make the most out of his placement, but he had many students he was responsible for and so could not be there on an ongoing basis.
Although Mohammed enjoyed his afternoons at the work placement, the manager of the shop expressed frustration that he was not able to carry out tasks without support and complained about the way in which he was constantly ‘hanging around’ customers which put them off. He said it was not his place to provide support for Mohammed and he needed someone who could ‘get on with the job’. After four weeks the manager sent Mohammed back to the college, saying he wanted someone ‘normal’ next time. 3Higher education In higher education, there are a number of courses that involve vocational work placements.
One such example would be that of nursing and midwifery. All such courses have work placements central to them, and rightly so, as they are practical and vocational subjects. However, these placements can be difficult for disabled students. Steve is studying a BSc in Nursing at his local University. In order to complete the degree, students have to pass a number of exams and also undertake three periods of work placements. Steve has dyslexia, which means that his handwriting is poor and so he has asked to be able to type up his patient records.
He is also aware that colleagues may think he is more likely to make mistakes on the drugs round, but as all nurses are checked before medication is administered to patients, he thinks this should be ok. Once he is qualified and employed, his employer would make reasonable adjustments such as these under DDA part 2. Despite an excellent track record, the third placement provider refused to make any adjustments for Steve, and spuriously cited Health and Safety law as a reason to expel him from the placement, stating the reason as being because his dyslexia meant he could not do the drug rounds and that his patient records were illegible.
Because of this he failed his second year at University and will have to repeat the whole year if he wishes to gain his degree. There are also increasing numbers of sandwich courses on offer from universities, where students undertake a four-year course, of which the second or third year is spent in industry. These placements can be mandatory and without their completion a student may either not be able to progress to the next year of their course or they may not get the extra qualification or recognition that accompanies the completion of the year in industry.
Often these placements consist of paid employment, and students are therefore covered by the existing DDA Part 2. However there examples of where students are not paid for these placements. Disabled students may find it more difficult to find a paid placement and so may be more likely to undertake a placement on a voluntary basis. Kerry is studying for a degree in IT. She has MS. As part of her degree, she spends a year in industry. This is a compulsory part of the course, and comes highly recommended by her university, as it will help her to get a job after graduating in a very competitive market.
Students are required to complete the placement and also produce a 4000 word report on their placement year, which is worth 10 credits in the final year. Kerry is keen to do a placement, but because of her MS gets turned down from all the places she applies to. Undeterred, she tries instead to find a voluntary placement. She manages to arrange a placement, but her status as an intern means that she is asked to shift boxes and help staff with filing and photocopying, which because of her disability she cannot do.
Her colleagues are also very unkind to her because of her disability, and she leaves the placement early, therefore failing the placement year and unable to complete the assignment. Recently, an unpublished survey by AGCAS (the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) showed that disabled students can be just as successful as their non disabled peers in finding graduate employment. This said, they found that there were higher percentages of disabled graduates starting in clerical and secretarial, craft, personal service and sales jobs, as well as in part time and unpaid work.
It was concluded that this may be because they may have difficulties in accumulating work experience while they are students. This clearly calls for work placements to be covered by the DDA so that disabled students have an equal chance to progress onto graduate employment after university. 4Self-organised placements There is also a greater emphasis on students finding and arranging work experience themselves, for example in the holiday periods, not on a paid basis. This is becoming increasingly important for students looking to enter employment.
The Dearing Report on Higher Education (1997) recommended that all undergraduates should undertake a period of work experience as part of their course, in order to improve employability. This may be seen as even more important for disabled students, who may find it more difficult to progress onto employment after study. Catriona has always dreamed of being a journalist. She is blind, but uses her ‘Braille ‘n’ Speak’ electronic notetaking device to take notes when she interviews people. She previously worked on her school newspaper, and now that she is at college she wants to get some more work experience.
She writes to a number of local and regional papers offering to cover stories for them. One paper offers her a few assignments but states that she must be able to use shorthand, as if she goes on assignment in Court, they will not allow electronic notetakers. Her disability means that she is unable to agree to these terms, despite the fact that she could undertake all other kinds of assignment. Although she feels that she has been treated less favourably, she feels unable to appeal because of her status as volunteer.
It is hard to make a clear distinction between which of these types of placement could be classed as part of ‘vocational training’ and which not. Some are more directly related to a vocational learning programme. However, they all have the aim of supporting learners in their transition (whether immediate or in the future) to employment. Currently disabled people are significantly under-represented in paid employment, and it is important that any support possible is given to them to change this situation. A successful work placement is a very important factor in helping this to happen.
These periods of work placement also form an integral part of an individual’s learning programme. If a disabled person is discriminated against in the workplace or does not have an essential reasonable adjustment made for them, this may well result in them dropping out of the placement and hence failing a particular part of their course. Under DDA Part 4 education providers currently have a responsibility to disabled learners when on work experience. The education provider has a responsibility to prepare both the student and the placement provider for the placement, and set up the necessary support.
However, there is only so far they can go in ensuring discrimination does not take place and in making reasonable adjustments to the work placement. For example they can insist on a statement from the employer but cannot actually ensure that no discrimination takes place; they can suggest that, for example, furniture needs to be rearranged in order to accommodate a wheelchair user, but cannot actually authorise its movement. This can only be assured if employers themselves have duties to people on work placements as they already do towards their employees.