A new employability programme in Manchester is helping teenagers aged 16-18 with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to get digital jobs.
‘Digital Inc.’ will provide eight schools in the area with 10 days of employer-led support, with experts from local digital companies coming in to classrooms to take students through a business start-up process and talk about how they themselves got a job in the creative digital sector.
A total of 80 students will take part in the programme and 16 will then be offered a supported internship at a newly created agency – ‘Digital Inc.’ – where they will work on real life digital briefs. The scheme aims to increase employer confidence, supporting digital businesses in Manchester to provide meaningful opportunities and progression to students with special educational needs and disabilities.
Funded by the Careers & Enterprise Company, Manchester City Council, and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Digital Inc. was set up to plug the digital skills gap in Manchester and address issues around employing people with disabilities.
Recent research from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK employment rate for people with disabilities is 51.3% – significantly lower than the employment rate for people without disabilities, which is 81.4%.
Despite this, the Department for Education admitted in their recent Careers Strategy that ‘Careers advice for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can often be poor and lacking in aspiration.’
Digital Inc. hopes to change this. In the past, students with special needs have taken part in its sister scheme, POP (pop-up digital agency) – a flagship 5-day Digital Advantage training programme – working alongside students from mainstream schools, with great results. But this is the first time a dedicated employability programme for SEND schools has been set up.
Digital Inc. will run in Castlefield Campus, Grange Special School, Lancasterian School, Melland High School, North Ridge High School, Pioneer House School, Piper Hill High School and Southern Cross School.
Andy Lovatt, Managing Director of Digital Advantage, which delivers Digital Inc., said: “People with special educational needs experience significantly lower employment rates than mainstream students. At the same time there is a digital skills crisis which is costing Manchester’s economy millions every year. I’d like to ask the city’s digital sector whether they are looking hard enough for talent? What percentage of their workforce has special educational needs? Digital Inc. seeks to help talented teenagers from special needs schools get great digital jobs and also support employers that are keen to find the best recruits.”
Marie English, internship manager at Redwood School, a secondary special school in Rochdale that took part in POP last year, she said: “I was impressed with the functional aspects of the programme and how it helped students to set up a viable business. The trainer had really high expectations of our students. There was no sense of giving them the answers because they had special needs. This meant the students raised their game – they gained much more than just work experience. Their confidence grew and they felt important and empowered because they all had valuable job roles within the leisure app business they’d created.”