Changing lives: National Grid's interns with special needs

When he was at school Kieran White believed he’d never be equal to the demands of employment. He has special needs and attended a special school, Hereward College, and describes himself as ‘blinded by doubt’.

But then an internship with National Grid, provided through the ‘EmployAbility, Let’s Work Together’ programme, changed his life. He now has a permanent job with National Grid, in its Information Services function.

On his first day as an EmployAbility intern, Kieran was a bag of nerves. However, halfway through, he found himself asking questions, giving input, and understanding how improvements could be made. By the time he went home, his confidence had already been transformed.

Kieran had placements in Capital Delivery, looking at costs and efficiency, and in Communications. He has become an expert in SharePoint, so much so that he is stopped in the corridor by people in other departments and asked for advice. He has chaired weekly meetings around performance excellence and created information resources and guides to facilitate best practice.

Throughout his internship he received support from job coaches as part of the EmployAbility programme. Job coaches like Louise Green, who is based at National Grid in Hinckley, work with colleagues to find appropriate placements within the organisation and match them to interns. They also liaise with teachers and social workers and hold regular review meetings with managers.

Louise delivers a BTEC course in work skills to the EmployAbility interns for an hour every morning before they go off to their placements, and the interns meet her again at the end of the day for feedback and reflection. Louise is employed by a local school with the support of the government’s Access to Work fund, and works closely with the EmployAbility team at National Grid, recent graduates and with managers who have supported the programme.

The EmployAbility programme: the manager’s view

Simon Henning, communications production manager at National Grid, has found that the benefits of the EmployAbility programme are strikingly far-reaching, not just for interns like Kieran but for the wider organisation.

When Simon was first asked to attend a meeting about the EmployAbility programme he went along with the concerns you might expect any manager to have about taking on an intern with additional learning needs: would it be time-intensive and distracting for the team? He found his heart saying ‘yes’, but his head saying ‘it’s going to be a challenge’.

Then he saw motivation levels rise as soon as Jonny, an EmployAbility intern, joined the team. Team members started to talk to each other in a different way, driven by the need to include Jonny in discussions. Jonny’s presence gave others in the team the chance to supervise his work and this experience contributed to their own development.

The team bonded round a shared sense of purpose – getting the best out of the four hours each day that they had Jonny with them. Jonny was a catalyst for change, his work was good quality and he added value. The web pages he created are still being used.

Simon benefited too. When he had his annual review, his manager told him that the EmployAbility programme had taken him out of his comfort zone and that he had risen to the challenge.

How the EmployAbility programme changed the culture of National Grid

Sophie Woolham, who joined National Grid in 2012 from the University of Leeds, is one of the site leads for the EmployAbility programme at Hinckley, and believes it has led to a cultural change in the organisation. People know who the interns are, and as they stop and speak to them, they become interested in the programme and this breeds better disability awareness and confidence. The impact interns have on the teams they are involved in helps to bring people together as well as to understand and help to realise potential.

Sophie feels that National Grid’s involvement in the EmployAbility programme offers graduate recruits, who may be involved in working with EmployAbility interns, a great opportunity for personal development over and above the day job. She says, ‘It gets us noticed as a responsible business, and why wouldn’t you want to work for a responsible business?’

You can find out more about the EmployAbility programme, its processes and the benefits from the EmployAbility, Let’s Work Together website. National Grid is the headline partner of the TARGETjobs National Graduate Recruitment Awards 2016 and intends to use the opportunity to promote the EmployAbility programme and share its experience with other employers.

Find out more about National Grid and EmployAbility, Let’s Work Together