From education to employment

Cheshire businesses can adopt ‘easy wins’ at interview stage to help students with SEMH shine in workplace

A Cheshire school assistant headteacher today encouraged businesses to implement “easy wins” at the application and interview stage to ensure school leavers with social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) difficulties shine in the workplace.

Sarah Holt, assistant headteacher at renowned SEN free school – The Axis Academy in Crewe – made the rallying call ahead of a keynote speech at the ‘How to Support Young People with SEMH barriers to Access the Workplace’ free online event organised by The Pledge Partnership on Thursday, November 23

Mrs Holt , oversees SEND, mental health and careers provision at the school which has capacity for 68 pupils aged 5-18 years and prides itself on small class sizes, tailor-made support and an inspiring curriculum.

Today she said would love to see companies reviewing the interview process “to make them more inclusive and ensure brilliant candidates with incredible talents shine through”.

She said:

“The fact is a lot of our pupils are not going to be able to walk into an interview with six people sat around a table and sit in front of them and talk about themselves.

“They might be brilliant at the job, but the interview process is going to be a massive barrier, so we need to adapt the interview processes to make them more inclusive.

“For example, if you know you’re employing someone for a particular role that doesn’t require them to be able to stand up and speak in front of people, why would you put that in the interview process?”

Steps she suggested included online interviews with fewer people involved, one-to-one interviews, practical applications, video submissions and employers conducting interviews at the education setting.

And when taking on students with SEMH, measures implemented at schools like the Axis Academy such as break-out spaces, sensory equipment, working in smaller groups and factoring in breaks – even in online meetings – to help with concentration and anxiety could be mirrored or adapted where appropriate in the workplace.

With students’ consent, Mrs Holt would also like prospective employers given access to Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans – detailed legal documents which outline pupils’ special educational needs and the specific support required – so companies can offer the best working environments based on a candidate’s particular requirements.

She said:

“This is a major issue actually. Our students have an EHC plan that stays with them until they are 25 but only if they remain in education. The minute they leave education and go into the world of work it no longer exists.

“This is a problem because if you’re an employer taking this person on, you’re not going to get sight of their education healthcare plan, which details everything about them, their diagnosis, what works, strategies, everything is in there. They could potentially walk into a job with absolutely no information available at all and be expected to just get on with it the same as everyone else.

“I would advise an employer speaks, with the person’s blessing, to the previous education setting, as although they won’t be able to send the EHC plan over as long they have permission from the student, they would be able to give a general overview.

“The fact EHC plans do not follow students into workplaces also highlights why application forms should have a detailed section allowing candidates to record any additional needs and any diagnosis that they’re willing to share.”

Free tickets for the ‘How to Support Young People with SEMH barriers to Access the Workplace’ event which will explore how to create inclusive work environments for young individuals facing SEMH challenges runs from 9am t0 10.30am on November 23 can be accessed here.

It is one of a number of events organised by the Pledge Partnership which includes Cheshire and Warrington Careers Hub, and addresses skills and employment gaps, supports careers planning and gives students from all backgrounds meaningful access and experiences with employers so they are ready for the world of work.

The event follows a successful Autumn programme of Careers Fairs across the region which were attended by almost 7,400 people and allowed students from 65 schools to discuss career paths with 336 exhibitors including universities, colleges, and businesses.

To support inclusivity, quieter supported visits were accommodated for students who would find a busy environment challenging. Similar events will continue into next year with opportunities for local employers looking to recruit young talent attend to attend a series of Jobs and Apprenticeship fairs across the sub-region from January- February. All Pledge events can be found here.

The Pledge Partnership is calling for more local employers to help inspire the next generation. 

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