Employment challenges for people with autism and learning difficulties

Tomos Churchill
Tomos Churchill, who has cerebral palsy, has thrived since starting his placement which led to a job

A man with cerebral palsy says he feels like he has a purpose after securing a permanent job through a project for people with learning disabilities.

Engage to Change has worked with 800 employers to help young people develop skills in paid placements.

But manager Angela Kenvyn fears "massive funding cuts everywhere" will disrupt this.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said he recognised the challenge.

Talking about his job with Rhondda Cynon Taf council, 26-year-old Tomos Churchill said: "I was brought up on a family farm, and I used to feed the sheep. With my disability it was not a problem.

"But now I feel as if I have a purpose as an actual worker. I've had so many people turn me down for jobs."

Ms Kenvyn has called for a national job coaching strategy so that people like Tomos are not "pushed to the end of the queue" in the hunt for jobs.

Tomos added: "For me it is frustrating, now the council have given me a chance, and they haven't sugar coated me or wrapped me in bubble wrap, and I feel proud of what I am doing with them. "

Angela Kenvyn
Angela Kenvyn is worried about the impact of funding cuts on helping people with learning disabilities into work

While Tomos has been employed by the council for three years, he said getting work was not easy, and he attended many courses beforehand with no luck.

However, after a placement with the horticulture team at Pontypridd's Ynysangharad Park, he was offered a staff post with the park ranger.

Tomos added: "I love being out in the open in any weather. I feel as if I have a purpose now. I know that I have a better journey ahead of me than behind me.

"I am married now. Before, I never thought I would get married or have a job. I had so many people look down at me, stare, say nasty comments.

"I just wanted somebody to take me for me, not look at my disabilities."

His mentor at the council is Brent Bennett, who said: "I saw straight away that Tom had a very good work ethic, and he wanted to work.

"So we looked at the process of investing in him and gave him opportunities in terms of equipment and training."

'Everyone has a right to a job'

Work that Engage to Change did with young people came to an end in May.

However, the project secured extra funding to take forward the policy, research, and lessons learnt and to work with the Welsh government, local authorities, and other organisations to ensure support is funded across Wales.

Ms Kenvyn said 41% of those supported across the project gained work, adding: "Everybody has got a right to be employed and have a job.

"But some people need that extra individual one to one support."

Labour Senedd member for Caerphilly Hefin David was an academic who specialised in the world of work before being elected, and he carried out research on the issue.

He also called for a job coaching strategy.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said: "To do that, you need to understand how they (job coaches) interact alongside the benefit system.

"We also need to know if the recent announcement made by the UK government on having 25,000 more job coaches across the UK,  how that will interact with this group of people.

"If we design an intervention in Wales to try to help those people and it clashes with benefit rules we could end up not helping the people we want to help."