Autistic students undertake internships at Yorkshire Water

Statistics show that in 2015-16, only 6% of adults (aged 18-64) with learning disabilities in England were in paid employment.

Lighthouse Futures Trust in Leeds and Kelda Group (parent company of Yorkshire Water) are challenging this by embarking on a disability internship programme for students with an autistic spectrum condition.

Lighthouse Futures Trust is a charity which creates employment opportunities for young people with autistic spectrum disorder and learning disability and works with students from Lighthouse School, Leeds City College and other schools in the city.

We recently received the National Equality Standard certification (which recognises good practise in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion) and we want to continually widen our recruitment pools. In September we welcomed seven interns from Lighthouse School and hope that the year-long placement will give the students a far greater chance of securing paid employment in the future.

Lighthouse school in Cookridge is a school for young people (aged 11 to 19) with an autistic spectrum condition or related communication disorder. Parents of children with these conditions set up Lighthouse School, which is Yorkshire’s first special free school, with the backing of the Department of Education.

Careful three-way discussion has taken place between Yorkshire Water coaches, Lighthouse School staff and the students to ensure that the interns have been placed with the right team. The students are working in various parts of the business including; IT, Finance and Payroll and each have a job coach from the school to support them.

Both organisations hope the intern programme will develop the students’ confidence, communication and social skills during this academic year.

The interns will also complete a BTEC qualification with modules that cover preparation for work, working in a team and searching for a job.

Katie Parlett, Founder of Lighthouse Futures Trust and Lighthouse School said; “Many young adults on the autistic spectrum have hidden talents that aren’t used because employers just don’t know how to tap into them. We hope this programme will recognize, value and utilise the talents our young people have and its success will help us to expand and work with other companies in future to give more young adults these opportunities.”

The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) has also stepped in to help by providing transport for the interns. The independent school has solved the problem of how to transport the team to and from their place of work. The interns were not able to travel by public transport and the cost of private hire was too prohibitive so GSAL has offered to put a minibus and driver at their disposal for the length of the project.

The interns have settled in well and are working hard to potentially secure an apprenticeship or entry level role at the company after their internship is complete.

"Being at Yorkshire Water is already giving me more experience of life skills and improving my independent working skills," said Charles Ledger, an intern working in the payroll team.

"Communicating with new people and learning new skills helps me to build my confidence and believe that I can achieve," said another intern, Daryl Barr.