Jigsaw Pieces: Gizza job! I can do that!
The next Jigsaw Piece on our large puzzle tackles the complexities of employment, using the experience of the directors of Jigsaw.
There have been plenty of twists and turns, and no small amount of tears. We have found it very hard to nail down a long- term job and not for the want of trying. Getting a job in the first place is hard enough when you are a non-disabled person; it can be even harder when you are a person with a disability.
The subject of employment has been discussed in both the short film called the Employment Game, made by Ben, and is one of the five main subjects tackled in the Tolerance film. Watching the Tolerance film again, of our two main characters, one is in a job and hates it and wants to work somewhere else, and the other cannot get a job for love nor money.
This is the first of a series of blogs, in which we discuss our experiences.
Part I: Ben’s Story – School and the Shoots of Tolerance
Now as everybody knows, when you are about 16 or 17, your first experience of work is your week’s work placement, which is either set up by you or the school. I was no different.
I was in Mrs Threlfall’s class at school when one day we were told about work experience. Now as a wheelchair user I knew that my work experiences options would be limited, but I gave a great deal of thought to the form we had to fill in, asking us what we liked to do. I put down that I would not mind shadowing a journalist for a week. Now this was not as daft as it sounds, as I knew that one of my teachers, an American called Mrs Hinchcliffe, had a husband who was a well- known journalist for our local paper the Huddersfield Examiner. I thought that it would be easy to set up and I imagined myself as a male version of Sarah Jane Smith, so you can imagine my disappointment when I was offered an office job at Ray Street Enterprise Centre.
I do not remember a lot about the job and I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing. But, I remember liking my work there and working 9 to 5 hours to get the full experience. I also remember my boss not liking me very much, because someone from school came to see her and I overheard some not very nice comments about me. Companies were expected to provide a short report about the person doing work experience. I never saw mine so I do not know even if it was written.
A couple more things I remember about the world of work. At Newsome High they had a computer programme which would ask questions about the type of job you would like to do. I answered all the questions honestly so what job did it offer me? – a motorcycle messenger. Yes, you have read that properly. As a wheelchair user, are you kidding me? I then went to see a disability employment adviser. I say adviser, advisedly, as she spent my hour shooting down every good idea I had and then trying to steer me towards further education and/or training.
After leaving Newsome High, I decided that I would like to spend at least the next two years at a college. I decided to take a shot in the dark and become the second disabled person to go the Sixth Form at Shelley High School. A friend of mine from Newsome High had already gone there, so I thought if it worked for him, there was no reason why it could not work for me as well.
As part of my studies there, I did both a GNVQ in Business Studies and a GNVQ in Leisure and Tourism. For both these qualifications, I had to do two weeks work experience and after my previous work experience, I was not looking forward to it. As part of my Business Studies course I was expecting to work in a bank or a local firm, but I ended up work for the local branch of the Inland Revenue, which was not what I was expecting at all.
I had to sign the Official Secrets Act and over the two weeks I worked in a number of different departments and learned an awful lot. For my hard work I was paid the princely sum of £30, so I must have done something right. I was very pleased with my first wage.
For my Leisure and Tourism qualification, I expected to work in a travel agents or similar, but what I ended up doing did not match expectations again. I ended up working for two days in Kirklees Council’s Adult Services Department, with no idea what the connection was with leisure services. For those two days I was looked after by a man, who reminded me of Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth. He informed me that he did not know why my college had picked me to work here, as there was nothing to do! Charming, I thought. He suggested that I might be better working at Red Laithes Court in Dewsbury, which I agreed to, but little did I know what trouble it would cause.
For the next few days the air was blue as there were many phone calls between Shelly High School and Kirklees because they had not been told what was happening with me. Oops!!! Anyway, when it was sorted out, I was doing admin work in the office, as well as looking after and sorting out issues with the residents. My boss at Red Laithes was so pleased with what I had done there that I was offered a weekend job there, but unfortunately I was not able to take the offer up, due to issues with transport costs.
Part I: Gemma’s Story
Although I have been very lucky to be employed in various different jobs since I left school, because my choice of career in Youth Work and childcare was not seen as the stereotypical job of a disabled person, my employment path has not been straight. There have been plenty of twists and turns along the way, especially finding support workers who like young people and the unsociable hours expected of youth workers! I found it hard to accept and use my disability in a positive way, in the predominantly non-disabled world of employment, as I always felt inadequate in comparison to my colleagues, even though this was my perception, and not the view of my colleagues.
The positive aspects of being in employment were the teams that I worked with, the knowledge I gained, and the ability to help others and help them to begin to make informed choices, and change their lives for the better.
Being in employment has given me the skills, contacts and confidence to start my own training company, Jigsaw Enterprise Training, which in turn has finally allowed me to accept myself and my disability as a positive and use it, as a Unique Selling Point in my business.