Sodexo and global healthcare company GSK joined forces on Project Search, an international work-based program for students with learning disabilities. From September 2012 to June 2013, twelve students aged 17 to 24 became part of the Sodexo’s teams and worked three hours per day at GSK’s corporate headquarters in Brentford, UK.
Donna Simpson, GSK Account Manager UK and Europe at Sodexo, and Joanna Harry, UK Inclusion and Diversity Manager at GSK, tell us what the students did and how it changed the way staff now view disability.
What tasks did the students handle and how well did they do?
Donna Simpson: “Some of them were handling meals or equipment, housekeeping in the fitness center, at the reception desk, doing deliveries, basically every single department apart from the switchboard! Anywhere there was a task to be done, we let them handle it. And it was great; they loved it!”
Joanna Harry: “They were quite thorough and conscientious. When a task had to be done a certain way, they understood the process and followed it rigorously. Their respect for safety, their loyalty to the job and their punctuality in attendance were excellent!”
Did it change the way staff think about learning disabilities?
JH: “So much! This really brought happiness and pride to our teams. It has made us view some of our processes differently: when we broke them down in order to explain them to the students, we realized that we could actually improve them with fewer steps. It has given us vim and vigor; they arrived with such enthusiasm that we all worked better as a result.”
DS: “When I interviewed some of the team members, they all said it had been extremely rewarding for them. It has improved working relationships within teams and has positively impacted on the atmosphere at the site. It’s just so motivating to witness such engagement. The students added value to the organization beyond the work they were doing and bringing them in turned out to be much less of a challenge than anticipated. I don’t think they realize themselves the extend to which they helped create a much more accepting culture”
What about the benefits to the students?
JH: “Because they had only known school, they had very little experience of the professional world and so they had a lot to assimilate with us here. At first, they found it difficult to keep up with the pace of day. The school environment is not as challenging! It was a big learning curve for them. But they soldiered on, and by the end of June, they really had become true professionals and employable adults!”
DS: “One of the big benefits for the kids that came through last year is that the majority of them actually have jobs now. We employ two here at the GSK headquarter, one in the housekeeping department and another in the IT department. It’s been such a success that we renewed Project Search this year with 12 more students!”