Helen Smith, Employment & Learning Service Manager, Unity Works

Bars and restaurants are struggling to recruit enough staff and some may not be able to fully reopen In May, after thousands of workers left the sector and the post-Brexit regime kicked in. Many of the employers we speak to are keen to reach a diverse pool of talent but aren’t sure where to begin. They can be worried about using the right language and want to avoid overwhelming a candidate, or they might not be sure where barriers exist and how they can be addressed.

Unity Works is a London based charity supporting people with a learning disability to gain skills, qualifications, and jobs. We believe that everyone can work and has the right to enjoy all the financial, social and health benefits that result from being in meaningful employment.  To achieve this, we run successful employment programmes, social enterprises including 5 cafes across London, where we train and employ people with a learning disability, as well as working with employers to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.  

Our employment advisors prepare candidates for the workplace, including arranging industry-level training, work experience and apprenticeships. We can also provide pre- selection, in-work support or job coaching during a work trial, placement or to support someone into a new role, which can be stepped up or down as needed.

Our employer engagement officers work alongside employers to understand the needs of the business and match appropriate candidates who may be able to fit into roles. Adapting our approach and drawing on previous experience, including as an employer in the hospitality and catering sector ourselves, we offer:

  • Disability awareness training coproduced and co-delivered with our team of Ambassadors, and free to employers offering our candidates opportunities
  • Site visits and shadowing to understand the culture, values and expectations of a potential host team
  • Disability Confident consultancy
  • Supported recruitment, pre-screening and sifting
  • Opportunities to meet potential candidates via events such as Ask the Employer, online or within one of our cafes
  • In-work support and job coaching during interviews, work trials, placements and into new roles
  • Support to apply for Access to Work funding
  • Ad-hoc support and guidance
  • Mentoring

Over the past year we’ve worked with a diverse pool of employers to overcome obstacles and engage with prospective employees with a learning disability such as Royal Free Hospital, Firmdale Hotels, Royal Opera House, Citizen M and Gather & Gather. This has included:

  • Providing training remotely to entire teams (training over 50 people within the first three months of lockdown)
  • Supporting online recruitment by pre-selecting candidates and ensuring they were supported to participate via Zoom and MS Teams
  • Arranging in-work support via job coaches, both in person and via remote mentoring
  • Supporting clients through furlough and return to work
  • Supporting clients through redundancy processes
  • Facilitating Ask the Employer sessions so that employers could engage with our candidates and share tips for career success
  • Consulting on recruitment and training with a view to helping employers take opportunities to review and update their processes and increase their outreach to diverse pools of talent

The Operations Manager of one contract caterer said: “The support offered by Unity Works was second to none, they assisted with the learning process & offered continued support during S’s time with the team. I would recommend working with Unity Works if you have the opportunity, we have all developed positively during the experience.”

During lockdown we have also been exploring new ventures to develop our business and expand and diversify the training opportunities for people we support. This includes Unity Pies, our brand-new range of delicious take-away pies developed by our trainees launching in June.

Any business looking to access this untapped, skilled and diverse workforce should contact me at [email protected].

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