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Minister hails success of programme that breaks barriers for people with learning disabilities in higher education


More students who have learning disabilities are being given the chance to apply to attend one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities through a project delivered by the University of Strathclyde and ENABLE Scotland, as the Scottish Government hailed the success of this year’s programme.

Since January this year, eight learners aged 18-24 have been studying for a Certificate in Applied Business Skills at the University of Strathclyde Business School and have gained valuable skills and work experience as part of an eight week placement with ScottishPower.

The programme, called Breaking Barriers, aims to raise aspirations for people who have learning disabilities and provide equal opportunities to access university. Having been such a resounding success this term, it has been confirmed that the programme will return for a second year.

Jamie Hepburn MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, visited ScottishPower’s headquarters in Glasgow yesterday to meet the students and learn more about the success of the project.

The Minister also heard from young people supported into employment by the Enhanced Modern Apprenticeship programme. The Open Doors consortium, led by ENABLE Scotland, supported 20 young people who have complex needs into Modern Apprenticeships last year, working in sectors including customer service and childcare. The programme’s success means the consortium are now seeking to deliver the programme on a larger scale, aiming to support another 60 young people into Modern Apprenticeships by March 2019.

Minister for Fair Work Jamie Hepburn said: “Apprenticeships are life changing opportunities – providing the chance, not only to work and earn, but also to achieve an industry recognised qualification to support future career ambitions. They are also a great way for all employers in Scotland, regardless of size and sector, to develop their workforce and contribute to business and economic growth.

 “I was delighted to visit ScottishPower House in Glasgow, and hear about the successful programmes that Enable Scotland are delivering  in partnership with Open Doors Scotland, the University of Strathclyde and Scottish Power. Not only do the programmes support the individual to source, apply for and sustain their employment they also enable our young people with learning disabilities to achieve an accredited qualification.

“During the visit I saw first-hand what impact this model of support has had on a Modern Apprentice employment journey and the success of the Apprenticeship to date.”

Theresa Shearer, Chief Executive of ENABLE Scotland, said: “It’s a sad fact that people with learning disabilities are less likely to go on to higher education, which impacts on their career, ambitions and life opportunities that many of us take for granted, such as making friends.

“Breaking Barriers has been a truly ground-breaking initiative and I am delighted that the University of Strathclyde and ScottishPower have agreed to partner with us again next term, and grant the opportunity for more students to follow in the footsteps of this year’s intake and break barriers of their own.”

Hamish Watson, HR Director of ScottishPower said: “The Breaking Barriers programme allowed ScottishPower to learn a great deal from a very talented and hardworking group of young people. All of the teams involved across our company benefited from taking part in the scheme. Hopefully our ability to tailor the work placements meant that the learners saw the practical, workplace application of the topics covered by Strathclyde University. We are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment where differences are valued, and we look forward to learning even more from the next stage of the programme.”

Professor David Hillier, Associate Principal and Executive Dean of Strathclyde Business School, said: “At the University of Strathclyde we believe everyone should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential so we are delighted to be working with ENABLE Scotland on this unique programme to offer young people with learning disabilities a chance to increase their skills and experience. For Scotland it is hugely important that we develop and make use of the abilities the people of this country possess."

Skills Development Scotland Director of National Training Programmes, Katie Hutton said: “The Open Doors programme supports an ambition of Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Government to ensure diversity in uptake of apprenticeships, putting in place the help needed for both the individual and employer. Partnerships with organisations like ENABLE Scotland are crucial in our work to encourage more apprentice employers to be inclusive, alongside a range of other actions outlined in our Apprenticeships Equality Action Plan.”

Anyone interested in applying for the next year’s Breaking Barriers programme can download a prospectus and application form by visiting the Breaking Barriers web page.