Spotting the valuable opportunities in NE

The pressure of a formal job interview can make the most confident candidate a mass of nerves.

It can only be imagined the trepidation that someone with learning disabilities might feel at facing a panel armed with questions, assessments and scenarios.

An appreciation of this situation is what led Des Cheyne, owner of the Spotty Bag Shop in Banff, to offer “work trials” in his business.

The scheme gives people the opportunity to prove themselves on the job and in the actual role, rather than through a formal interview and selection process.

Workers with learning disabilities have an initial trial period during which they receive training and individual support, tailored to their specific needs.

The innovative approach has gone well.Des brought one work trial to an early end, saying the worker had so exceeded his expectations that he wanted to pay her for her work.

“It’s been good for us,” said Des, “We’ve been able to put something back into the community, and we’re helping someone in an equal opportunity environment.

“In return, we get a valued member of the team who adds her own strengths to the business.”

The project has also attracted external recognition, having been shortlisted for the Northern Star Business Awards for business diversity. This category, as part of the annual Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce event, rewards businesses which show their recruitment practices to be fair and open, resulting in the employment of people with diverse backgrounds and abilities.

Des said he was delighted by the nomination: “The Northern Star Business Awards is a prestigious event and it is a real honour for me, and all the staff, to have reached the finals.”

Other benefits have been seen throughout the business.

Chris Holmes of Aberdeenshire Council, who organises the trials, says that it has been an education for both customer and staff.

“People have said that their views on disability have changed, having seen how people with disabilities can be a valuable part of the team,” she said.

The Spotty Bag Shop is an Aberdeenshire institution described as “a charming, chaotic Aladdin’s Cave”, prides itself on selling almost everything – clothing, household goods, pet products and garden supplies – as well as having a busy restaurant.

One of the current ‘interviewees’ is Ashleigh Irvine, who is working in the restaurant, serving customers, clearing tables and taking orders. She is also being trained on the till.

The impact on self confidence is dramatic.

“The workers feel valued for the work they are doing and have achieved their goal of being in paid employment,” said Chris.

Ashleigh certainly agrees: “I love working at the Spotty Bag Shop as I enjoy what I am doing working with others and as part of a team.”