Hilton hotel pilots employment scheme for people with learning disabilities

The students in the foyer at Hilton T5.

The students in the foyer at Hilton T5.

Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 is the first UK hotel to pilot a new scheme aimed at helping young people with learning disabilities into work.

The Hilton hotel, based near the airport in west London, is the first hotel employer in the UK to trial the scheme which is being run in partnership with Ealing Council and MENCAP.

The scheme is based on a successful programme - Project SEARCH - an American employment model that enables young people to spend their last academic year in the workplace rather than the classroom.

Since September 2014, 12 students from Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College have been gaining valuable experience at the T5 hotel working in Food & Beverage, Meeting & Events Operations, Housekeeping and Reception.

Meredith Bevan, General Manager of Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 said, “We will place the young people within our departments, in roles that match their skill sets. They will be continually assessed, supported and set targets for them to achieve.

“By helping these young people into work we are raising expectations of what they can achieve. Not only is the scheme helping young people gain valuable experience, it is also opening up life choices.”

Caroline Lowe, Director of Human Resources said, “The hotel benefits from the young people’s enthusiasm and the valuable contribution they make. It will also help break down barriers and change people’s perceptions. Everyone has been positive about the young people and we are excited to be welcoming them.

“Sadly, less than seven per cent of young people with learning disabilities make the transition from education into paid employment. We have a duty to challenge that statistic and this experience empowers those young people to seek employment. By their final year most students have completed their academic studies so the placement gives them real work experience.”

The scheme is funded by partners Ealing Council and MENCAP.

The original Project SEARCH programme ran at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the US and original Project SEARCH employees have now been working for at least 10 years since their initial programme.

Anne O'Bryan, Project SEARCH UK Programme Specialist, Europe said, “The first hotel programmes  have really come about because the local authority, education and supported employment partners have seen the hotels as valued, large businesses in their communities. First established in the Hilton family at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Omaha Nebraska, that hotel has contacted other hotels in the Hilton family here in the UK and mainland Europe to express their enthusiasm for Project SEARCH and its effect on their hotel.”

Gabriel Jones at Ealing MENCAP said, “I initially heard about Project Search in 2011 when I was contacted by Anne O'Bryan. I spoke at length with Anne who was running an information session and wanted to invite education establishments to come and learn about the project. I got in touch with some Ealing schools and colleges, and also sent information to Richmond.

“There was a lot of interest and during 2012 we had some meetings at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College (EHWLC). The staff were interested and we explored funding to find a business partner.

“By summer 2013 it was clear that EHWLC and Ealing Mencap could count on support from the borough if we had a business partner. We let Anne and the Project Search team know we were keen to launch a project.

“In November, much to our delight, Anne and her colleague Susie said they thought they had found us a suitable business partner in the London Heathrow Hilton Hotel T5.

“The programme is important to our students as it offers them a pathway into an ordinary life with independence, choices, a chance for a social life with colleagues, a career path, and a future where they are not dependent on benefits. It opens doors and gives them a chance they could not have hoped for without the scheme.

“Hospitality is a particularly good area in that there are many practical skills required which lend themselves to the kind of systematic instruction that allows people with learning disabilities to show and develop their potential. The hotel staff have been particularly welcoming and keen to engage with the students, and everyone is really keen to make the whole thing work, so we have high hopes.”

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