The second edition of the ‘Training in Employment and Entrepreneurial Skills’ is already warming up. This is a free training initiative delivered by the University of Extremadura (UEx) to fifteen young people aged 18 to 30 that have an intellectual disability that is equal to or higher than 33%, as officially recognized by the competent Autonomous Agency, which in the case of Extremadura is CADEX. Applicants must also be enrolled in the National Youth Guarantee System before the start of the course.

This initiative aims to enhance the social inclusion of persons with disabilities through training and improving their level of employability as “they have a lower level of education than young people without disabilities and their unemployment rates are twice as high, at 40%”. As mentioned by the Course Director and Professor of the UEx, Maria Rosa Oria, at a recent event in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office in Badajoz, by means of this training initiative “we hope to approach, raise awareness and motivate students to become employed as a viable option for their professional future through knowledge and the deve

A student collecting the degree. Image: UEx

lopment of skills used today in an entrepreneurial process or when working for someone else”.
The course consists of daily four-hour classroom sessions (with a break), four days a week, from Tuesday to Friday. It will take 380 hours, corresponding to 38 ECTS credits, which shall be divided into 300 teaching hours in the classroom and 80 hours of practical training. The training also proposes 14 specific personal development goals connected with developing positive integration skills and the introduction into the job market. This year, there are new features, such as the increased duration of the course, more practical activities, and an increase in the number of vacancies.

The initiative, which is funded by the European Social Fund through the ONCE Foundation, is being implemented as a University Expert Degree, as in the previous edition, “which clearly improves the skills of these students” said the director of the Entrepreneurial Aid Initiative Service of the UEx, Mercedes Vaquera. The course will commence on 5 November and end on 24 May 2019, and will coincide with the graduations of the end of the academic year. “This will enable the students of this project to participate in the recognition of their effort, just like all the other university students”, according to the UEx. Equally, the manager of the cooperating entity Fundhex, Mercedes Moreno, has encouraged families to display an interest in this training because “this course not only provides knowledge but also experiences for students in a university environment”.
We talked to the director of the course ‘Training in Employment and Entrepreneurial Skills’ and professor of the UEx, Maria Rosa Oria, to delve into the key aspects of this project.

– Your thoughts on last year’s experience.
– The first thing that comes to mind is that this course would not have been possible without the funding of the ONCE Foundation and the European Social Fund given that the students for which it is intended, particularly in Extremadura, do not usually have sufficient resources to cover the cost of university education. It is also an opportunity to exchange teaching experiences with colleagues from other Autonomous Communities, in particular with the university faculty of Toledo (Castilla la Mancha).

Introduction to the course. Image: UEx

– What is the assessment of that first edition?
– It was very positive for the students of the course and for the teachers; it was a very enriching experience for both parties. For us, the fact that all the students, each at their own level, with the necessary adaptations, succeeded in achieving the goals of the course was very satisfying. For them, attending University has been a dream come true. We have been able to demonstrate that integrating persons with intellectual disabilities into the university is viable, with the necessary adaptations, which, on the other hand, are not really “exaggerated”.

– What do you cover in this course?
– We teach all kinds of subjects that will help students in several fields in order to obtain the skills needed to launch an entrepreneurial project.

– What methods do you use? And what are the goals?
– The classes are usually as practical and dynamic as possible: we focus on methodologies in which the students have to work in groups, preparing projects, and always with an applied perspective. Our goal is that no student is “left behind”; therefore, we have a Support Expert, a specialist in learning difficulties inside the classroom, to help the teachers and we adapt the content to the level of understanding of each student, without lowering the amount or the essential elements. This expert also helps the students to have a reference point when the teachers change every two hours.

– Tell me more.
– We employ professionals from other UEx schools (Agricultural Engineering, Sciences and from the School of Economic Sciences) to provide a wider scope. We also have a dance professional so that, in line with the experiences of the Yehudi Menhuin Spain Foundation (FYME), they can develop more effective non-verbal communication strategies. This is, therefore, a multidisciplinary and multi-professional project, intended to provide the maximum number of experiences through various channels. This year, in addition, the students of this course will share more classes and activities with the rest of the university students: we have Teacher Degrees programmes and they will be able to share practical seminars performed jointly by other students and those in our course.

– In what businesses or sectors do they obtain work experience? How long?
– In the 18-19 course, five weeks, one more than last year, and, depending on the entrepreneurial project agreed by all the students, they will be directed to one sector or another. During the work experience period, they will also have meetings with all the regional and local agencies to present the project. Work experience means they have to prepare the visits, hold direct interviews with real workers, and perform tasks that are typical of the job related to the business idea that is being developed each year.

– Do you know whether any students from last year are working or have opened a business?
– This course was designed with a vocation of continuity. The UEx provides them with the initial training, and then they go to the Third Sector entities with which we organise the project each year (at the moment these are Fundhex in Extremadura and CIEES_CECAP, in Toledo, with the collaboration of Plena Inclusión en Extremadura and of all the associations that help to disseminate the project among their members. Precisely, at the end of November, the students of the first course will begin the second phase of the project, which deals with setting up a cooperative. Most of the students (8 to 12 from last year) will continue with this experience, and at least three of those who are not continuing, it is because they have found paid jobs. Therefore, in this sense, we believe this can also be considered a success. It is worth fighting for people with intellectual disabilities to occupy their rightful place, and society has a debt with them if we do not give them the training they need and the appropriate opportunities.