World Supported Employment Conference June 2023
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
After attending any conference or workshop I often think about how best to communicate the experience with others and how easy it is to be lost, not just the information but also to convey the energy created at such events. The conference I have recently attended was full of knowledge, enthusiasm and energy and I hope this blog goes some way in communicating that.
It Was An Honour to Attend and Speak
It was an honour to represent The Education People (part of the Commercial Services Group) and the British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) by attending and speaking at the 2nd World Supported Employment Conference in Vancouver in June. The well organised event was hosted by the Canadian Association for Supported Employment, Inclusion BC, the BC Employment Network and the World Association for Supported Employment. With a planning committee that included people from at least three continents it cannot have been easy, we heard how virtual meetings held on a Tuesday were early morning for North America, late afternoon for Europe and early hours of Wednesday for Australia.
The event was attended by 650 delegates from over 30 countries and it was structured around a mix of keynote speeches, 39 workshops and panel discussions. The three days were an immersive environment where anything and everything Supported Employment were on offer including future trends. The networking opportunities were endless and the energy, warmth and eagerness to talk and share good practice was evident. An important theme that emerged from the conference was the need for collaboration and partnership working amongst stakeholders to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace culture that benefits everyone.
Vancouver - a Unique and Beautiful City
With a lot of people attending that had never been to Vancouver, (including myself) it was a really nice touch that at the start and the end of the conference a guided tour of the city was given, I have not seen this at an event before. As someone that had never been to Canada let alone Vancouver, I was keen to experience this and I am glad I did. It was an hour and a half experiencing a unique and beautiful city, which has everything you would expect of a city but also has beaches, ocean, snow topped mountains and even desert. The tour proved popular and it was great to hear from our enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer guide as well as informally network and chat with fellow delegates from Canada and around the world.
As well as being there to hear good practise and attend the workshops I was also there to speak at two workshops.
The first workshop was supporting Nerise Oldfield-Thomson around how we measure quality within our sector using the Supported Employment Quality Framework (SEQF). As we made the final checks with the mics and slides we watched as the very large room quickly filled up and people continued to stream in until there was standing room only. This was fantastic to see but did nothing to help our nerves! The hour-long presentation which included two interactive group activities went smoothly with lots of questions and interest about the self-assessment tool, audit and kitemark.
The second workshop was to talk about our Supported Employment in Education Programme that supports schools and colleges to embed Supported Employment methods within their career plans for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This was part of the 'high school to adulthood' discussion, a two hour session with three other organisations presenting their education and transition projects that are supporting students with SEND.
As well as speaking I was able to attend many workshops, visit the exhibitor hall and experience the marketplace. Speakers from all over the world were presenting workshops and it was great to see that there was something for all interests and job roles. As you would expect the 5 stages of Supported Employment and the core values were covered but also a workshop on supporting individuals who want to run their own businesses. A particular highlight for me was a workshop covering how to manage a service, this covered all aspects including HR, consistency of quality and effective communications with all stakeholders. Another memorable session I attended was looking at employer engagement - it is interesting and reassuring to see that particularly on this topic but also on all the other topics although we may use slightly different words and phrases from country to country the methods and values are the same.
Whether in a workshop, the main hall for the keynote speeches, over coffee and cake (there was also popcorn) during the breaks or dinner in the evenings the enthusiasm to discuss and share our supported employment experience and knowledge was never ending.
The Event Far Exceeded My Expectations!
This event far outweighed my expectations in every aspect; the memories of it will stay with me for a very long time. I came away from the conference inspired and with some new ideas to try within the Specialist Employment Service.
About David Stenning
David Stenning is the Supported Employment Manager with The Education People.
With 17 years’ experience within Supported Employment, David is the current regional Chair and National Executive Committee (NEC) representative for BASE in the South-East of England and represents BASE within The European Union of Supported Employment.
He has extensive experience of strategically planning and leading on all aspects of Supported Employment.