The Empowering Enterprise project


Some people might assume that a young person is unemployed because they lack skills and motivation, and that they simply need to ‘work harder’. These kinds of assumptions that narrowly focus on the individual don’t consider the contextual factors that shape the lives of marginalised people. This makes it hard to support young people into work and make the most of their talent, leaving all of us worse off.

The Empowering Enterprise project works with 18-24 year olds across Devon who are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) and specifically those who face significant barriers in finding and securing employment. Mentors on the project are able to see young people as individuals, embedded in their own particular circumstances and work from there to help them move forward to develop and exhibit their employability and life skills.

As well as supporting these young people directly, Empowering Enterprise wants to raise awareness amongst managers, HR staff and employers in Devon, regarding the importance of inclusive employment and the role that they have to play in this story.

We can trust that most people simply apply to jobs that they feel capable of doing. We all have some inhibitions when applying to a new role, but we think these through and weigh up whether we believe ourselves to be a good fit for the role. The very same can be said for young people who are often assumed by employers to be ‘unfit’ for work, including wheelchair users, those experiencing poor mental health, people that speak English as an additional language, autistic people, and many other groups that face additional barriers in the workplace and beyond.

Consequently, be encouraged to focus on the strengths, skills and potential in each individual that engages with you as a potential employer, as they will understand the barriers they face, and how they can be overcome, much better than anyone else. If you do have concerns about their ability to fulfil the role’s requirements, acknowledge and challenge your assumptions – by opening up a conversation with the candidate! The likelihood is that there are things that you can do to develop your ability to ensure that your workplace is an inclusive one that anyone can engage with and offer their talents to!

One employer, local to Exeter, shared how easy, but unhelpful, it can be to simply assume your workplace is inclusive and accessible. They hosted an Empowering Enterprise participant for work experience and reflected:

“We had assumed – like lots of businesses do – it’s a new building with new furniture – that somebody in the wheelchair will be easily able to use our desks. But the young person couldn’t take his wheelchair under the desk and reach the computer.
It was a major eye opener for us. We do see wheelchairs users here, but not very often. We had assumed the space is going to be OK for wheelchair users. But, actually, why are there not many wheelchair users here? Do they come here and think: “Hmm.. No, this is not a good place for me”?
We are making some changes now, and have secured some funding for new wheelchair-accessible desks – they can be made higher or lower depending on a person’s needs.”

An Empowering Enterprise participant shares how powerful it has been for him to experience respect and support through the project, and in the workplace:

“I had no confidence, I was always miserable. All I wanted to do was find work and get routine, but every second I wasn’t in work, I got more and more depressed… But then I met Ana, my [Empowering Enterprise] mentor… I have more confidence now… I can get a job because I’m me! I work in the Co-Op now. I like it there; everyone is nice and supportive. I love working for Co-Op… It gives me purpose… Now I know I deserve to be happy, I’m worth it.”

You may be concerned about the financial costs involved in developing inclusivity in your workplace. The truth is that many changes are cultural and not financially costly. Others can be accounted for by candidates or employees applying for Access to Work – a government scheme that funds ‘reasonable adjustments’ that the employer must make to ensure that a candidate or employee is not disadvantaged whilst doing, or applying for, their job. For support specific to Devon, Devon County Council, have joined up with Jobcentre Plus to produce the Ready Devon campaign, which provides localised support and advice on how to attract, recruit and retain disabled people, as well as the benefits of becoming Disability Confident.

Empowering Enterprise is funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund. For more information and resources on inclusive employment, please visit:

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