Stepping Stones NI have supported 80 people who experience barriers to learning and employment to secure paid work in the last 12 months.

The charity specialise in providing tailored support to people who have autism, dyslexia, adhd, learning disabilities and learning difficulties.

Twenty-two-year-old Lewis McQuaid from Annahilt, County Down who is autistic has secured fulltime employment with Danske Bank in Lisburn.  Lewis signed up for the Stepping Stones NI ‘YOU’ service which supports young people 16-24 to develop their confidence, qualifications, and employment during the first lockdown.

After qualifying with a Distinction in Film and TV at Belfast Met, Lewis was unsure of the direction to go in.  He received a place on the Film and TV degree at the University of Ulster but felt he was not ready to make that move as his confidence and self esteem had lowered during the global pandemic.  “I was out of structure and routine; it was difficult not being around people or seeing my friends.  I started to get fed up and found myself becoming lazy.  I really didn’t want to continue into further education based on video calls and so I turned the university place down.  I was then at a loss as to what to do with myself and then my mum told me about the ‘YOU’ service at Stepping Stones NI.  My mum made the call to get me signed up and it has totally changed things for me” says Lewis.

Lewis received support from the youth team to look at opportunities for development and to think about employment.  Stepping Stones NI’s partnership with Danske Bank opened the door for Lewis to apply for a position that he was really interested in securing.  Lewis was supported from the point of application through to interview to apply for the position of Service Advisor.  His youth mentor helped him to construct his cv and to sit in on the interview so that reasonable adjustments could be made.  Lewis was successful in his application and started full-time work at the Lisburn branch in January 2022.

“I don’t think I would have got to interview stage if it hadn’t of been for the support of the ‘YOU’ service at Stepping Stones NI.  My youth mentor made the whole process smooth and she eased my anxiety.  Getting this job has rebuilt my self-esteem.  The support has continued while in the job which is great.  I know that I have support if I need it and my youth mentor links in with my employer so overall it’s a really supportive environment.  My employer is great, on the first week of training I asked could they slow things down and they did which really helped.  Stepping Stones NI have given me an inroad to places that I wouldn’t normally have.  When you have no experience, employers normally wont look at you and so their links to employers who understand and are supportive of autism are amazing” says Lewis.

Employers and individuals interested in signing up can contact Carla Bowyer, Business Development Executive at / 07717738804.

Stepping Stones NI have been in operation for twenty four years and work across Lisburn, Castlereagh, Downpatrick, Newtownards, Craigavon, Newry and Armagh.  The multi award winning charity provides specialist support to people with learning disabilities, learning difficulties, Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia to gain meaningful training, qualifications and employment.

The service is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy”.