Learners at Thornbeck College have played an active role in staff recruitment for the first time, in a ground-breaking move by the North East Autism Society.

Student Council President Will Smith and Welfare Officer Kieran Wheatley were given the chance to interview candidates applying for Learning Support Assistant and FE Tutor positions at Thornbeck College based in Newton Aycliffe.

Kieran, who started at the college last September, and Will, who is now in his second year of study, asked all candidates the following two questions: how would you help keep students safe at college, and what skills would you bring to the job?

“For me personally, the most important things were what are their morals, what they are skilled in and how do they act. I didn’t want anybody too serious,” Kieran said.

It was a tough decision because the applicants all had good personalities, but I went for skill over personality in the end.

When it came to desired traits, both Kieran and Will said they were looking for candidates who were calm, confident and qualified, but, most importantly, prioritised the safety of learners. 

“I liked one of the candidates because he was kind and approachable,” Will added. “I’d like to do it again because you get to see people before they get the job.”

Principal Nicola Brown said the process, which was thought up by the Student Council, gave learners the chance to have a voice when it comes to the staff who support them.

“They came to us with the idea, so we suggested that they come up with a couple of questions to ask the candidates,” she said. 

It was important for us to find out what the learners look for in someone who is supporting them, and interestingly Will and Kieran actually picked up on the same aspects that we did. 

“In the end, their preferred candidates were also the people we felt were strongest for the roles.”

Not only were the learners involved in the interview process, they were also given the opportunity to deliver the good news to the most recent successful candidate, including information around references and DBS checks. 

“It was nice to tell them they had got the job,” Will said. While Kieran added. “Will was excited, but I tried to keep a straight face.”

Will and Kieran have now taken part in five recruitment rounds, most recently for the role of Learning Support Assistant at the college in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and it’s something they’re both keen to be involved in moving forward.

And Will said that the experience has also been positive for him personally, as it has helped him to understand what it might be like to go for job interviews himself.

As key members of the Student Council, Will and Kieran along with other learners also put together the Student Voice newsletter to keep everyone at college, parents/carers and local authorities informed about the fantastic work we do at Thornbeck College.

One such idea was for learners and staff to take part in a fire drill, which was then arranged by Will, Kieran and Tony from our maintenance team. “I wanted to set the fire alarm off to see if everyone went outside,” Will said. “We gave a report to Nicola and I was fire marshall on the day.”

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