Supported internships: helping to bridge the gap for young people with disabilities looking for work

National Grid apprentices

©National Grid

Even on a ‘bad day at work’ day, we know that in essence, employment is good for us. Not only in terms of giving us an income, but also for our wellbeing. It helps us to take up roles in society which we and others value.

However, for people with disabilities, securing work or even work experience can be a real challenge. The percentage of people with disabilities in the UK who are in employment is just over 53% where the figure is around 75% for the whole population1; just over 7% of people with disabilities are unemployed and would like to work compared to around 3.4% for those without disabilities2. And for those with a learning disability, the gap is even greater.

So what can we as careers educators and advisers do to bridge the disability employment gap?

  • Know what support is out there
  • Raise aspirations with students and parents
  • Work with local employers to change attitudes
  • Ensure wherever possible that young people with disabilities have the same access to work experience and engage with employers and their peers

What is being done to bridge the gap?

Supported internships offer young people aged 16-24 with a learning difficulty or disability – including those on the Autistic Spectrum – the opportunity to develop the skills and confidence to gain employment, through real life work opportunities.

These are a great choice for those who learn best by ‘doing’, as most of the learning takes place in a work environment with the individualised support of a job coach. Supported internships support not only the young person but the employer, until the individual can do the job for themselves.

There are no formal academic requirements, just a desire and willingness to work and a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or education, health and care (EHC) plan.

  • How long do they last? At least six months, but some can last up to two years giving young people who need more support a chance to try out different roles and then spend an extended time period in a given job.
  • Are they paid? Unlike apprenticeships they aren’t paid but the experience gained could help a young person move on to an apprenticeship or other paid work
  • Will it affect benefits or their EHCP? No it is a study programme.
  • Is there support for English and maths? Support is also offered with other work-related issues such as preparing a CV and gaining qualifications needed for the job such as food hygiene, interview preparation, and looking for further employment.

How can I find local providers?

You can find a list of providers in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on our website but a starting point for finding out who offers supported internships in your local area would be to check with local FE colleges and specialist colleges or your local authority.

What support is available after supported internships have ended?

  • Access to Work
    This is a government grant that can pay for practical support to help those with a long-term health condition or disability to start or stay in work. This includes specialist equipment and transport costs if unable to travel unaided for supported internships and apprenticeships as well as for paid work and doesn’t have to be paid back.
  • Apprenticeships
    Changes to the minimum English and maths requirements mean that people with a learning difficulty or disability can now access a level 2 intermediate apprenticeship as long as they can achieve an Entry Level 3 qualification during their apprenticeship. British Sign Language (BSL) has also been introduced as an alternative to English Functional Skills for those who have BSL as their first language³. The young person can remain on their EHCP whilst on an apprenticeship.

Supported internships are just one option to help this group of young people into the world of work, but it’s a little-known option. We therefore have a duty to ensure that that not only young people, but their parents, carers and teachers, are aware of them if we are to raise aspirations and help improve employment rates.

1 Office for National Statistics Nov 2019
2 People with disabilities in employment
³ The Essential Guide to Apprenticeships Support

About the author:

Having spent more than 20 years working in the NHS as an occupational therapist and trainer, Lynn Addison (RCDP, MCDI) retrained as a careers guidance practitioner and now works in a range of schools, both mainstream and special. She is able to use symbols and Makaton sign language to allow students with communication difficulties to access career conversations. Lynn is the lead guidance practitioner for SEND at Ideas4Careers.