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Are supported internships having a positive impact on young adults with SEN.

The future prospects of a child are important to any parent or carer, but for young people with SEN or disabilities this can be of particular concern.

In twenty-first Century Britain, there should be no barrier to the workplace for individuals with SEN. However, according to the Labour Force Survey, disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment. In 2012, there was a 30.1 per cent employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, representing over two million people. So what is it that’s holding young people with disabilities back?

Despite the Government introducing plans to get many more people with disabilities into work, there remains a lack of understanding amongst employers around the skills and capabilities of people with SEN. However, with increasing exposure to initiatives, such as the Supported Internships programme, the Government hopes to work with employers to address and change these perceptions.
A productive working life is central to a young person’s progress and future. Oversight of special education for young people aged 16-25, a report published by the National Audit Office in November 2011, estimates that supporting one person with a learning disability into employment could, in addition to improving their independence and self-esteem, increase that person’s income by between 55 and 95 per cent.

Gaining experience

Supported internships aim to increase opportunities for young adults with SEN and/or disabilities and unlock their potential, helping to prepare them for work. Interns undertake a sixteen hour per week placement over nine months with their chosen organisation. The work is unpaid and they are effectively providing a nine month job interview to the employer, with a high likelihood of permanent employment upon completion.

Interns on the programme comply with real job conditions, such as time keeping and dress code. Where appropriate, training for interns uses systematic instruction, a method specifically designed to help people with complex learning difficulties learn new skills. For the young person, the job must fit with their vocational profile, contribute to their long-term career goals and be flexible enough to address any potential barriers. The intern must also complete academic qualifications including English, maths and employability. For the employer, the interns must fill a genuine business need. The main aim of the programme is for the young person, where possible, to end up in paid employment.

Support in the workplace

Each intern is assigned a job coach, who completes a task analysis for each new skill the intern learns. The task analysis is broken down into smaller, easy to follow steps so that interns complete the same process each time. This enables them to learn through repetition and gives them confidence that they are doing the work correctly. The job coach provides one-to-one support until the intern is able to complete the tasks to the expectations of the employer. They also act as a bridge between the intern and employer, providing advice to both parties on how to handle situations that arise in the workplace. Once the student can complete tasks independently, the job coach scales back their support in the work place, while continuing to observe and regularly review, to ensure the ongoing success of the placement.

In addition to supporting students through their internships, employers are offered disability training, as many have little or no experience of working with people with SEN and disabilities. This enables employers and their staff to understand the advantages of working with the interns and appreciate the skills and attributes that they can contribute to the team.

Supported internships essentially offer a stepping stone, with a safety net, to a young person’s future, while at the same time educating and familiarising employers on the benefits of employing people with a range of conditions and disabilities.

Transforming lives

For me, one young man’s story highlights the relevance and importance of supported internships to young students with SEN. Intern “M” is a driven young man with autism who finds it hard to try new things and cope with change. He would often state in response to requests for appropriate behaviour: “I can’t; I’m autistic”.

The first six weeks of M’s course work at college were intense and centred on working with all the students to overcome things they find challenging. Soft skills such as teamwork, communication and personal presentation were taught regularly. The interns also worked on their written qualifications in career planning, English and maths.

M wanted to work in a bakery and his vocational profile was a match for this role. He showed little interest in learning in the classroom and there were initial concerns about whether he could modify his behaviour for the working environment. Despite this, M was selected for a job working in a large, well-known bakery.
Once placed into work, he showed greater flexibility than he had in any academic or social situation. He initially worked packing the breads and putting the stock out. Within days, he progressed to labelling stock, and within a month, he was baking bread in the ovens.

Working enabled M to understand that he had the ability to modify his responses and model behaviours that he saw around him on a daily basis. As a result, he accepted wearing a uniform, which he was initially despondent about, and dealt with change in a mature manner, even when it came without warning.

Closing the gap

The Government says it is working closely with employers to support future generations of students with SEN and disabilities into work, and close the gap between disabled and non-disabled people in permanent employment. With positive results for the programme so far, I hope that more employers will embrace the supported internships scheme, so that more young people and their parents/carers can rely on a system that will provide increased opportunities for a fulfilling future and career.

Further information

Pippa Bruckland is Supported Internships Specialist at Milton Keynes College:
www.mkcollege.ac.uk

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