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  • Writer's pictureClaire Cookson


As a society we are too low aiming for people with a learning disability, especially when it comes to employment. There is often a fear factor among employers of getting it wrong in hiring young adults with SEND.

Consequently, there is a huge untapped talent pool of brilliant young neurodiverse people who will make some of the best employees, but just need the opportunity – fewer than 5% of young adults with a learning disability or autism spectrum condition are in full time paid employment.

We need to change that. It’s incumbent on all of us in society to think about the other 95%, to challenge pre-existing cultures and demonstrate how young people with SEND can enrich the workforce. That includes businesses, education providers, local and national government. We all have a part to play, and if we get it right the benefits across the board will be huge.

One approach to support young learners with SEND into work is through Supported Internships. They are a one-academic year transition to work programme of study and help young people positively train for full-time employment. Learners study and train in a host business in their final year of education providing learners with the opportunity to use and apply their developing skills in real time in real employment setting. This, combined with travel training and independent living skills, provides learners with the perfect spring board to enter the world of paid employment.

For the employee with a learning disability and or autistic people, this practical programme of support not only dramatically improves their skills, but also their confidence and aspirations. The opportunities that come from having a secure job, that many others may take for granted, such as financial independence and a social life, become more readily available. The long-term knock-on effects of that on their health and wellbeing is significant, with research showing that life expectancy can be extended by as much as 20 years for those in long-term paid employment.

Our experience shows that it isn’t only the individuals who benefit. Supported Internships hugely benefit businesses too, as they are exposed to a wider pool of talent and dedicated workers, not to mention the huge positive social impact they will generate by creating a more inclusive and equitable workforce.

Through our work, we continuously encourage organisations to be part of an ‘inclusion revolution’ and consider how their recruitment processes could become more inclusive to people with learning disabilities and autism. When they do, they will see it is not simply a case of doing the right thing morally it’s also good for business and society.

Claire Cookson is CEO of DFN Project SEARCH and a speaker at the Future FWD Enabling NextGen conference.


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