Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Supported employment: why taking the leap pays off

Yet, employers who do take this leap open themselves up to a wide range of benefits, tapping into previously unrecognised talent and achieving high retention levels.

Unemployment of people with learning disabilities and autism

Currently across England, only 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment. This devastatingly low figure is due not to a lack of desire or effort from those individuals, but to employers not being open to hiring them.

Supported employment is a process which involves intense support at the beginning of employment, followed by gradually phasing this out as both employer and employee grow in confidence.

Although it is against the law for employers to discriminate on this basis, many employers will admit to having reservations about employing someone with a learning disability. This is due to a variety of reasons including, first and foremost, that people have low expectations about the capabilities of those with learning disabilities; employers may have a preconception that they will not be able to do the job that is required of them.

Problems also stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding conditions such as autism or Down’s syndrome and not knowing what adjustments would need to be made in the work place in order to accommodate these employees. Many employers, therefore, steer clear of these perceived risks/difficulties, choosing not to open up job opportunities to those with a learning disability.

Supported employment

Supported employment is a process which involves intense support at the beginning of employment, followed by gradually phasing this out as both employer and employee grow in confidence.

Such schemes aim to challenge common misconceptions and educate employers who may have a lack of understanding of what it would involve to hire someone who has a learning disability and/or autism. They bridge the gap between employer and prospective employee by providing job coaching to initially find a work opportunity which suits both parties, and then consistent support throughout the employment. This is advantageous to an employer because it means that they will have guidance as to what adjustments are required, and someone to fall back on for support if issues occur, meaning that the perceived risks are reduced. 

Through Talkback, an organisation that promotes self-advocacy for people with learning disabilities, VG was offered paid part time employment at Sainsbury’s in High Wycombe. Now that VG is established in her role, she is only supported for one hour a week and the rest of the time she carries out her work individually and effectively, just as any other employee would. Similarly, HT works as a gardener at the Green Dragon Eco Farm in Aylesbury and is very happy in his job, remarking; “Talkback helped me realise that the reason why I enjoy farming and gardening is because working with animals, plants, soil, fruits and vegetables is what I find relaxing and satisfying.”

Paid employment enriches people’s lives

The increased independence, confidence, and social opportunities that paid employment gives to individuals like VG and HT has positive effects on many areas of their lives. Employers who are willing to take the leap of employing those with a learning disability – like Sainsbury’s in High Wycombe – also reap a wide range of rewards. Such employers notice boosted morale amongst their team and customers, coming as a result of observing the hard working mindset of those with a learning disability, despite facing adversity. What’s more, customers appreciate seeing the diversity that is present in the general population reflected in a company’s workforce. 

HT’s employer at the Green Dragon Eco farm has noticed his commitment and work ethic, something which is commonly observed in employees with a learning disability and/or autism. Not only are these individuals committed to their work day to day, they show loyalty to the company meaning the employer reaps the benefit of high retention levels, thus saving on recruitment and hiring costs. Moreover, employees with a learning disability will on average take fewer sick days than the typical employee. A common concern for employers is of the costs involved in making reasonable adjustments to cater for employees with differing needs; however, since there is government funding available for this, it is not a legitimate reason to not higher those with a learning disability.

Perhaps the most pertinent benefit many employers overlook is that by not limiting themselves by ignoring one cross section of the population, they can tap into talent and skill sets that would otherwise be going unrecognised.

Talkback member EO, who is autistic, has been given paid work as an office assistant. He displays a keen eye for detail and memory for facts and figures, which helps him to complete tasks to a high standard.

Whilst a growing number of employers are becoming “disability confident” and recognising an underrepresented section of the workforce, misconceptions and workplace discrimination still prevails. There is still a lot of work to be done to tackle the unemployment of learning disabled people. 



For more about Talkback’s Supported Employment scheme, please contact employment manager Chris Taylor on [email protected] or visit the Nclude website.


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