employedA project has been awarded £10 million grant to enhance the employment prospects of people with learning disabilities, including autism in Wales.

The five-year Engage to Change project, starting in April, will work with 800 employers across Wales to help 1,000 young people with learning disability and/or autism to develop their employment skills through paid work placements lasting between 6-12 months.

Learning Disability Wales is leading a consortium of organisations to deliver the Engage to Change project. These include supported employment agencies ELITE and Agoriad, the international internship programme Project SEARCH, self-advocacy organisation All Wales People First, and Cardiff University. The National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) is also involved.

The project is being funded by The Big Lottery Fund's Getting Ahead 2 grant – the largest ever awarded by the organisation in Wales. The grant was developed in partnership with Welsh Government to meet priorities for supporting children and young people. It will be funded by money that has been dormant in bank and building society accounts across the UK for 15 years or more.

Youth unemployment in Wales is an issue for all young people but for those with a learning disability and/or autism, the routes into employment and the support that is available isn't always clear. The project will draw on previous good practice and demonstrate what works for these young people.

Zoe Richards, young person and carer's manager at Learning Disability Wales, said: "This programme will enable us to evidence that a person-centred, tailored employment support programme produces long-lasting employment results for the young people we represent. We want to ensure these young people are visible in the workforce of Wales, and will act as role models for our next generation of young people.”

NCMH researchers based at Cardiff University will evaluate the project, and work to influence future policy based on their findings. “Engage to Change offers a unique opportunity for us to make a positive, practical difference to the employment prospects for young people with learning disability and autism in Wales, while using evidence of what works to have an impact on policy in this area in the future.” said Dr Stephen Beyer, who will be leading the evaluation exercise.

NCMH director, Professor Ian Jones, added: “We’re very excited to be involved in this programme of work, which has the potential to be life changing for those involved. Helping young people with learning disability and autism to establish themselves in the world of work will benefit not just the individuals themselves, but also their families, the wider community and the economy of Wales.”