· 2 min read · Features

Supported employment: It's not charity


According to the Department of Health just 7% of the 1.4 million adults with a learning disability or autism are in some form of paid employment, while 65% would like a job.

For people like Mark, who works at Quality Plastic Processing, has Aspergers, and is supported in his employment by not-for-profit learning difficulties support provider Dimensions, having a job can be life changing

Work means far more than money. It fosters self esteem, confidence, and social opportunity. 

Firms that employ people with learning disabilities and autism frequently report improvements to staff retention and morale, together with reputational gains locally and even nationally. And working with a supported employment provider can reduce their recruitment costs as the service is free of charge. 

I often hear employers’ candid fears about giving people with learning disabilities and autism a job. Low quality output. Disruptive behaviour. Not fitting in. Health and safety hazards. Expensive adaptations.

In my experience these fears are generally unfounded; expert guidance is available to prospective employers from members of the British Association of Supported Employment (BASE.) 

Dimensions and other BASE members use dedicated job coaches to connect employer and employee. A successful job coach will not only place many people into employment but also keep them there – staff retention is the acid test, and the first question a business should ask of any supported employment provider.   

Supporting prospective employees 

Supported employment is designed for individuals who do not meet traditional criteria for ‘job readiness’ or ‘employability’. At Dimensions our experience tells us that almost everyone can work productively with the right job match, job coach and support. 

When we first met Mark, despite some specific strengths (his Aspergers gives him an excellent eye for detail, for example), he wasn’t ready to be introduced to potential employers. Dimensions’ job coach Anne progressively built his confidence in being around people by trips away from home – getting the bus into town, for example, or ordering a coffee. Later Anne got Mark doing some voluntary work

Anne also worked with Mark to help him express his ambitions in light of his interests, so that by the time Mark met employers, he was clear what sort of work would best suit him.   

Supporting employers 

Job coaches will advise on making the application process accessible for each individual – perhaps through adjustments to a form or support with online application. 

They can advise on any potential adjustments to the working environment – such as easy read procedures, flash cards or assistive technology – and where funding for this might come from. 

And when the individual starts work the job coach will support them and their employer directly – shadowing in the first instance, reducing to daily and then weekly contact. The aim is for the job coach to ‘fade out’ over time, although they remain on hand to offer advice on dealing with opportunities and any issues that crop up. 

Mark’s mum puts it best: “This time last year we simply didn’t know what we could do to help Mark any more. [Dimensions] opened up a lot of opportunities and was a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

How you can help 

Wherever you are, there will be local people with learning disabilities or autism wanting to and able to work. There are quality organisations capable of supporting both them and you through this journey, contact BASE to find them. 

The Dimensions experience clearly shows that almost anyone can be supported into paid and productive employment. It’s not charity. But it does need you.

Steve Scown is CEO of Dimensions