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Going in to the workplace for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone.  Young people with a learning disability, learning difficulty and/or autism may feel heightened feelings of anxiety when starting work, or work experience.  They have to go into a new environment, where there will be new people to get to know and new rules and expectations to work within.

So that the young person can get the best experience of work, it is a good idea to help them be as prepared as possible.  The following tips should help you to support the young person in preparing to start work, work experience or volunteering.

1:  If possible, take them to visit the workplace a few times before they start

This will be easier if the workplace is open to the public (e.g. a shop, café, hotel, etc.)  You can wander around and talk about the tasks people are doing, the type of customers that are there, the layout of the business, the smells and the noises. This will help the young person familiarise themselves and make walking in on their first day less daunting. Help them to notice the things that are happening around them.

If the workplace is not open to the public, ask if you can arrange a visit with the employer. If you are working with a supported employment agency, ask how they will manage pre-employment visits.

2:  Talk to the young person about how they feel about starting work

Some young people find it difficult to communicate how they are feeling about big events – and starting work is a big event in a young person’s life.  Encourage them to talk about their feelings with open ended questions:

  • What is it about working that makes you excited?
  • What do you think you will feel most proud about when you’re in work?
  • What things about starting work make you feel a bit nervous?

3: Talk to them about personal presentation

Personal presentation in work is important, and includes hygiene and wearing the appropriate clothes.

Many young people with a learning disability, learning difficulty and/or autism respond better to routine, so before they start work, help them to build a pre-work routine that includes making themselves presentable for work. You could write a list or make a visual aid to help the young person do this independently until they are familiar enough with the routine that these are no longer needed.  The routine could include:

  • Having a shower
  • Brushing teeth
  • Using deodorant
  • Making sure clothes are clean and ironed
  • Doing hair
  • Shining shoes

4: Getting along with colleagues

Meeting new people and interacting with colleagues can be scary and difficult for some young people. Talk to them about how to introduce themselves, and what questions to ask others to initiate conversation. Work is a much easier place to be if there are some friendly faces there to help the young person along.  Some good starter questions the young person could ask new colleagues include:

  • How long have you worked here?
  • What job do you do here?
  • What do you do at lunchtime?
  • Who’s the best person to ask if I need help with something?
  • What work have you done before?
  • What do you like doing when you’re not in work?

These questions may open up longer conversations with colleagues which will help the young person settle in.

5: Travelling to work

Decide early on how the young person will be travelling to work.  If they will be having a lift to work and back home, establish a place that they will be dropped off and picked up.

If the person is travelling independently, ensure they are familiar and comfortable with the route and the mode of transport.  If the young person is working with a supported employment agency, they may assist with travel training.  If not, support the young person in using public transport independently.  We have another factsheet available with tips on supporting a young person to travel independently here.

6: Support the young person in choosing their own clothes/equipment for work

If the young person needs to buy new clothes, or equipment like pens, lunchbox, toiletries in readiness for work, take them to the shops with you and let them choose what they’d like. Allow the young person to make appropriate but independent choices and encourage them to try on clothes before they buy so that you can be sure there won’t be any clothing-related dramas on the first day of work (too big, too small, too scratchy!)

7: The night before the big day

Nerves may be at their peak the night before starting work.  Encourage the young person to have a relaxing night and to get to bed at a suitable time so they don’t feel too tired the next day.  If your young person is a night-owl who stays up until the early hours, you may need to encourage a better evening routine a few weeks before the job starts.

8: The day they start work

Don’t fuss too much, remind them of their “getting ready for work” routine and support them by asking how they’re getting on. Wish them luck and make a note of all the questions you have when they return!