Search by voice

Young woman with Down syndrome wearing NHS uniformEmployment is a crucial aspect of a person’s life, providing numerous benefits and opportunities for personal growth. However, people with a learning disability and/or autism often face significant challenges when seeking paid employment in the open labour market. The Engage to Change project aimed to address this issue by supporting young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in developing their employment skills and securing job opportunities. This article explores the quality and variety of jobs offered and also analyses the data regarding job characteristics, social integration, wages, and hours worked. This article also aims to shed light on the role of job equality and inclusion in achieving better employment outcomes for young people with a learning disability and/or autism.

The Engage to Change project has already shown how supported employment can have a significant outcome for a person with a learning disability and/or autism when seeking employment with one-third of participants securing paid employment or a paid internship throughout the project. To assess the quality of jobs offered, we collected data on 384 paid jobs, including hours worked, wages earned, and social integration in the workplace.

Results and implications

The Engage to Change project provided a wide range of job opportunities in the open labour market, with participants working an average of 17 hours a week. Overall, participants were paid more than the National Living Wage for the relevant age group, with no difference of earnings when considering gender and diagnosis. The study showed that participants were able to gain a wide range of roles, ranging from job entry roles to intermediate roles. This shows that young people with a learning disability and/or autism do not have to be confined to only working in sectors such as cleaning or hospitality but can in fact thrive in a variety of sectors with the right support.

The research study looked at the employment experiences of the young people taking part in the project compared to the ‘typical’ experiences of other employees not receiving job coach support. Previous research (Mank et al 1997) has suggested that the more ‘typical’ a supported employment placement is, the better the outcomes for people including more social interaction and higher wages. While our study showed that Engage to Change participants generally had a typical employment experience, with initial training and workplace behaviour similar to their co-workers, it did not evidence a link with wage levels or workplace interaction. This might be because the Engage to Change study is smaller than Mank’s study or because the Engage to Change study only involves young people aged 16-25.

The study identified a difference in the recruitment process for males and females on the project, with women experiencing a less typical process than men. However, this can be seen as positive as some employers might have adopted some low cost reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process to support candidates such as easy read application forms or personal support during interviews.

Participants working more hours generally had a more typical recruitment process and this might be because those working fewer hours needed more reasonable adjustments and support to gain employment. When looking at wages, young people earning less than £7.50 per hour scored lower in social and organisational participation in the workplace than those who earned more than £7.50.

Half of the young people engaged in frequent and ongoing workplace interactions, while others interacted substantially to complete their job well. Women generally interacted more than men in the workplace. Autistic young people, with or without a learning disability or learning difficulty, engaged in less meaningful interactions, and more interactions were limited to greetings and short conversation when compared to young people without a diagnosis of autism. This might be expected, given the difficulties some autistic people can have with social communication. However, it highlights the need for effective strategies to help autistic people manage work-related social interactions.

In conclusion, the approach to employment can be typical or atypical in the way someone is recruited, trained and the way they participate in the company. Often reasonable adjustments are needed to ensure full participation of young people with a learning disability and/or autism in the workplace. Job coaches have a central role in adapting their practice to make sure that the employment outcome is “a typical employment experience”.

English report here: English Research Report.

Welsh language report here: Welsh Language Report