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The challenges

“People with a learning disability or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face many challenges in finding, getting, learning and keeping a paid job. […] This does not mean that people cannot work. It means they need the correct form of support.”

Dr Steve Beyer, lead researcher for the Engage to Change evaluation team at Cardiff University, has produced a briefing paper on the barriers to employment for people with a learning disability and/or ASD, and how these barriers can be overcome. He also outlines the concerns that Engage to Change highlights for the future of supported employment post-Covid-19.

Employment rates for people with a learning disability and/or ASD are very low. In England, only 6% of adults with a learning disability known to local authorities are in paid work and research suggests that figures in Wales are likely to be similar. Just 24% of adults with ASD in England are in paid employment and there is evidence that employment figures for people with ASD in Wales are lower still. This is in comparison to 53.2% of people aged 16 to 64 with any type of disability in Great Britain, and 81.8% of the general population, were in paid work before the coronavirus pandemic.

What works?

The Engage to Change project, funded through the Welsh Government and National Lottery Community Fund, is helping young people with a learning disability and/or ASD in Wales to overcome the barriers to employment through a supported employment and job coaching model, tailored to the needs of the individual.

Our research shows that people with a significant learning disability and/or ASD benefit from the following support to help them overcome the challenges they face:

  • Understanding people’s job interests and skills as well as the work types and environments they need.
  • Using job placements and try-outs to help decide what jobs people enjoy and match their skills.
  • Finding and negotiating a job that meets the person’s detailed talents and needs, not just any available job.
  • Informing and supporting employers to make interviews and inductions accessible, as well as helping them to supervise their new employees.
  • Planning well with people and families, including helping people who receive welfare benefits to manage their transition to paid employment to ensure they will be better off in work.

Engage to Change has delivered significant results in helping young people to find and maintain paid employment with 86% of jobs found being sustained for 13 weeks or more. One of the ways this has been achieved is through a range of paid placements where an employer receives an Employer Development Grant. This can pay for up to 100% of a young person’s wage over a period of six months. This allows the employer to gain confidence in the worker while the job coach and employer find the right training style and support. In many cases these placements have successfully led to permanent paid jobs. The grants can be tapered over time, from 100% of the person’s wage in the first month down to zero by the 6 month point, thereby encouraging employers to commit to a permanent paid job sooner rather than later.

Future challenges: What happens after the pandemic?

“The danger for disabled people is that of being pushed to the end of the queue. People with a learning disability or ASD are particularly at risk of unemployment. We have seen in mainstream disability employment programmes that ‘cherry picking’ can happen when performance targets on support agencies exist, and jobs are hard to come by.”

Experts are estimating that the impact of Covid-19 will lead to the UK economy shrinking by up to 7.5% by the end of the March 2021. This will inevitably have a significant impact on rates of unemployment, possibly rising as high as 10.5%. Given the challenges that people with learning disability and/or ASD already face when trying to find paid work, the economic downturn is likely to make it even more difficult for this group of young people to find and keep paid employment.

How can we increase opportunities?

The briefing paper explains that existing programmes are unlikely to be able to deliver sufficient support for people with a learning disability and/or ASD to enter the labour market following the pandemic due to the limited resources for appropriate support currently available.

Experience from the Engage to Change project shows that any new or re-designed programmes must include support of sufficient quality and intensity to meet the specific needs of people with a learning disability and/or ASD. Dr Beyer and his team also underline the need for ring-fenced resources for a National Job Coaching Service “to ensure people with autism and/or learning disabilities are not left behind in the competition for new jobs post-Covid-19.”

Employers involved in the Engage to Change project have reported high levels of satisfaction with the young people they have employed and previous research has shown that there are a range of benefits for employers of employing people with a learning disability and/or ASD. However, in times of economic recession employers are likely to be more cautious when making recruitment decisions. They will need encouragement and support to consider employing disabled people. This could be achieved through job coach supported employment and, in some cases, additional financial incentives such as Employer Development Grants.

Inclusive apprenticeships and supported internships are further examples of how young disabled people can be supported to develop their skills and progress to paid employment. Engage to Change has developed several one-year supported internship programmes across Wales in collaboration with local colleges, DFN Project SEARCH and employers such as Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Our figures show that 58% of interns had gained paid employment within 9 months of graduation. We believe that the provision of a National Supported Internship programme that draws on resources and expertise from a National Job Coaching Service would enable more young people with a learning disability and/or ASD to successfully transition from education to employment. This will be especially important at a time when employment opportunities for young people leaving school or Further Education college will be severely restricted.

Click here to read the briefing paper in full, including a list of recommendations.

An easy read version is available here.