How A Supported Employment Service Can Help You Secure Work

Disability consultant, Emma Shepherd, has supported many disabled people into work or self-employment through her successful career in HR, at a supported employment service and running her own business called Let’s Talk Disability.  

In this article, Emma shares the benefits of using a supported employment service and job coach to gain the skills and knowledge for your dream job with a learning disability. Plus, she provides information on supported internships and disability-confident employers. Many of these resources can also benefit those with a physical disability, sensory impairment and/or chronic health condition too. 

Supported employment service

I am a huge fan of supported employment and used to manage an award-winning, excellent service.  I remember the first day that I heard about supported employment.  Everything fell into place for me. It just made sense.  

So, I will give a whistle-stop tour of what it is and why it works.  I know it works, I have seen it for myself time and time again.  

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also knows that it works and has a pilot running currently across the UK, based on a “proof of concept” that I was involved with a few years ago.

What is a supported employment service?

A supported employment service is based on the belief that anyone who wants to work, can work. All it takes is the right support. It is not about working in retail, sheltered workshops shredding paper or volunteering.  

It is about a real job that offers equitable wages, helps the person meet their life goals and aspirations, is a role that is respected by managers and work colleagues alike, has similar hours and benefits as other employees and with safe working conditions.  Sounds easy?  Yes and no.  

Firstly, it is about being really motivated as it can be hard and there will be disappointments along the way but this is to be expected with any job search.  There are trained experts in pretty much most counties across the UK that offer this service.  

You can find out if there is a service near you by going to BASE (the British Association of Supported Employment) or your Local Authority.

Services are currently being audited to show the quality kite mark of their offer (a bit like Ofsted in schools), although not everyone has been inspected yet as it is relatively new.  

The supported employment service process

By using a supported employment service there will be a process of discovering who you are.  Every person has a story to tell about their lives and themselves as individuals.

Time is spent getting to know you and your strengths and hidden talents so the information will help identify the right job based on your skills and preferences.  

This part is so important and cannot be rushed or glossed over.  By getting this right, the process will help to make a job sustainable and last.  

For example, if you are a person that likes to be in a quiet place with little noise, then working in a nursery with lots of little runny-nosed toddlers screaming for your attention is not going to be the job for you and it will not last or be sustainable.  

Likewise, it is not about sending someone on a course and then applying for hundreds of jobs hoping that you get an interview.  The aim is to secure employment and then train rather than do training and then get employment.  

This is specialised training provided by a job coach, which can be provided through the supported employment service or Access to Work.  

They will be able to teach you quite complex or intricate work by breaking it down into little parts so that as a new employee, you can learn what to do.  

An example that I have often used is that there is no point in doing a course teaching you how to make a cup of tea using a kettle and when you get into work, there is no kettle and the tea is made via a drinks machine, where you press a button to provide a (generally mediocre) cup of tea.  

This is the reason why a job coach will deliver the training in the actual work setting itself and makes an employer feel that they are having some support if they have never employed someone with a learning disability before.

What if you can’t access a supported employment service?

If you are unable to use or find a supported employment service then think about what you want and don’t want from a job, what skills and qualities you have and ask other people their views on what would be a good job for you.

Do not worry if you don’t have all the necessary skills as no one who starts a job has all of the skills needed and they are learnt over time.  This is true whether someone has a learning disability or not.  


Guy sitting at a desk with a laptop in front of him with his hands on the keyboard. On the screen it says employment

Talk to employers about support

Another really important step is to talk to employers.  The main idea behind this is to try and change the way the recruitment process is undertaken.  Normally, someone will see an advert for a job and fill in an application form and hope that they get short-listed for an interview.  

Instead, when talking to an employer, part of it would be to find out all the little details about a job that are not shown in a job description.  

For example, a job description may suggest that someone has to answer calls from the public but it does not explain that it is via a complicated or antiquated telephone operating system. 

By seeing this, it would allow a job coach to make a plan of how to train you to use the telephone system.  

Supported internships for young adults  

There are other ways of gaining employment if you are a young person (25 and under and have an Education and Health Care Plan). 

Supported internships (also called Project Search or Project Choice) are study programs with an emphasis on getting paid work by the end of it.  

These are based at an employer’s premises and they are quite often in the NHS, or at least that is where they have been more popular due to the origins of the program.  

They started in an American children’s hospital in Cincinnati in 1996 by Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski.  

When I found a supported internship, I started mine at the Local Authority.  It is a collaboration between an employer, a supported employment service that provides a job coach and a college/school.  

The intern learns how to do the job whilst learning employability skills at the same time.  

A slightly different route you could take is inclusive apprenticeships, which were born from recommendations to make apprenticeships more accessible for people.  


Spider diagram of words relating to internships with the word internship in the middle with small arrows pointing to each word

How to seek disabled-friendly employment 

When looking for work, there are a few useful “go-to” places such as websites, organisations, charities and resources that can support disabled people in securing employment.

Mencap – Education, Skills and Work support

 Mencap is the UK’s leading learning disability charity and can support both disabled job seekers looking for work and employers recruiting disabled people.

The organisation has a dedicated Education, Skills and Work support page that includes guides on CV writing, information on claiming benefits while working and accessing work experience, training and apprenticeships. You can also contact Mencap to arrange employment support.

For employers, Mencap can provide recruitment advice and on the job support to help companies hire and maintain staff with learning disabilities. 

Disability Confident campaign

The national campaign called Disability Confident is for employers who are committed to the recruitment and retention of disabled people. 

This identifies these employers are far more understanding as an employer, which can only be a good thing.  

All companies can advertise on the DWP site called Find a Job, which includes a specific section on there for Disability Confident employer adverts.

There are currently more than 27,000 Disability Confident vacancies available across the UK in a variety of sectors including healthcare, hospitality, education, finance, legal, customer service, administration, engineering and many more.


Glassdoor is a site where employees of a company rate their organisation including the equality and diversity of an organisation and whether they are a good employer.

There are often previous interview questions that can be found on it, which is also useful.  You can compare organisations to see who might be a better employer for you.


Evenbreak is a jobs board that has adverts from inclusive companies that would recruit talented disabled people.  

A few years ago, founder Jane Hatton, had a young autistic man whom she had employed but had never met.  They dealt with all of their work over the phone and by email.  

It sounded quite progressive at the time, but disabled people have spoken about working from home as a reasonable adjustment for years, which had largely been ignored up until the coronavirus pandemic.

You can check out the Evenbreak jobs board on the Disability Horizons jobs board page.

It includes jobs in sales, finance, teaching, legal services, healthcare, hospitality and much more. 

If you need accessible careers support, please visit Evenbreak’s Career Hive. It’s all delivered by and for disabled people.

Are you a disabled person who has managed to secure employment? Did you benefit from supported employment service, internship or other resources to get your dream job? Share your experience in the comments box or on Facebook and Twitter @Dhorizons.

By Emma Shepherd

More on Disability Horizons… 


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