Making Supported Internships work so young people with learning disabilities and autism can thrive

with Julie Pointer, Programme Lead for Children and Young People, NDTi

Earlier this year, the Government announced plans, as part of a multi-million-pound funding initiative, to improve supported internships. Supported Internships are training for young people with disabilities to gain skills and work experience in a supportive environment. They’re usually unpaid, and you need an EHCP to be eligible.

“The government will also aim to double the capacity of the Supported Internship programme to provide thousands more young people who have additional needs with the skills to secure and sustain paid employment. Backed by £18 million over 3 years, the programme will additionally drive up the standards and quality of internship delivery across the country for students who have an education, health and care plan.”


However, take up by councils has been poor since their inception in the 2014 reforms and it was recently revealed that just one in four young people are still in work a year after their internship has ended.

The work to improve supported internships across the country is being carried out by a collaboration of organisations including the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi). Julie Pointer, Programme Lead for Children and Young People, NDTi is here to tell us more about the work.

How we’re working to help young people with learning disabilities into work by Julie Pointer, Programme Lead for Children and Young People, NDTi

When I talk to young people with a learning disability and young autistic people, they talk about wanting to do the same things that every young person has a chance to do. Having a job, having friends, doing things in their community and being as independent as they can are top of their list.

I truly believe everyone with additional needs can work if they want to. With the right support in place for them and their employer, the benefits for both are huge.

Employment plays such an important part of being independent, increasing confidence and a sense of belonging. Currently, only 5.1% of adults aged 18-64 with a learning disability gain permanent paid employment in the UK, compared to 80% of their peers. This has to change!

Internships Work is a new programme which aims to create more equal employment opportunities.  It’s a collaboration between National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), British Association of Supported Employment (BASE) and DFN Project SEARCH and funded by the Department for Education (DfE). By combining our expertise we aim to double the number of supported internships on offer to young people with additional needs in England. The programme will enable us to sustainably create 4,500 high-quality supported internship placements each year by 2025.

How do supported internships work?

Supported internships are structured, work-based study programmes for 16-24-year-olds with special educational needs who have an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Each intern is enrolled with a learning provider but will spend most of their time in the workplace supported by a job coach. An internship lasts between six months to a year and is matched and personalised to suit individual career goals and capabilities. Interns are often not paid, but each party should aim for the young person to be equipped with the skills they need for work by the end of the placement.

The employers are in turn given a range of support to increase their confidence in employing individuals with additional needs. Some will offer a placement for the duration of an internship. Larger employers may offer a range of rotating placements for interns to try different jobs, while some small business may be supported to offer a shorter placement before their young person moves on to another small business to complete their internship. There are a number of different models, but each will be tailored to be appropriate for each intern.

Brian’s success with Marriott

Brian works as an engineer at the Marriott Hotel, originally starting as an intern on the DFN Project SEARCH programme: “Getting this opportunity to work has made me more confident and I no longer see myself as a person with learning difficulties. I’m now someone who can, for example, pick up the phone and sort out a problem. I get up in the morning and I want to go to work. I enjoy every minute of it.” 

Linda Hawkins, HR Director for Marriott Hotels, said: “All the interns gain key employability skills, interpersonal skills which will help them for any role. And, for us, we have employed new team members that are enthusiastic and motivated to succeed, adding to a more diverse workforce.”

Developing local SEND employment forums

At NDTi we’re currently working with all 152 local authorities across England to administer grants and support them to set up and develop local SEND employment forums. Our colleagues at DFN Project SEARCH will be supporting local teams to offer more high-quality internship models and training business champions. BASE, will be further developing the Supported Employment Quality Framework and enabling employers to work towards a quality kitemark that promotes their inclusive recruitment. They will also be providing training to over 760 job coaches.

By early 2023 I want to start seeing real change with more young people successfully gaining supported internships and developing skills to become independent and more employers being more inclusive in their recruitment. We know there is a large talent pool out there, we just need to match young people to the right jobs.

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