Why Supported Internships Work

Let’s start with a bad then a good statistic. Somewhere between 50% to 70% is the unemployment rate among young people with additional needs, depending on which website you visit. A good employment statistic happens on a Project Search program at the Marriott (the topic of my latest podcast Project Search at the Marriot), where around 70% of the young people completing their year-long program get paid employment at the end. As well, much of this is in full-time positions, not part-time.

How do they do it? through a much more integrated and systematic approach, and having very clear roles for the staff supporting the young people. So, as well as the program tutor there is a job coach and a job developer. The young people coming onto this supported internship program train with purpose, train with help from a job coach and have a job developer to ensure that by the time they complete the program, they not only have a better idea about what they want to do, but they also have links with prospective employers and, in many cases, have a job waiting for them when they graduate from the program.

The job coach, as the name suggests, is on hand to help identify the strengths of the young people and where they might see their work future. So, although this particular program is based in hospitality at the Marriot, the job coach talks to each young person about what careers they are interested in. These need not be in hospitality, in one case a graduate of the program now works in a skilled role in the care sector.

The job developer role is key though in breaking down the barriers with employers. It doesn’t really matter how ready, willing and able a young person is if there is no job for them to go to. Finding a suitable employer who is open to hiring someone with additional needs can be quite a challenge, according to Sam the job developer. However, she has also noticed that there is a growing shift in perceptions around what young people with additional needs can do. One thing she advocates is the idea of using unpaid trials as opposed to the usual interview process where sometimes a young person will perform poorly because of their lack of language skills. An unpaid trial can take the formal element out of the equation and allow the young person to show an employer how well they perform in the workplace. This means the employer can consider their capabilities rather than basing their decision purely on the interview alone. This gives the potential employer the opportunity to see just how capable the young person is and breaks down the “fear factor” that a lot of employers have and show them the young person’s real capabilities.

The ongoing support provided to employers seems key to this program’s success. The tutor, job coach and job developer all continuously support the young people, but this support also goes outside the confines of the program when they move to paid employment. This support seems to have been the difference in some cases as to why an employer has taken on a young person and why as well they have been able to make those “reasonable adjustments” we’ve talked about in the past, which ensures a young person can perform the tasks required. Often these reasonable adjustments are simple things an employer wouldn’t think of, but which fundamentally change the way a task is done without impacting on the quality of the outcome.

Project search and supported internship programs like it prove that with the right support and strategies it’s possible to break down barriers that exist among employers and sometimes the young people themselves, preventing them from working in jobs they want rather than the traditional jobs they might have been expected to take on.  More supported internship programs like Project Search will go a long way toward solving the lack of paid employment opportunities for young people with additional needs. Just as importantly every single young person who graduates from a program to paid employment helps in changing the perceptions towards young people with additional needs and their ability to have full-time paid employment.