In Support of Supported Internships

To celebrate the first  #NationalSupportedInternshipDay, here in the UK, it seemed like a good time to explain why I’m such a fan. When we decided to take our daughter out of her post 16 education placement and head off on the supported internship journey, we were scared. Her education placement was safe and gave everyone a couple of more years to think about what next if we wanted. And so as we weighed up the pros and cons, questions haunted us like: What if it didn’t work out? What if we’d made a terrible mistake? What if she hated it? What if we’d ruined her future?

However, balanced against this, was a lack of clear plan about what would happen after this placement finished. Because she isn’t academic, she was limited to certain courses and after a while it began to feel these courses were designed to fill her time, not support her transition from education into work, which is what she had told us she wanted – to get a paid job.

Now, three years later into the supported internship (the pandemic meant an extension to her program), none of these worries have transpired. She loves it! She has made more progress than we believed possible. She sees her future as something she is in control of. Why? because a supported internship was the right option for her.

So why aren’t more young people with additional needs getting enrolling on supported internships? In my opinion it’s because many people don’t understand what supported internships are. And, worst of all, those people offering advice on what next for our children are often the ones who don’t know enough about them to understand why they should be automatically considered as part of the choices available to young people with additional needs as they transition from school.

I know this because recently I was talking to a friend who enquired whether a supported internship might be an option for her young person. No, was the response from the school. The reason given was that her young person was too, and I’m paraphrasing here, capable and they would get bored. Now I agree this young person is very capable; however, given that supported internships are by their nature focused on an individual’s skills, how could someone ever be too capable. I have never heard an employer complain about someone who is too capable. From my experience of supported internships, tasks are given based on ability, and it is more likely this young person would’ve been stretched before there was ever a chance to get bored.

So what are supported internships? Supported internships are organized programs where young people go into a job role with the support of a job coach. The job coach is there to support the intern and then to step back as they become familiar with their job role. The job coach also liaises with the employer, so they understand more about employing young people with additional needs. The internship is managed by a recognised provider who finds the internship and provides the job coach.

You can find out more about exactly how supported internships work from any one of the many amazing organizations offering them. I’ve been lucky enough to speak to many of these organizations on my Expanding Worlds podcast. In Episode 89 I also got to speak with Claire Cookson the CEO of DFN Project Search the organization responsible for launching this first National Supported Internship Day.

In my daughter’s case she is at her supported internship at a large hotel group three days a week and in a classroom environment one day, where the focus is on employability skills. Her role is front of house; she is the person greeting guests at breakfast. She has learnt a variety of tasks, including the correct way to set a table – a very popular transferable skill at home!

Being on a supported internship has changed her opinion of herself. She sees herself as a member of the team. She sees herself as someone who will get paid work. She sees herself as someone who can learn new things. From all these, her world of independence becomes wider each day.

Now we don’t know yet if this supported internship will lead to a paid job. But that doesn’t actually matter as much as I thought it would in the beginning. Over the last few months I have realised that yes that would be amazing – don’t get me wrong there will be champagne corks popping – but even if it doesn’t lead to this job, she will get a job because this internship has given her the skills to get one. Also, more importantly she now has the self-belief that she will get paid work.

A supported internship isn’t right for everyone, of course. But whether to enrol on one has nothing to do with capability, it should come down to personal preference, not someone else’s preconceptions. Supported internships should automatically be one of the many options offered to all our young people.  They all deserve the opportunity to choose their own futures and I can say with certainty that my daughter’s future is brighter because she chose to do a supported internship.