Perhaps the most successful supported employment services in Scotland remains the North Lanarkshire team. Funded directly by the council, this is an example of something that councils’ can do well. Undoubtedly this team benefited by being led by a strong and charismatic champion of employment but it drew much of its strength from its links to other parts of the council workforce and the cooperation it could draw upon from other public, private and voluntary organisations. Having a large staff team, the service is able to both support existing employees and to find jobs for new people coming forward. Working with Project Search, it has worked to help young people to get the experience they need to help jobs.
If there was an easier solution than investing in staff and making sure that the service has the respect of employers, we are sure someone else would have found this. But services like North Lanarkshire have been on their own over the last ten years. Most of the voluntary organisations providing supported employment have hung on over the last ten years but have often been forced to respond to changes in funding opportunities to manage this.
Over the last ten years the proportion of people in employment has grown from about 7% to 9% (Esay 2012). If supported employment remains at the margin of employment services, it is because funding for this services remains on the margin of spending priorities for council and for government.
This should be addressed as a matter of urgency because for while we have concerns over many of the Welfare Benefit reforms, the initial picture for Universal Credit is a positive one for supporting people into work. It is likely that the mainstream use of this benefit to bridge the transition into employment will also help people with learning disabilities. It would be a failure of any new policy is this opportunity was not seized with both hands.
Some specific matters will help as well:
• Greater investment in training all stakeholders in how to help someone to find and keep a job including the person, families, supported employment staff and personal assistants/ support workers and classroom assistants
• Any new policy should put more emphasis on paid employment whether in open or sheltered placements as opposed to voluntary work, work experience and training for work.
• In some ways work with employers at a strategic level will improve if there is a stronger emphasis from local councils and government but there should also be local efforts to encourage and show employers how to employ people with learning difficulties and individuals on the autistic spectrum.
• There should be a recognition that national standards such as the National Occupational Standards can ensure that supported employment agencies meet the needs of people with learning disabilities better. There should be a system of national monitoring of Support Agencies – this could be Self Regulation through a body like SUSE – the Scottish Union for Support Employment.
• One of the lessons of Project Search is that working with young people to gain job experience in real workplaces helps them gain both general and particular job skills. As a result, early intervention like this should be prioritised to ensure that people can access paid employment at the earliest opportunity
• There needs to be better training for and flexibility within mainstream employability services to ensure that they can provide adequate support for people with learning difficulties and individuals on the autistic spectrum.