The importance of work experience for people of all abilities

Internships are crucial for young people, but also vital for employers says Renee Flourentzou.

During the Chancellor’s Summer Economic Update in July, the Government announced substantive investments in traineeships and apprenticeships. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, highlighted the value of practical work experience and a place-based approach to not only provide young people with the very best opportunities in life, but also to help businesses thrive.

In the current employment landscape, where over 500 people applied for two jobs in a London pub last month, it’s important young people are provided with relevant work experience and training in order to help them stand out, and provide valuable skills to the organisation.

This is arguably even more important for young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) to increase their opportunities and help them gain belief and confidence in their abilities.

It is important to equip students with a ‘suitcase’ of skills to help them progress onto further education and into the world of work. Raising awareness of the options available to students, and supporting them in securing these opportunities increases their self-belief.

This in turn aids their development and gives them a real chance to gain workplace experience and skills, while also helping employers discover a pool of hidden talent.

The Department for Education highlighted the importance of supporting young people with SEND to get into the world of work in 2017 when it stated, “Government policy is that young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, including those with more complex needs, should be supported to develop the skills and gain the qualifications and experience they need to succeed in their careers.”

Raising awareness of disabilities can also help businesses attract a new and more diverse customer base

Introducing schemes, such as Supported Internship Programme, helps to raise awareness and aspirations of students and provides them with the opportunity to gain vital experience, while it also offering a plethora of benefits for businesses.

Such as establishing a more inclusive and diverse work community and working closely with individuals in the early stages of their career to ensure they become the perfect fit for the company.

On the other side of this, while internships are often started with the view to lead to full time employment, the interim period is also a valuable ‘trial period’ for both the employee and employer, helping to identify if they will be a good fit for one another.

Employing young people with SEND is also a good opportunity for businesses because it helps to increase diversity in the workplace, dispels any misconceptions, and allows for a deeper understanding of the benefits every individual can offer.

This in turn, not only helps to improve the number of high quality applicants, but also creates a workforce that reflects a more inclusive environment, as well as bringing additional skills to the business, such as the ability to use British Sign Language. Furthermore, raising awareness of disabilities can also help businesses attract a new and more diverse customer base.


Sometimes businesses may be hesitant to take on interns with SEN as they believe they do not have the support structure in place or time for specialised training to ensure they’re able to maximise the opportunities.

However, providing a company with a job coach offers extra support to the intern and helps ensure that certain business needs are met through identifying roles that add value to the company and suit the intern’s skillset.

The Head of Service at the London Borough of Enfield, who had an intern who is now is in a full-time role, has commended the impact of having a job coach, by saying: “the level of support from the job coach has been fantastic and really helped to settle the intern into their role and support us as an employer.”

A support network like this enables both the young person and the business to be properly equipped and ensure the internship is a success.

Over the years, we have seen the value this support has had on both students and businesses. Nando’s in Enfield recently took on a student with autism and mild learning difficulties. He quickly settled into his role as an intern and with the help of his job coach, has proved to be an invaluable member of staff.

So much so, that he was offered a permanent role within the company and now trains other staff members and has also received positive online reviews from customers, with particular praise for his customer service.

The British Association for Supported Employment has also advocated on behalf of our Supported Internship Programme stating, “We are confident they have the key ingredients to deliver the best support to ensure that employers get the right workers and young people get the right jobs.”

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak cannot be overlooked, and it has created even more complex challenges for young people. However, it is more important now than ever that we continue working together and supporting one another where possible.

Offering internships enables businesses to provide invaluable support to our future generation, while also benefitting themselves from skilled workers, as well as fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce.


About the author

Renee Flourentzou is head of school at West Lea’s Learning for Life Campus


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