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For those living with support needs, it can feel daunting to figure out the best way to transition into the working environment for the first time. 

Thankfully, there are a huge number of resources available to help people transition into the working world. There are also many suitable industries which can offer valuable experience and insight into the working world, and could be a great starting point to help you understand the type of job or industry you might like to work in.

What are the benefits of volunteer work and paid employment?

Volunteering offers a great opportunity to work with, and meet, lots of different people. It also allows you to spend time within different organisations and industries, whilst gaining valuable work experience in a supportive environment.

There are a number of benefits to entering the working world for those living with support needs. These include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Improving communication skills

Whether it’s interacting with colleagues, clients or the general public, volunteer and paid work offer lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn new communication skills. The working environment can also be a great space in which to improve confidence in speaking with other people.

Gaining some autonomy

Having the opportunity to go out to work or volunteer gives you the chance to have new experiences, learn useful life skills, and gain more independence - whether that’s the opportunity to spend a few hours away from home each week, or having some financial independence by earning some money.

Self empowerment 

There’s a lot to be said for getting up in the morning and heading out to do something you enjoy. Having that sense of purpose in a volunteer or paid role also offers a great feeling of empowerment, and the satisfaction of being part of something.

Ray, who’s an individual we support at Lifeways, was awarded by the High Sheriff of Worcestershire for his volunteer work. As a volunteer of the Monday Night Club, a social club for adults with a learning disability or autism, Ray was given the award for his work supporting the club.

Ray said: “I am very surprised and honoured to receive this award from the High Sheriff. If it wasn’t for the Monday Night Club I would not be the person I am today.”

Organisation and time-management skills

Turning up to work on time is one thing, but ensuring that tasks are getting done within a set time, following instructions, or planning out a to-do list for the week will help instil the importance of time management and organisation. 

What jobs might be suitable for someone living with support needs?

The answer to this question will depend entirely on your individual interests and skills, but there are a number of job types and industries which can offer great opportunities to gain some valuable working experience, or act as a first step into the working world.

Working in retail, such as in a charity shop, homeware store or clothes department can offer valuable experience and the chance to learn skills such as money handling and time management. Retail hours tend to be relatively flexible, allowing you to choose the days and length of shift that works best for you. 

For those who aren’t too confident in serving customers and working directly with the public, retail jobs can include working in the stock rooms and on delivery services - which are equally as valuable.

Janet, who is supported by Lifeways in her own apartment at Bedwardine Court, works one day a week at the British Heart Foundation charity shop in Worcester. The job has enabled Janet to fulfil two of her goals. “I wanted to help other people and learn new skills to be more independent,” says Janet.

What’s the most important lesson Janet’s learned on the job? “To be patient and believe in myself,” she says.

Restaurants and cafés are great for those who have a passion for food and want to learn more about working in a kitchen. Whether it’s working in food preparation and learning from a chef, or working front of house and serving customers, there are different disciplines for different tastes in this industry. It’s often fast-paced, and is great for those who like to be challenged.

Working in the care sector with elderly people or with children is a fantastic opportunity to care for others and learn valuable communication skills. You will be able to learn about care needs, how days in a care home or nursery are planned, and get involved with activities and events.

With all career paths, sometimes it can be beneficial to attend college to get a qualification. Although not always a necessity, gaining a qualification in the field you’d like to work in can help you to learn more about it, and can also help you to confirm that it’s the path you’d like to take.

Philippa, who lives at a Lifeways supported living service in Huddersfield completed a one-year childcare course at a college about eight miles from where she lives.

As part of the enrolment process, Philippa had to write a statement about why she wanted to do the course. Philippa put lots of effort into the statement. “[The course administrator] was very impressed by that,” she says.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “It’s made my confidence grow, and it’s going really well.” 

Are there any services available for those looking for a job with support needs?

Historically, those who don’t meet traditional criteria for ‘job readiness’ or ‘employability’ may have had trouble finding support to get into the working world, but there are an abundance of resources available. 

The National Careers Service has a multitude of services and advice available to help people with special education needs and disabilities access the world of work. It includes:

  • Information about Access to Work scheme
  • Support programmes and training
  • Charities and organisations offering support
  • Disability Confident Scheme

There is also support and advice available to find appropriate training where necessary, and help in understanding your rights and the possibilities to have reasonable adjustments at work such as flexible working, or the provision of aids such as screen reading software.

How can Lifeways help?

Support workers will always be on hand to assist with finding the right opportunities, and to help where possible with job applications and getting interview-ready. 

There are also aspects of living at Lifeways which can help with preparing for the world of work, including:

  • Learning life skills at home such as communication, time management and organisation.
  • Practising interview skills with support workers and housemates.
  • Using a computer for research and to create CV’s and cover letters.
  • Getting involved in Co-Production at Lifeways to gain valuable insight into building skills for employment.
  • The opportunity to act as an ambassador for Lifeways or as a Quality Checker.

To find out more, speak to your support worker about what opportunities you would like to explore.


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