Work & Education

Supported employment model: changing the recruitment processes to create more opportunities for disabled people

Everyone who wishes to work, with the right support, can work. Charities and independent consultancy companies are working hard with employers, equipping them with the right skills and understanding of how to best support disabled employees in the workplace.

Emma Shepherd, an employment consultant who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, introduces the supported employment model and explains how it can be used to open up new opportunities to disabled jobseekers. 

The supported employment model is most commonly used to support disabled jobseekers with learning disabilities, severe mental health conditions or neurodiversity into paid employment. But it can be used more widely. It’s one that we use regularly through my consultancy company, Let’s Talk Disability.

In this article, I will explain what it is, how it works and how you could apply it to your job search.


Are you job hunting? Don’t forget to check out our jobs board, listing jobs from employers who are keen to utilise disabled talent.


Supported employment model and how it works

In the supported employment world, a model called ‘place and train’ is used as opposed to the ‘train and place’ model. Supported employment is based on the understanding that someone does not have all the skills necessary to start a new job.

Therefore, when using this model, we work with employers to bypass traditional recruitment and selection methods and use a work trial or working interview. Any kind of reasonable adjustments that may be needed are negotiated at that point.

With the supported employment model, the person is trained within the job itself and they are taught the skills required to carry out the job.

This model gives the disabled person a chance to show their skills in a real-world context, and for the company to see them in action.

As a simple example, there are many ways that someone could make a coffee. You could:

  • use instant coffee granules or powder and add boiling water
  • use a packet that makes frothy cappuccino coffee
  • put a little, or big, capsule into a machine and press a button
  • grind your own coffee beans and add them to a coffee kettle or filter machine.

As you can see, there are a number of possibilities, and I have not even begun to talk about the different types of coffee flavours, liquors or milk that you can add.

So, if someone were to use a ‘train and place’ model in this setting, training someone with an all-singing, all-dancing machine before starting work in a cafe would be useless without them knowing all the options people will ask for.

Using the supported employment model, the employee would be trained to use the fancy coffee machine once they are in the job itself actually serving customers.

Finding the right company for the disabled jobseekers

Within this model, importance is also placed on finding the right company and ‘fit’ for the disabled person. With a rounded picture of the disabled jobseeker and their skills, it’s time to look at suitable employers first and then job roles. It is more than that though, it is about seeking to understand the ‘ethos’ of a company.

It’s important to look at whether it is a company where everyone works overtime without question, or a family-orientated company that likes to have picnics together at the weekend, or a relaxed environment or a corporate, bureaucratic one. 

This additional knowledge is important in order to help get a job in the right company so that it is sustainable, otherwise it could fall apart pretty quickly. ‘Shoe-horning’ someone that loves gardening into working in an office admin role may not make that person happy and they would soon leave. 

These are the elements that you would not find in a job description, but they are incredibly important. Although the model accepts that someone will not have all the skills initially, it’s still key that they are matched with the right job and employer to make the job enjoyable and long-lasting and that the employer gets the right employee. 

When I find a suitable employer through my consultancy business, I support them through the recruitment and selection process. I may suggest helping write a job description – is it one that was written in 1990 and keeps getting pulled out the bottom drawer and used when necessary? 

I also support employers with ‘job carving’, whereby they may take one or two tasks from other job descriptions and make it into one new one. This would help existing staff by taking certain tasks off their hands and the new person to have a job that matches their skill-set.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is an employer’s duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ if a disabled person is at a disadvantage compared to that of a non-disabled person within the workplace. 

Reasonable adjustments do not have to be big or expensive and not all adjustments require a ramp to solve a problem. There is also financial help for employers via Access to Work should they require it. 

Some examples of reasonable adjustments may include changing a person’s working hours so that they come into work later than their peers. This might help someone gets anxious if the bus is too busy, or that getting up in the morning and getting dressed takes a while. 

Other examples may be having in-work support, a more supportive chair or a hearing loop to be able to answer a phone. Most adjustments do not cost anything.

The British Association of Supported Employment (BASE) will have a list of various agencies available around the Country who may be able to help

By Emma Shepherd

To find out more about Emma’s consultancy business, visit Let’s Talk Disability.

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Emma Shepherd

I have a small business that delivers training and consultancy about disability and mental health, called Let’s Talk Disability. I have two boys and two Shih Tzus dogs. I’m either awake working or asleep! I also have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Supporting disabled people into work or self-employment and increasing their independence is why I get up in the morning (albeit slowly).
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