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"You get a shot [turn] at the till"

Having a job is a big goal for many people. Working, whether paid or unpaid, can be good for our health and wellbeing. It can contribute to our happiness, help us to build confidence and self-esteem. And of course, paid work is a way to earn money.

However, getting a paid job is one of the most difficult building blocks to achieve. Across England, only a small amount of people with learning disabities (7.1%) are in paid work and 89% of this work is part time.

Only a few people talked about having a ‘real job’ which they meant as paid work; one person worked in a supermarket, another as a receptionist in a community centre, and another as a cleaner. Most participants did not work in a paid job. Many said that they would like to, or eager for work for financial reasons and to gain independence.

"I want to move out and stay on my own, ‘cause I want my own space, when I get a paid job..." (Sarah)

In the few cases of people getting a paid job, they did so after doing volunteer work or doing a placement in the same place. Some learnt skills in a volunteer job such as how to use a till, and this helped to get a better volunteer job, a placement or in some cases a paid job. Staff at resource centres or advocacy organisations and family and friends support people to get work placements.

"First I was a volunteer. I said to someone [at resource centre] “I want to get a paid job”. And one of the staff spoke to someone [at the local authority]. I got the paid job. I used to be a volunteer first, then I said I wanted to get paid" (Amy)

Several of the people we spoke to do volunteer work at least one day a week. These jobs include sorting clothes in charity shops, working at a food bank, cleaning in a church, working as a receptionist at a community centre, fixing up bikes, gardening, working in a bookshop, serving in a café [in a LD service site], and doing administration tasks for the local authority. People often got volunteering and paid jobs with the help of support staff.

Someone who works as a volunteer in a bookshop got to try new things:

"You get a shot [turn] at the till, which is good, I’ve never had a shot of a till … and I like pricing items like DVDs, books." (Billy)

Most people really enjoyed their work or volunteering; but some found it difficult. In some cases, the main difficulty related to a person’s health. Other issues included getting to know the people they work with, bullying, or a feeling that they didn’t get enough support that they needed. Some also found their work boring, as they were doing the same tasks all the time. And in some voluntary jobs, some felt they had to commit to attending even when they didn’t want to.

People often did ‘ready for work’ courses at college to prepare them for a placement, with the hope of eventually getting a paid job, but in many cases this did not always turn out as they expected.

"I wasn’t in a job. I was struggling trying to get a job, so I went back to do more qualifications for placements. There was only the one placement. I was doing car washing, and that. I thought it would be more working with engines, but no... I knew how to wash cars, because I used to wash my dad’s car." (Matthew)

Other people, like Matthew, did college courses, but very often nothing came of them. Some people felt ‘stuck’ and bored in college, attending similar courses over several years. And some found it hard to learn at college, because they need more support or the environment was too noisy and busy. Sometimes people had expectations that doing a college course would lead onto a paid job – but sadly this did not happen for Matthew:

"It was hard when I was in the college, trying to get my grades up and get good grades so I can get a job, but in that case nothing happened so I just went back and did the getting ready course, then tried to see what happened" (Matthew)

Overall, we found that people end up doing work that does not use their full skills and potential. There was a lot of time spent applying for jobs and placements, but it was very hard for people to actually get a paid job. And if people did, then it was often low skilled, repetitive work.

It is clear that people have aspirations to get paid work, but sadly we found that this remains one of the most difficult building blocks for people to achieve.

What learning is involved?

People learnt new skills, including administrative skills, using computers, a till, answering the phone, food hygiene, customer service, being on time, making a good impression. Some participated in ‘getting ready for work’ courses at college and have a record of the skills they learnt. Some vocational skills were learned but often people’s work and volunteering was not as challenging as they wanted it to be. The more skilled aspects of working in a charity shop, for example, were often not given to them. Some volunteering opportunities provided more training than others, usually those with experience of working with people with learning disabilities (and focused on their aspirations). College courses can provide interesting and valuable learning opportunities to support new activities people are involved in, and to build skills for volunteering and paid work.

What more can be done?

There is currently a mismatch between people’s aspirations for work and the opportunities available to them. Individuals need to be supported to gain skills in a range of volunteering and placement posts, and to gain relevant skills at college, and then to be supported to gain and sustain paid work, if they wish. Local employers can play a role in providing appropriate opportunities; local authorities, other public sector employers, and charities, can lead the way. Personal assistants could be used to support the learning and doing of more challenging and satisfying work.