Posted: 11 August 2017

Seeing ability in disability

Special needs and disabilities, SEND, EmployAbility, EmployAbility – let’s work together, Supported Internships

Taurai Horton, Safety, Sustainability and Resilience Support Analyst, a former intern.


National Grid has been helping transform the lives of young people with special needs and disabilities (SEND) since 2013 through its EmployAbility – let’s work together programme. Following a recent conference, the business is aiming to build on this legacy, as EmployAbility co-founder Mark Pickles explains.

For young people in Britain with learning disabilities, the task of finding paid work has always been blighted with obstacles. According to research by charity Mencap, some 65% of people with learning disabilities want to work, yet just 6% are in paid employment in the UK.

These figures are impossible to justify and that’s why we’re committed to bridging this gap by offering Supported Internships through our EmployAbility – let’s work together programme.

Mark Pickles, EmployAbility co-founder.

It began back in 2013 as a partnership with Round Oak Special School in Warwick, and has since been expanded to include four of our offices around the UK. Through these supported work placements, we aim to raise aspirations and improve our interns’ chances of entering paid employment.

The programme has had a profound effect on the lives of many of our interns. One summed up his experience like this: “All it took was one person to believe in me – and that helped me become someone no one thought I could be.”

Determined to inspire others

After the success of our own programme, we’re eager to inspire other SEND providers and businesses to adopt our model for Supported Internships. By getting more organisations involved, we can change even more youngsters’ lives.

Pursuing this goal means engaging more widely. And we achieved that when we hosted our EmployAbility – let’s work together Conference 2017. The event brought together 50 different organisations, education providers and other parties involved in supporting disability.

We used the conference to share best practice, success stories and important lessons we’ve learned. One of our job coaches – the individuals who personally mentor the interns – discussed how it feels to host a placement, and gave their tips for making things easier for the intern and the business. We also helped attendees understand some of the first steps they need to take to encourage business leaders and staff to get involved. And we went to the other end of the journey, sharing how organisations can continue to support youngsters as they move into work either inside or outside their business.

Our objective for sharing these experiences was to show that the positive impact of hosting interns vastly outweighs any perceived obstacles. It really is easier than you think to join the dots between education and employment – and develop brighter futures for more young people.

The sky’s the limit

A major highlight was a speech from one of our former interns, Taurai Horton, who we now employ as a Safety, Sustainability and Resilience Support Analyst. Taurai was diagnosed with autism as a child and lacked the key work and social skills he needed to find employment when he joined us on his Supported Internship.

He told the conference: “At an early age I always thought to myself: why me? Why am I so different to other people? It made me hate myself and my disability. When I began my internship I was shy, quiet and didn’t have much confidence in myself or my abilities, but soon after, with a little bit of time, support and hard work, I changed into a confident, outgoing young man who has ambition and is determined to achieve his goals regardless of the challenges that he may face.

“EmployAbility has shown me that it doesn’t matter if you have autism or disabilities. You can achieve anything you want to achieve and now I dare to have an ambition. The sky’s the limit and I will keep on working hard until I can say I’ve succeeded!”

Taurai’s powerful story is just one example of the great results our interns have achieved. Some 60% are now in paid employment, which is something we’re very proud of.

Having experienced first-hand the life-changing effects of the programme, we want to build on this legacy. The message we want to get across is that the benefits are truly significant, both for the interns and the businesses that take part.

From the students’ perspective, they show incredible personal growth and increase their confidence. By being given responsibility and support, they realise they’re capable of so much more than they thought. As we’ve seen, this can act as a springboard to achieving paid employment for many of them.

A richer, more representative business

Our business has become richer for the experience too. It has opened up a brand new talent pool for us, and allowed us to become more representative of the communities we operate in. Working with our interns has inspired our employees and built their disability confidence by allowing them to really get to know colleagues with disabilities.

We’re already seeing more businesses apply our model. Programmes inspired by our own include those running at Severn Trent in Coventry, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation and Amey in Sheffield, and Yorkshire Water in Leeds.

We really believe we’re on to something – and want the rest of the industry to see what it’s missing. Let’s work together to change even more lives and build a fairer system where learning difficulties don’t have to hold youngsters back.

How our EmployAbility model works

  • A business partners with a SEND school or college and they provide the students to the business
  • The business provides work placements for the students for an academic year
  • Interns are supported by job coaches, who are funded by Government through the Access to Work scheme
  • Results in confident, employment ready recruits at the end of the Supported Internship.

For more information about the programme, visit

Related article:

National Grid’s approach to helping young people and excluded groups find employment has earned a double award win in this year’s Responsible Business Awards.

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“All it took was one person to believe in me – and that helped me become someone no one thought I could be”

Taurai Horton, Safety, Sustainability and Resilience Support Analyst.