Mitch and his job coach Craig reflect on his progress as a supported intern on placements across the University of Warwick
Leaving education and entering the world of work can feel like a daunting prospect for anyone.
For young people with learning difficulties or complex disabilities, the challenges involved may be far greater – especially if the transition happens quickly and with little preparation.
Thankfully, Mitch feels excited about his future and ready to start his career.
Mitch’s story is one of expert support, real-world experiences and a gradual easing into the next stage of his life.
Preparing at the right pace
After four years at a specialist college that provides learning opportunities for people aged 16-25 with special educational needs or an education, health and care plan, Mitch is now halfway through a year-long supported internship.
But Mitch’s journey to public-facing roles goes back further.
“I have autism, dyspraxia and ADHD, and I went to a school in Warwickshire before going to college,” he explained.
“First I studied Performing Arts, which I’ve always enjoyed, and then it was time to think about what came next.
“So in 2021 I did Route 3, the Transition to Employment Programme.”
The Transition to Employment Programme empowers students to develop their skills while also improving their understanding of what entering the workplace may involve.
“It’s a year of preparation for employment, where you learn what will be expected of you and what you need to think about before you leave education"
“It’s a year of preparation for employment, where you learn what will be expected of you and what you need to think about before you leave education,” Mitch said.
Getting a taste of what’s out there
After completing the programme, Mitch was ready to begin the Project SEARCH Supported Internship scheme, a partnership between Campus and Commercial Services Group at the University of Warwick, Hereward College in Coventry, Warwick District Council and Project SEARCH.
“On Mondays I’m at the uni, studying Level 2 Maths and English and doing the coursework for my City & Guilds Employability Skills qualification, and then I spend four days a week at my placement,” Mitch said.
“At Warwick Arts Centre, first I was in the office with the Creative Learning team – I interviewed people from different departments to learn what they do and did research tasks to help make creative packs for the outreach programme.
“In the morning, we’d open them up and do all the fire and safety and accessibility checks, so it was important work.”
For his second placement – supported interns typically rotate around various areas of the University, with opportunities available in retail, sports and hospitality – Mitch is based in the coffee lounge at a Warwick Conferences venue.
“I restock the mugs, the coffee and the snacks, and I help out with the restaurant sometimes,” he said.
“I’ve recently been doing some hosting on the door, checking who’s booked in for lunch and welcoming the guests.”
It’s this side of the internship that has most appealed to Mitch.
“I was interested in hospitality from the very beginning because I’m very chatty,” he explained.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I can now interact with new people a lot more comfortably than before. I’m a lot more independent than when I started, definitely"
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I can now interact with new people a lot more comfortably than before.”
An internship for independence
In fact, the experience has done wonders for Mitch.
“I’m a lot more independent than when I started, definitely.
“I’ve started catching the bus to my placement on my own, which is something new, and I’m meeting up with the other interns for lunch.”
Mitch’s job coach Craig, who provides support as an advocate for him and several fellow interns, agrees there’s been a difference.
“Mitch has opened up more; he’s always had the ability, but that extra confidence has made that more apparent,” Craig said.
“In fact, he’s kind of taken on an unofficial role of mentorship with the other interns.”
And while the internship is unpaid, it’s made Mitch a prime candidate to be put forward for a paid position at the end of – previous interns have gone on to permanent jobs with employers like Holiday Inn, Severn Trent, Citizen Housing and West Midlands Police.
“The best thing about working at the Warwick Conferences venue has been I didn’t realise how nice all the staff would be,” Mitch said.
“I’m given responsibility and I like to be proactive.
“Sometimes I will go and do something – no-one questions it, they let me get on with the job and use my own initiative.”
Shifting attitudes, creating chances
As a job coach, Craig believes supported internships can help change perceptions towards people with learning difficulties or disabilities.
“They get the chance to go into a business and show what they’re capable of without any additional provision or adjustment,” he said.
“Whereas a verbal interview might be difficult, they can demonstrate what they can do in person, so it gets them into positions they otherwise couldn’t reach.
“The interns want to get the full experience, and some organisations soon realise they can offer more opportunities.”
Wanting the full experience is definitely something Mitch can relate to.
“I want to stay in customer service – no two days are the same and I enjoy that variety. Now I’ve built my confidence and my independence, I’m in a good place to do that"
“I want to stay in customer service – no two days are the same and I enjoy that variety,” he said.
“Now I’ve built my confidence and my independence, I’m in a good place to do that.
“I’d definitely recommend a supported internship.
“It gives you a safety net, you get the support from the job coaches and it means you’re not pushed into work without being ready.”
For more information about the programme at the University of Warwick, contact Andrea Pulford.