There has been a “marked change in culture” among providers of employment support for disabled people since a government programme began nine years ago, according to the education and training watchdog.
A review by Ofsted of 21 of the best providers of the Workstep programme found they promoted the skills the disabled person would bring to the job rather than encouraging employers to believe they were doing them a favour.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned the review to find the best strategies for moving participants in Workstep – which provides support for disabled people “facing complex barriers to getting and keeping a job” – into unsupported employment.
Most participants have supported placements with mainstream employers, while some work within supported employment businesses.
In its Improving Progression to Unsupported Employment report, Ofsted says the best providers made sure the people they supported knew they were moving towards unsupported jobs.
Participants were monitored closely and given realistic targets, received support that was carefully matched to their needs and developed their personal skills to match the needs of local employers.
The best providers also develop long-term strategies to move participants from sheltered workshops into sustainable jobs, which was “beginning to have some impact”.
But Ofsted said those disabled people who needed to improve their literacy, numeracy and language skills did not always receive the necessary training or encouragement.
And among the 12 local authority providers visited, there was “poor” awareness of Workstep across the council, with too few departments offering suitable job or placement opportunities, and participants not given a high enough profile when new businesses came into the area.
Ofsted also pointed out that, “although the proportion of participants progressing into sustained, unsupported employment is improving, it remains far too low”.
The proportion who moved into sustained, unsupported employment rose from 4.1 per cent of Workstep participants in 2004 to 9.8 per cent in 2007-08.
Steve Cairns, director of employment at disability charity Scope, one of the providers reviewed by Ofsted, said: “Good providers take the time to identify participants’ individual goals early on and look at support they need.
“Disabled people should be in charge of this process and choosing and leading their own career development.”
Although Workstep will be replaced by the new Work Choice programme in October, the DWP welcomed the report and said it would “help shape” the new programme.
3 February 2010