Choices College is a specialist college providing tailored educational support, and a supported internship course for young adults aged 16-24 with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and/or Autism. All of the students have an educational health care plan which identifies their specific educational need.

The origins of this unique organisation were in a hospital in Newcastle. An opportunity for some young people to work in the labs arose. Due to the success of this, Choices College was born and gradually became a national operation. As of now, over fifteen years later, there are 28 locations around the country (including Hampshire) and this number is growing.

At each site, the interns spend one-year learning skills to equip them for the world of work. Three placements are completed in this year, each twelve weeks in duration. On any given week, an intern spends four days in placement and one in the classroom being taught employability skills: CV writing, how to search and apply for a job and interview practice. Supporting the interns are Area Managers and Coordinators, carefully monitoring progress and putting necessary adjustments in place. Choices college really cares about the individual; they recognise that different young people will need varying degrees of assistance and will require different resources to reach their full potential. The aim of the course is to ensure interns are work ready for many jobs in a multitude of sectors by providing them with transferable skills and experience. This is especially necessary as in 2021-2022 only 4.8% of people with a learning disability were in paid employment (16 or more hours per week). This is a further decline from the previous statistic of 5.1%. However, Choices College have graduated an astounding total of 672 students, with 83% of interns transitioning into employment, apprenticeships, volunteering or further education. For each project intern that secures paid work of more than 16 hours per week, research suggests that the saving to the public purse is at least £1 million over their lifetime.

The experience of being an intern is both incredibly individual and extremely sociable as the course is completely tailored for each person and promotes the interaction with others. This occurs in the classroom and on placement. However, as communications barriers, low confidence and anxiety can all impact their chances of employment, the course creates the opportunity for experiencing work in a fully supported and safe environment. One intern stated, “It helped me build my life up and it gave me the confidence to work and meet new people.” Sometimes there can be reluctance to employ a person with additional needs due to a lack of understanding of what their capabilities are and how to support them in the workplace. Although, Choices college is making a real difference as they are educating and assisting local employers to create a positive work environment for all.