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  • Professional Intermediation  for People with Disabilities

Project objectives and expected results


The employment rate of people with disabilities (around 80 million EU citizens, ranging from mild to severe disabilities) remains very low, 48.7%, revealing the lack of equal opportunities in the labor market and the need to develop their work situation through quality jobs in open environments, inclusive and accessible work environments (EU, 2017). It is necessary to pay special attention to young adults with disabilities in their transition from education to employment (European Commission, 2010), as they face other different additional barriers with regard to their employability and professional development.


On the other hand, the establishment of Law no. 4/2019 which defines the employment quota system for people with disabilities with a degree of disability equal to or greater than 60% leads to companies having a transitional period of four years for compliance with the required quota.


This share is 1% for medium-sized companies (with 75 or more workers) and 2% for large companies (250 or more workers), which makes this requirement a challenge in itself.


The general objective of this project is to allow more young adults with disabilities, preferably aged 18-29 years, to earn their living in the open labor market, improving the quality and relevance of the transition to school for work in Portugal .


More specifically, the program aims to: (a) improve and prepare services to support young adults with disabilities in their transition from schools to work in line with EU policies, (b) develop new training programs and services for company workers, (c) improve the skills of company workers to support employment and bring businesses and schools closer together, (d) design a training program and accompany the teaching of the necessary skills that lead to an autonomous life (e) implement pilot activities organized by the Focus (f) configuring, equipping and linking structures to integrate new and effective teaching methods to benefit young adults with disabilities and business workers, (g) disseminating best practices related to the employment of young people with disabilities in their transition from education to work in countries where companies have operations.


Project approach chosen to achieve successful results


The professional insertion of people with disabilities must be an individualized process and built step by step according to the strengths, interests and skills of the young person with disabilities. However, it seems to us that there are certain common steps to be taken in order for this process to be successful. Taking into account the areas of job opportunities that exist within each company and according to our experience and knowledge we have about the methodologies of transition to the active life of young adults with disabilities with scientific evidence, we have developed the following structure of approach to the professional insertion process of people with disabilities in business terms:


Before describing each of these steps, it is important to make some considerations about the best, or at least good, practices in supporting young adults with disabilities in terms of employment and the principles considered in the design of this pilot project now presented here.



Best practices in supporting young adults with disabilities in employment


According to the research and brainstorming sessions conducted, best practices in supporting young adults with employment disabilities, or at least good ones, should include the following characteristics:


Long-term support during the growth path of the young person with a disability, who ideally should start at the age of 14 or at the latest in the 9th year of schooling, continuing after entering the paid job market;


Extraordinarily specific and personalized to the needs of each person given the combination of multiple needs;


Comprehensive support during this journey that includes:


academic curriculum;

professional qualification;

job and career aspirations, skills and experiences;

independent living and personal and social development;

therapeutic and health interventions;

high levels of support and education for parents / caregivers and employers;

coordination and alignment between all the multiple players in the ecosystem surrounding young people with disabilities: parents / caregivers, schools, employers, service providers, state, etc.



Brief comments on existing employability models for young people with disabilities


According to the research carried out, the emerging themes in the employability of young people with disabilities are:


The overwhelming majority of Schools and Universities are not doing enough to prepare and transition young people with disabilities to active life.


Even when one does, there is a lack of general alignment in the entire ecosystem, which results in the fall of support when young people with disabilities move between institutions.


The current government support program for the transition to the active life of people with disabilities does not work very well: the number of people with disabilities benefited is extremely low and the results of competitive employment are extremely poor.


Despite this scenario, we are faced with several organizations worldwide that are trying to address these problems in different and innovative ways.



Principles considered in the design of this Pilot Project


Design a model of good consensual practices, responding to the needs identified in the path of the young person with disabilities and all the main players in the ecosystem that influence them.


Address the specific needs of the long-term young person, school, university, employment and life in general.


Actively involve all stakeholders in the ecosystem in the design of the pilot project, including young people with disabilities.


Complement and associate large institutions.


Design the pilot project with the aim of being able to replicate and scale significantly beyond the pilot.


Design the pilot project to allow the acquisition of learning.

Design the pilot project to allow the tracking and measurement of input, output and outcome metrics.


This Project will use the principles of a tried and tested methodology - Project SEARCH®. The experience of international partners in strategies that have a good result in the development of job opportunities for people with disabilities, will allow sharing resources, using continuous quality improvement and loyalty to the intervention model in order to achieve the intended objectives.




This step concerns the candidate referral process. This process is extremely important because it aims not only to promote the access of people with disabilities to this project, but above all, to make the candidate / company, that is, that the candidate to be included in the project will satisfy the real need for company recruitment.


To achieve this objective, two types of referencing are considered in this project: Internal referencing and external referencing.


In relation to internal referencing, it will come from the company, which will welcome expressions of interest from family members of workers and / or others, through its own channels and forward them to Focus via email.


Regarding external referencing, it concerns the direct promotion that Focus will do, developing a set of partnerships with various entities in the territories of coverage, so that they disseminate and promote the participation of young adults with disabilities in the project. Priority will be given to the following entities:


Town Halls

Employment and Professional Training Center IEFP


Basic, Secondary Schools and Universities

Health centers



Recruitment companies


Interested applicants will complete a specific application form which will include, in addition to the candidate's identification data, information on the degree and type of disability, clinical and family information, which they will send directly to Focus.




After receiving the application form, either through internal referral or external referencing, Focus will make a first screening of applications, which may involve a telephone contact, based on the information presented and correspondence with the participation requirements, that are:


Preferably age between 18 and 29 years.

Motivation to work

Basic communication skills

Ability to follow instructions


After screening, the selected candidates will be invited to participate in a recruitment “interview” conducted by Focus, lasting one day, where in addition to making contact with the candidate, their socialization, work and development potential. This evaluation will be carried out according to the Project SEARCH® evaluation model, and another tool that may prove to be essential can also be used.


The result of the evaluation will lead to the classification of candidates at three levels:



Level ICandidates who obtained a low majority score (1) on the items to be evaluated, which may indicate a low level of functionality. They are people who need a more comprehensive program of intervention and the promotion of several basic skills before they make contact with the labor market or enter Project SEARCH®. In this sense, this profile of candidates is not eligible for the project. However, an intervention program will subsequently be developed in order to respond to candidates who show this type of profile.


Level IICandidates who obtained a majority score between II and III in the items to be evaluated. They are trainees with a profile suitable for Project SEARCH®.


Level III: Candidates who obtained a majority score of IV in the items to be evaluated. They are trainees with higher functionality, who need short training to enter the job market satisfactorily. They are the target candidates of the project.


Note: The selection process for candidates is carried out  and entirely responsible by Focus.





According to the profile evidenced by the candidates at the selection stage, they will initially be directed to one of the following types of training:


Initial formation: which corresponds to Level I of classification. This training will take place over nine months using the scientifically validated LINKS® Curriculum intervention. This program includes fifty-three routines that are divided into three learning phases. Routines are activities that take place with a predictable sequence of steps and with predictable expectations for the participation and autonomous performance of the candidates. These routines cover school and community settings.


Phase I provides a basis for candidates who need to learn how to participate autonomously in typical school and community activities, while also being exposed to vocational activities in the classroom. It is important that the candidate becomes competent in these activities so that he can progress to more advanced routines and activities at later levels.


Phase II routines are based on phase I routines and include more complex school and community activities that are necessary for candidates to be successful in natural contexts. Phase II routines require candidates to become more autonomous in the transition between various activities, increasing social competence and more frequent involvement in community settings.


Phase III routines are naturally more advanced than phase II routines. Phase III routines emphasize a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between activities and environments and highlight vocational routines and activities. Candidates who have successfully mastered Phase III routines are better prepared to participate in community activities and will be able to integrate into a work environment or transition to one of the other levels.


Candidates may eventually benefit from IEFP support in force in terms of training.


Intermediate training: which corresponds to Level II of the framework. This level of qualification corresponds to training at Project SEARCH® (nine months). Applicants will integrate the database of eligible candidates for an edition of Project SEARCH® to be held.

Candidates may eventually benefit from IEFP support in force in terms of training.

Advanced trainingwhich corresponds to Level III of the framework. This level of qualification corresponds to a short training (three months) following Project SEARCH® principles. A three-week skills development plan will be applied in the classroom and a two-month practical training experience will be provided.

Candidates may eventually benefit from IEFP support in force in terms of training.




The training program described above has an integrated system for assessing individual performance. Objectives, procedures and results are continuously measured and represented graphically according to the curriculum models and instruments and extensively validated in different school programs and systems. The validity of the interventions will also be measured by quantitative surveys of parents and guardians and by a company team.


In the case of the advanced program, at the end of the classroom training, if the trainees do not show the profile indicated for joining the company, they will not advance to practical training in the workplace, and may be integrated into another level of training, namely in Project SEARCH ®.


At the end of the training program mentioned, the trainees, if they demonstrate the necessary employability skills, will proceed to the next stage, the stage of introducing the candidate to the company. If they do not show this necessary preparation, they may be included, according to the evaluation carried out, in another training program available in the project, which is more appropriate to the necessary development of their skills.




This step consists of introducing candidates who have demonstrated a level of consolidated employability skills to the company. From the result of this presentation, three different situations may arise: the recruitment by the company, the resubmission of the candidate for new training in the project, if the company considers that the necessary recruitment conditions have not yet been met, or the professional insertion in another company if the company considers that the candidate's profile does not fit with their recruitment requirements.





For candidates recruited by the company, a specific welcoming and monitoring plan in the workplace will be developed, which will include initial and continuous on-job training for tutors who will monitor the candidates' professional path within the company.

Thus, in terms of monitoring, we propose two distinct phases: the candidate's integration phase and the retention phase.

The integration phase aims to provide an efficient integration and subsequent retention of the new employee at the location / service selected by the company. It is intended to minimize a series of potentially "stressful" circumstances for both the new employee and the company. Therefore, we propose that after the training and the work place and tasks to be performed, the training team assigned to the project should fully monitor the reception of the new worker and the presentation of colleagues, policies, processes and objectives of the work to be performed and first steps of autonomous work. Each therapist will spend two full days with each trainee, so if there are eight trainees, for example, it will be a process that will take eight working days to be completed, and if there are twelve, it will take twelve business days to complete. Then there will be a weekly follow-up with the duration of one morning by training by the same team. If necessary and according to the needs / profile, this support can be reinforced. Depending on the availability of the accompanying Therapist that we propose to include in the project, he may also be in charge of this integration, thus reducing the time necessary for its completion. This phase has an estimated duration of one month.

The retention phase starts after the first month of employment at the company and aims to promote the retention of new workers and resolve / support the resolution of all issues that may arise in the workplace, in real time at the company. We suggest the appointment of a full-time therapist (monitoring therapist) with the mission of accompanying new workers after the integration phase, without prejudice to being able to collaborate more directly in other phases of the Project. Thus, each new employee in the second month of effective work will receive a fortnightly visit, during a morning / afternoon by the accompanying therapist.

From the third month of reception, monitoring will be done on a monthly basis by the Monitoring Therapist. However, and on a case-by-case basis, support for new employees may be reinforced according to needs in order to resolve / support the resolution of any issue that may arise.


Result Indicators


The following indicators for monitoring the results to be achieved are proposed:




To be defined



% Employees * (Enrolled)

66,67 %

% Employees * (Completed)



Note: % of employees assume the use of the Competitive Employment Concept used by Focus. For Focus, Competitive Employment is the most important result that is considered successful. We use a strict definition of competitive employment: at least 16 hours of work per week, which pays the established salary, on a regular basis, in an integrated environment (i.e., with workers with and without disabilities).