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Mainstream Employment Programme

About the Mainstream Employment Programme

The Mainstream Employment Programme provides a package of subsidies, training, and support to help people with significant disabilities to gain sustainable employment.

The programme provides:

  • A 100% salary subsidy for the first half of an agreed term of up to 2 years, and an 80% salary subsidy for the second half
  • Funding for agreed external training, specialised equipment or other assistance for the participant
  • Ongoing support for participants and their supervisors

Specially created or adapted positions are tailored to the skills and aptitude of the participant, and the needs of the employer. Participants are not expected to be 'job-ready' when they start. They train on the job and have access to funding for extra training from Mainstream. Ideally the participant gets the opportunity of ongoing employment at the end of the placement, unless they find a suitable permanent position during the placement.

Because Mainstream follows the principles of supported employment, pay is comparable to the pay of others performing similar duties.

Applications are prioritised and placements are subject to the availability of funding. The amount of funding is agreed with the employer before the placement begins.

Information for applicants

You can apply for a Mainstream placement if you have a disability and have been unable to get work. To be eligible for a Mainstream placement you need to:

  • be aged 18 or older
  • be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and ordinarily resident in New Zealand
  • have a disability that significantly disadvantages your employment prospects and which requires assistance in addition to Work and Income’s general jobseeker support or wage subsidies
  • have had the disability for a minimum of six months, and expect it to continue for at least four years
  • be receiving a core Work and Income benefit such as Supported Living Payment or Job Seeker support or be at risk of long term benefit dependency
  • not be in paid employment when you apply and not have been in paid employment for more than 15 hours a week in the six months before you apply
  • not be receiving weekly compensation or vocational rehabilitation from ACC or a similar organisation.

How to apply

We prefer to receive Mainstream applications through supported employment agencies. Your Supported Employment agency will work with you to find a suitable role and help you apply for Mainstream funding. You can find a list of supported employment agencies here, or contact

Assessing applications

Before we can fund a placement, we need to be sure the participant and the employer are eligible and the placement is in the best interests of the participant and their employment goals.

To make sure the funding is used for the greatest benefit for the most people, we prioritise applications according to the six factors shown in the table below. A person does not need to be a priority in all six factors to be eligible for Mainstream support.

Factors to be considered Priority

Young people aged 18 – 29

Qualification level

People who have completed a post-secondary qualification within the last 2 years

Previous work history People with no paid work history
Access to other services People who are less likely to succeed with Work and Income jobseeker services or wage subsidies available to all clients (e.g. Flexi-wage) or supported employment
Sustainability of employment Roles that are likely to be maintained or made permanent at the end of the placement.
Benefit Status People who are at risk of receiving Work and Income benefits long-term

We also consider the size of the potential employer’s organisation and how they propose to address the participant’s individual support needs.

Information for employers

Mainstream is available for roles in state and private sector organisations.Our preference is to contract with larger organisations because:

  • they generally have experience employing and supporting a range of employees
  • they are more likely to have established human resources policies and procedures and practical experience to deal with any performance issues, disputes or other issues that may arise during the placement
  • there are likely to be additional opportunities for the participant to be placed permanently within the organisation because of staff turnover.

In most cases an organisation will only be funded for one Mainstream placement at a time. If you would like to offer a position to someone with a significant disability, please contact us at

We’ll put you in touch with supported employment agencies in your area.

Wage subsidies

Because Mainstream follows the principles of supported employment, pay is comparable to the pay of others performing similar duties.

Work and Income contracts with employers to provide wage subsidies and to reimburse agreed training and specialist equipment.

Participants must be employed for a minimum of 15 hours a week and up to 40 hours a week. If Work and Income agrees before the placement starts, participants can increase their hours during the placement up to 40 hours a week. This needs to be specified in the contract.

Wage subsidies are paid quarterly in advance. They do not cover ACC levies, Kiwisaver contributions or other employer costs.

Reimbursement for training and specialist equipment

If we agree to reimburse training and/or specialist equipment, the details will be included in the contract. Specialist equipment funded through Mainstream belongs to the participant and they can take it with them at the end of the placement.

Employing a Mainstream participant

Mainstream placements must not replace or displace an existing employee. Use your usual processes for selecting and employing staff. Existing vacancies should be chosen on merit and other applicants should not be disadvantaged by the availability of a subsidy.

You should use your normal processes for managing performance. Work and Income cannot be involved in employment matters.


Mainstream employers are required to report quarterly on the hours the participant has worked and an update on their progress.

If the Mainstream placement ends before the end of the agreement

If the placement ends before the end of the contracted period, we may require a refund.

Information for supported employment agencies

Setting up a placement

Work with the applicant and the employer to ensure that the proposed position is a good fit. Encourage employers to use their usual recruitment and performance management practices.

Before supporting the person to apply for Mainstream funding, consider the range of funding options available to support people with a disability in employment, including Flexiwage and support funds.

Note that wage subsidies cannot be paid for teachers or teachers’ aides who do not work during school holidays or placements where the participant would be paid on commission.

Applying for Mainstream

Apply for the Mainstream programme 21 days in advance of the applicant’s proposed start date so the application can be assessed. If the application is successful, having a signed Mainstream contract in place before the applicant starts work protects all parties.

Make sure the Mainstream application form is completed in full. We rely on the detailed information in the application form to assess the client’s eligibility for funding and, if they are eligible, to draft the contract with the employer.

During the placement

The Supported Employment Agency is expected to

  • Assist the participant with orientation in the workplace if required
  • Maintain regular contact with the participant throughout the Mainstream contracted period
  • Assist the participant and employer with any issues that may arise during the placement
  • Provide the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) with a support plan for the participant within 6 weeks of the participant starting employment
  • Provide MSD a progress report every 3 months regarding how the participant is doing
  • Identify any employment opportunities for the participant during the contracted period

Mainstream Internship Programme

The Mainstream Internship Programme provides a 100% wage subsidy and other support to enable employers to employ disabled students in short-term internships that align with their chosen field of study. This wage subsidy does not cover ACC levies, Kiwisaver contributions or other employer costs.

Internships are for a minimum of 4 weeks and a maximum of 16 weeks. We can only fund 1 internship for each participant.

To be considered for an internship you must be:

  • aged 18 or older
  • a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and ordinarily resident in New Zealand
  • registered with the Disability Support Services of your tertiary institution
  • in your second to last or final year of tertiary study

To apply for the Mainstream Internship Programme, use the application form for the Mainstream Employment Programme. Email us if you need a copy