Mainstream Employment Programme

What is Mainstream?

The Mainstream Employment and Internship programmes support people with significant disabilities to get paid work experience and help them get into ongoing employment.

The programmes provide wage subsidies and help with extra training or disability costs during a placement period. This helps you and your employer have the right amount of support while you train in the job.

Placements for the Mainstream Employment programme are for up to 1 year. The Internship programme runs for a maximum of 12 weeks (generally the length of a semester). Placements are made through an Employment Service provider (see ‘How to Apply’ section).

You don’t need to be ‘work-ready’ before you take part in a Mainstream programme. Mainstream positions can be created or adapted to your skills and capabilities, while meeting the needs of your employer. You’ll get to train on the job and have financial support for your training.

Ideally, you’ll get the opportunity to have an ongoing job at the end of your placement, unless you find another position elsewhere.

What's included in the programme

Mainstream Employment Programme

Placements in this programme can be for up to 1 year.

It provides:

  • an 80% wage subsidy for the first 6 months and then 50% for the remaining 6 months of the programme
  • funding for agreed external training, specialised equipment or other assistance
  • ongoing support for you and your supervisors.

Mainstream Internship Programme

Placements in this programme can be for up to 12 weeks. It is for tertiary students in their final 2 years of study, or recent graduates (within 12 months of being eligible to graduate).

It provides:

  • an opportunity to work in a field related to what you’re studying
  • 100% wage subsidy for the duration of the placement
  • ongoing support for you and your supervisors.

More information

Mainstream follows the principles of supported employment. This means the amount you get paid in either Employment Placement or Internship is the same others doing similar work.

The amount of funding is agreed with your employer before your placement starts.

Applicants can only have funding for one Mainstream programme, either Employment Placement or Internship. This means you can’t apply for the Mainstream Employment programme if you’ve already had an Internship.

Who can apply

Mainstream Employment Programme

You can apply for a Mainstream employment programme if you have a significant disability (including mental health conditions) and are not working right now.

You’ll also need to:

  • be 16 or older
  • be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and normally live in New Zealand
  • have a disability, including a health condition, that you need extra financial support for and significantly affects your ability to find work
  • have had the disability for at least 6 months
  • be getting a main benefit from Work and Income, such as Supported Living Payment or Jobseeker Support
  • not be getting weekly compensation or vocational rehabilitation from ACC or a similar organisation.

Mainstream Internship Programme

Internships are for 4 to 12 weeks.

You can apply for a Mainstream internship programme if you have a significant disability and you either:

  • are in your final 2 years of study, or
  • have completed your study in the 12 months before you apply.

You’ll also need to be:

  • 16 or older
  • a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and normally live in New Zealand
  • registered with the Disability Support Services of your tertiary institution
  • in full-time study aligned to the New Zealand Qualifications Framework

How to apply

You can apply for Mainstream through your Employment Service provider. They’ll work with you to find a role that suits you. They can also help you apply for Mainstream funding if you need it.

If you don’t have an Employment Service provider, contact us at

We can send you a list of approved providers.

How we assess applications

Before we can fund a placement, we need to make sure you and the employer are eligible for the programme. We also need to make sure the position relates to your employment goals and what you want to achieve.

To help us do this, we use 6 factors to assess an application. We also give priority to those who have qualifications related to their placement position or who already have an Employee Development Plan. These plans outline the support you’ll get throughout your placement to develop your skills.

These factors and priorities are shown in the table below. You don’t need to have all these to take part in Mainstream. We assess applications against these criteria using a 3-point scale. We generally fund applications that score 9/18 (50%) or more.

Factors to be considered


Qualification level

People who have achieved Level 7 or more on the NZQA framework (or equivalent)

Qualification achieved

Formal qualification acquired within 12 months of application lodged

Proposed role related to qualification

The qualification achieved relates specifically to proposed industry and/or role

Previous work history

No previous paid work history or new graduate

Employee Development Plan (EDP)

The proposed role will give participants the skills and experience they need to achieve sustainable employment

Opportunities for future employment

That the role offered will lead to sustainable on-going employment

We also look at how your potential employer will support your individual needs through an employee development plan.

Information for employers

Mainstream is available for roles in both the public and private sector. We prefer to work with organisations who:

  • have experience employing and supporting a range of employees
  • have established human resources policies and procedures
  • have practical experience to work through any performance issues, disputes or other issues that may arise during the placement
  • have opportunities for the participant to be placed permanently within the organisation.

In most cases we’ll only fund one Mainstream placement with an employer at a time. We may consider multiple placements on a case by case basis.

If you’d like to offer a position to someone with a significant disability, please contact us at

We’ll put you in touch with Employment Service providers in your area.

Employing a Mainstream participant

You need to use your usual processes for employing people. Mainstream placements can’t replace or displace someone who already works for you.

Existing vacancies should be filled on merit. Other applicants should not be disadvantaged by the availability of a subsidy.

You should use your normal processes for managing performance or check out: for expert employment advice. We can’t be involved in employment matters.

Wage subsidies

We contract with employers to provide wage subsidies and to reimburse agreed training and specialist equipment.

Mainstream follows the principles of supported employment. This means pay must be comparable to the pay of other people doing similar work.

Participants need to work for a minimum of 15 hours a week and up to 40 hours a week. A participant can slowly increase their hours as they have more training and gain more experience. This needs to be agreed to in the contract before the placement starts.

We pay wage subsidies quarterly in advance. Subsidies don’t cover ACC levies, Kiwisaver contributions or other employer costs.

Reimbursement for training and specialist equipment

We can reimburse you for training and/or specialist equipment the participant may need. This needs to be agreed to in the contract before the placement starts.

It’s important for you to know that any specialist equipment funded through Mainstream belongs to the participant. This means they can take it with them when their placement ends.


You’ll need to report quarterly on the progress the participant has made and proof of hours they’ve worked.

A placement ends early

If the placement ends before the end of the contracted period, we may ask you to refund some of the funding we’ve paid to you. This will be the difference between the amount of subsidy we’ve paid in advance and the amount of time the person worked in the period. We will agree this with you.

Information for Employment Service Providers

We work with a number of Employment Service Providers to help people with disabilities into work.

Setting up a placement

We have a range of funding options to support people with a disability into work, including Flexi-wage and Support Funds. These options need to be considered before you support a person to apply for Mainstream.

Please work with the person applying and the employer to make sure the proposed position is a good fit. It’s important to encourage employers to use their usual recruitment and performance management practices.

Note that wage subsidies can’t be paid for:

  • teachers or teachers’ aides who don’t work during school holidays
  • placements where the participant would be paid on commission
  • placements where other people doing similar roles are volunteers or have minimum wage exemptions.

Applying for Mainstream

We need to receive applications for the Mainstream programme 21 calendar days in advance of the proposed start date. This is 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 involved.

Please 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

During the placement, your agency will need to:

  • help the participant with orientation in the workplace if required
  • have regular contact with the participant
  • support the participant and employer with any issues that may come up
  • provide the us with an Employee Development Plan for the participant within 6 weeks of them starting work
  • provide us with a progress report every 3 months about how the participant is doing
  • identify any employment opportunities for the participant during the contracted period.

Our service commitment to you

If you have any questions and you’re interested in taking part, you can email us at

We should get in touch with you within 2 working days.

If you disagree with any decision we make about an application, please talk to us first. You can also ask for a formal review. There is more information about this on the Work and Income website