The concept of biographical disruption has unique relevance for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups who participate in entry-level job training programmes. In these programmes trainees often suffer from various forms of chronic illness and must arrange these illnesses into a picture of employability. In this article I use ethnographic data and narrative analysis to examine closely two trainees’ illness-related experiences, expressions and talk, and find that their ability to present their illnesses in ways that are consistent with programmatic goals is strongly influenced by family support, responsibilities and roles, as well as particular aspects of illness, like the interpretability of symptoms. I also find that the concept of biographical disruption has a curious traction in the world of job training, particularly among job training programme staff who would like to see trainees mobilise a variety of resources to help manage their illness. However, for trainees, many of whom have lived with chronic illness for years, the concept of biographical disruption may be more limited as a tool for understanding the experiences of illness. A more meaningful disruptive force in the lives of trainees appears to be the programme itself and the strategies for dealing with illness that programme staff may extend.