Category: Autism, Partnership, WORKPLACE, success, programme, Autism Awareness Month, workplace barriers, leading organisation
This month is National Autism Awareness month but what are businesses doing to support workers with autism and how can we raise awareness of the challenges faced by autistic workers?
We spoke to Sharon Loivette from Capita Resourcing about the Autism Awareness Programme she has developed with Essex County Council, and delivered in partnership with Genius Within and Ambitious About Autism. The programme was designed to build on the success of autism work programmes in world-leading organisations, as well as advance understanding in how to further mitigate against workplace barriers.
The programme took a three-pronged approach to help people with autism succeed in the workplace; helping individuals understand their innate capabilities, creating a work environment that enabled individuals to be successful and transforming organisational views of autism.
“I felt there was a gap in the processes we’d adopted in terms of supporting people with disabilities, particularly those with autism, and felt we could be doing more,” said Sharon.
“ A programme like this also presented the business with an opportunity to tap into the unique blend of talents people with autism can bring, ” she added.
The eight-week programme offered young people the opportunity to access different areas of work within the council such as highways, transport, customer service and strategic commissioning.
“We wanted to give people the opportunity to see the many parts of council, how it operates and the different services it delivers” said Sharon.
The programme was based around a cognitive assessment which led to a report the candidates could use in the future to help them decide what work would be suitable for them. The assessment deciphered strengths, and individuals were matched to a job role that would benefit from these talents as well as speak to their interests. For example, if someone was highly analytical or detail orientated and had an interest in law, they were matched to the legal team in a role that required those skills.
For those with autism, communication can be a challenge as workplace culture often encompasses an environment of complex language. In order to build an inclusive work environment, in which individuals could thrive, managers were trained in clean language skills.
“If we make communication easy for people with autism we make it easier for all of us,” said Sharon.
So how can businesses be more inclusive of workers with autism and help them overcome the daily challenges they face in office culture?
“Whilst some managers may be nervous about implementing workplace adjustments, and getting it right, our experience shows that reasonable adjustments are typically straightforward and low cost. It can be as simple as someone having their back to a wall in the office or wearing headphones whilst they work. It’s just about asking individuals what they need, instead of making assumptions,” said Sharon.
The results of the programme have been inspirational. A year on, all the candidates are still working at the council. One candidate said:
“It’s changed my life. I’ve grown in confidence and self-belief.”
What they contributed has been phenomenal. One came up with new efficient processes which has saved a lot of time for a team and individuals.
Others had ideas for products and improvements to client services. One is now on an apprenticeship programme, two are in permanent positions and the further two have had their contracts extended.
“We’ve had to start a waiting list of managers for the next programme,” said Sharon.
The outcome of the programme’s success is that it is now embedded as a permanent feature, driven by the chief executive that committed the funding.
So what does Sharon think has been the most positive impact of the programme?
“For me, the success is that the programme has enabled some of the young people to begin to embrace what makes them different and for the first time really see their individual talents. Historically, many people have adopted a deficit model of autism and other neurodiverse conditions. Work such as this challenge that model by highlighting innate strengths and creating an environment in which people can flourish. It’s important that everyone has real opportunities in life, in and out of work, and the programme has helped the candidates grow in confidence in both.”