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Why autism needn’t be a barrier to finding a job

Autism and learning difficulties can often make recruitment difficult – for both the candidate and the employer. Can local forums help overcome such barriers to finding a job, and enable companies to make their workforce more diverse?

Here Sue Webster, Employer Engagement Officer at SkillsHouse Bradford and Caron Munro, Development and Programme Manager at Lighthouse Futures Trust, discuss with UCan2 the Employers’ Forum in Yorkshire which has been set up to find more people a suitable job. 

When it comes to getting young people with autism or learning difficulties into work, what are the most common barriers to recruitment?

A young woman in a job interview

The whole online recruitment and interview process is one of the main barriers to the young person as they may not have the written or verbal communication skills to sell themselves effectively. Therefore, employers who can offer a ‘working interview’ such as a supported internship, or work experience placements etc would give the young person the opportunity to demonstrate their hidden talents to the employer who will find it easier to recognise how they could benefit the company – and in many cases be the better candidate for the role.  

Employers may also feel uncertain about employing individuals with a learning difficulty and be concerned that they would not know how to give them the best experience at work, however with disability and/or Autism Awareness training this would not be an issue. 

A key to success lies in having fully trained job coaches on site who learn the role and support the interns throughout their placement. Employers who have hosted supported internships and who spoke at the Bradford Employer’s Forum Launch spoke very passionately about the effect on employer engagement for the whole company, focusing on diversity and inclusion which reflects their customer base. 

How did the idea for the Employer’s Forum come about: who is behind the launch? 

In November 2017, the government announced £9.7m for local authorities to increase the number of supported internships and other pathways to employment for young people with SEND, by establishing local supported internship forums and increasing the pool of expert job coaches available to support young people with SEND on work placements. Bradford City Council put the project out for tender and Lighthouse Futures Trust (LHFT), a Leeds-based charity, were the successful bidders. LHFT have been delivering supported internships since 2016 when they embarked on their first pilot with Yorkshire Water. The Leeds Employers Forum now includes organisations such as Johnson and Johnson, Sodexo, Anchor Hanover, KPMG, Burberry, John Lewis Partnership and Marriott Hotels. The members follow the journey of the interns and support the charity into getting them into paid work when internships finish.

Tell us about what happens at the Employer’s Forum…
The Employers’ Forum Launch was held in June this year at City Hall in Bradford. We had over 30 employers attending. Many of those expressed an interest in finding out more and arrangements were made to meet with them individually. The first Forum Meeting is kindly being hosted by Mark Cowgill of Exa Networks in Bradford in September. Employers who have an interest in offering support to young people with hidden talents will be attending. The support could range from hosting an internship, work experience placement, workplace visits, mentoring, providing industry-relevant courses, influencing changes to recruitment processes etc.

How will young people with autism or learning difficulties benefit from the Forum?

The young people furthest from employment will benefit by having direct access to major employers in the region. In Leeds the forum works because we do not always have to go through the usual recruitment process. Candidates are supported by a job coach who understands they way they like to learn. They are likely to feel more visible and supported when allowed to demonstrate what they can do. Going into a workplace is likely to increase self-respect, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. This means candidates are less likely to suffer from depression or a feeling of isolation by being at home all the time.

Are you still inviting more employers to join the Forum?

Yes – if any employers are interested in attending or finding out more about the Forum in Leeds or Bradford they can contact or 

Lighthouse Futures Trust Case Study: RossRoss is a Culinary Apprentice through the Lighthouse Futures Trust and loves his job

Here Jayne Uren, Human Resources Manager at Leeds Marriott Hotel, discusses her experience working with Ross Hall, who is on the autistic spectrum…

I would like to let you know how things are after several months of working with one of your students, Ross Hall.

Back in 2017 our Executive Chef and I visited Keepers Coffee & Kitchen in Cookridge, this was after we initially met and discussed a potential vacancy we had in our kitchen. We met Ross, who was at the time running the catering side of your establishment.

It didn’t take long for us to realise how passionate he was in what he did and also what he wanted to do. We saw his potential and wanted to help him with his next career journey. 

Ross was successful in his application for the role of Culinary Apprentice and he has been in his role now for 12 months. He is part of our MCAA Programme and has enrolled on his NVQ to complete the necessary training required for the Apprentice Chef role.

I cannot express how he has changed people’s mindsets and had brought a laughter and happiness to the team and within the hotel. We can see how your students have so much to offer if employers gave them an opportunity or a chance. They add value to your business and should be given every opportunity to succeed and grow as young people into adults.

The Leeds Marriott would love to continue to work with you and enrich our education with supporting young people in the workplace and hopefully we may be in a position to offer further employment.

If any companies have any doubts about building a partnership with you then I would say, this is their loss. 

We would also like to thank you for your continued support and welcoming us into your school.

Ross’s mum Rachel Miller added:

As a parent of a young person on the autistic spectrum, you worry about them all the time. As they get older one big worry is: are they going to work, and how will that work out? 

We were very lucky to get a huge amount of support from Lighthouse Futures Trust. They have helped Ross to gain an apprenticeship at Marriott Hotel in Leeds. 

Ross had never dared to dream about working somewhere like that, he just thought he would get a job in a little local cafe. Since he started working with Lighthouse Futures his confidence has soared. He now has a purpose in life and he feels valued. 

Though he does still struggle at work, I feel that Lighthouse Futures have worked closely with Marriott to help them understand that having a member of staff on the spectrum is different – and it will be a huge learning curve for everyone.

I cannot thank everyone at Lighthouse Futures enough for everything that they have helped Ross to do. He would not be the fabulous young man that he is today without all their help.

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