Loyal, hard-working and....overlooked, why autistic jobseekers can make exceptional employees

Thanks to popular television programmes, such as ‘The A Word’ and ’Employable Me’, autism is not only being talked about - it is being celebrated. The two BBC series address autism using different approaches. ‘The A Word’ is a drama about a family discovering their 5-year-old son, Joe, has autism, whilst ‘Employable Me,’ is a documentary in which jobseekers aim to prove that having a neurological condition, including autism, shouldn’t render them unemployable. But with just 15% of autistic adults in full-time employment, what can be done to support a greater number into work?

The documentary focuses on both the challenges and strengths of those with autism, moving away from a narrow focus on disability and instead encouraging an enlightened approach to recruitment. There is a strong business case for this. Hiring a person with disabilities has been shown to have significant benefits for employers. In a recent survey, 87% of companies reported that by bringing a person with disabilities on board, they gained a valuable and retainable employee, while almost 70% of employers found that their working environment improved. There is also evidence of higher retention rates with disabled employees and commercial benefits from better customer service.

The series is supported by experts such as Professor Simon Baron Cohen, Director of the Austism Research Centre at Cambridge University, who has empirically demonstrated the benefits of hiring someone on the autistic spectrum. Viewers see how the condition can be beneficial to certain industries and how these skills are harnessed to make them exceptional employees.

But Professor Baron Cohen isn’t the only person fighting the cause for the neurodiverse and employment. There is a network of people behind the scenes, delivering intensive, motivational and highly personalised services to help people find meaningful work. Despite the success of this approach, many will be unfamiliar with the holistic employability services delivered by companies, such as Kennedy Scott, who help many to secure work every day.

Kennedy Scott is a specialist provider for jobseekers with a disability and complex conditions and is one of just six prime providers delivering the government’s new national pan-disability Specialist Employability Support programme. The programme plays a vital role in the government’s bold ambition to halve the ‘disability gap’ in employment rates. At the heart of these services lies Kennedy Scott’s innovative ‘Circle of Support’ model, where each jobseeker is supported by a dedicated Caseworker who seeks to co-ordinate every relevant person in that jobseeker’s life, and bring them into the Circle of Support. This ensures a shared vision, shared responsibilities and a shared journey, with a network of support in place both in and out of work. This includes Kennedy Scott Caseworkers and Employer Account Managers, YMCA Activity Co-ordinators, friends, families, GPs, social workers and disability specialists.

This multidisciplinary approach has been common in NHS provision for some time, including in dementia care, where evaluations have demonstrated consistently improved outcomes. However, Kennedy Scott’s innovation is to bring the methodology into employment support provision. This draws on the expertise of both internal and external experts where specialist services are embedded within their centres. So far, it has been a huge success with many overcoming their barriers and moving towards, or into employment. And the company’s approach is working, evident by their results, placed top of the supplier league table and being the first provider of Specialist Employability Support in the country to place somebody into work.

Kennedy Scott works closely with local businesses and has strong employer partnerships across the country. Often they find employers are apprehensive about recruiting somebody with a disability because they aren’t sure how to best support them. For this reason, they include the employer in the 'Circle of Support' – smoothing the transition into work and enabling them to collaboratively and pro-actively tackle any issues which arise, as well as support progression objectives.

Expert advice is offered to disabled jobseekers, drawing on specialist partnerships with external organisations, including the National Autistic Society and the Royal Mencap Society to ensure that jobseekers, and employers, are getting the very best advice. These ‘Circle of Support’ partners regularly deliver disability training to all of Kennedy Scott's staff on Specialist Employability Support to ensure they are disability aware and can confidently address the needs of jobseekers.

Kennedy Scott also delivers the Department for Work and Pension’s Work Choice programme, in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Berkshire. With a similar client group to Specialist Employability Support, the provision has seen hundreds of jobseekers with a disability secure sustainable employment, including those who have a form of Autism.

Rhys, 22, is one of many to benefit from Kennedy Scott’s services. Rhys, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggled with the unsystematic routine at university and subsequently decided to leave education. After leaving, he found himself unemployed and struggling to find work. When he joined Kennedy Scott he found it difficult to make eye-contact and to communicate with strangers, which is a world away from the Rhys we see today. He has been in sustainable employment for nearly two years now and is confident and flourishing since securing the full-time position as a Retail Sales Assistant at Currys. Here, he is progressing well and is looking to move out of his family home to extend his new-found independence.

James, 28, is currently on Kennedy Scott’s Specialist Employability Support programme. Bullied during his school years due to his Asperger’s Syndrome, James left education with no formal qualifications. Shortly after, he enrolled onto a college entry level Maths and English course, but due to his condition struggled to reach completion and has remained unemployed since 2005. Kennedy Scott is in the process of arranging one-to-one Maths and English tutoring for James so that he can gain qualifications as he struggles in a classroom environment. James’s mum has been involved in his journey as part of his 'Circle of Support' to provide extra support with his transition from benefits to a wage. James, has a strong interest in trains, common in people with his condition, and also enjoys cleaning. His condition would be a strength in the workplace, fixated by routine he would follow a rota closely with great detail, making him less likely to make the mistakes others without the condition might. Previously, his Caseworker would accompany him whilst handing out his CV but most recently he travelled alone to London and proactively approached station staff for a job- exemplifying his new-found confidence.

Not only do programmes like Work Choice and Specialist Employability Support help boost the economy, they have a transformative effect on the lives of the individuals securing jobs, giving them financial security, confidence and greater independence. Personalised, holistic support and an enthusiastic open-door approach from employers can combine to help close the disability gap and build more diverse workplaces.