How can employers help to close the “autism employment gap”?

Small adjustments in the workplace can help employees with autism.
Small adjustments in the workplace can help employees with autism. Photo: Monkey Business Images

A report published last week by the National Autistic Society has called on employers to help close the “autism employment gap”, after revealing that only 16% of those with autism are in full-time paid work.

Released as part of the National Autistic Society’s three-year Too Much Information campaign, the research also highlighted that just 32% are in some kind of paid work, compared with 47% of people with a disability and 80% of people with no disability.

Four in 10 of those with autism say they have never worked, despite three-quarters stating that they want, and are willing, to work.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Not all autistic people are able to work. But many are, and are desperate to find a job which reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and adjustments to the recruitment process and workplace, they can be a real asset.”

Ensuring a diverse workforce

Organisations that fail to tap into the talent on offer by employing one of the estimated 450,000 autistic people of working age in the UK are missing out on key skills such as tenacity, thinking differently and attention to detail, the charity says.

Some employers that are recognising the importance of these skills and actively recruiting employees with autism include Microsoft and GCHQ. However, the research discovered that it is also the arts that appeal, with 11% of respondents saying they wanted to work in this area, compared with 10% that want to work in IT.

Misconceptions

Offering apprenticeships or work experience/volunteering opportunities is a good way to provide autistic people with employment opportunities, but it is the barriers they face in the workplace that is the biggest hurdle.

A main source of apprehension stems from a lack of support – a recent YouGov poll revealed that 60% of employers worry about “getting it wrong” in terms of support for an autistic employee, and they don’t know who to turn to for support and advice.

Lever agrees: “Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But our research shows that autistic people are being failed by Government programmes and overlooked by employers – in many cases because of misconceptions about what autism is and worries about getting it wrong.”

Support for employers

Employers do not need to make huge adjustments in the workplace. Small changes could include greater communication and training around autism, allowing employees to wear headphones or ear defenders if they are overwhelmed, and allowing them, where possible, to use their preferred way of communicating.

Employers also need to be made aware of the help and support at their disposal, including the Government’s Access to Work scheme, which has not been used to its full potential.

A range of resources have been launched by the Society itself, including a newsletter (Autistic Talent). It also has a training and consultancy team that offers direct, tailored support, and it wants to encourage businesses to work with it towards a new Autism Friendly Employer Award.

Lever said: “Autistic people have so much to offer. They just need a chance.”

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