As the focal point of my final feature for the July 2014 issue of Autism in Practice, I had the opportunity to explore the relationship between The National Autistic Society and Tate in assisting people with autism in employment. As this is an area I’m passionate about from personal experience, it was a pleasure to find out how employees with autism are now being successfully integrated into the workplace.
Only 15% of all people with autism in Great Britain are currently in full-time employment.
The National Autistic Society offer specialist training and consultancy services to employers to help recruiters and managers to become autism confident. Eleanor Martin, Manager of The National Autistic Society’s Employment Training Service, says: “For many people with autism, all they need is a combination of the right support and the opportunity to make their ambitions a reality.”
Jack has Asperger’s syndrome. He is a trainee within the Collection Care department at Tate. He is part of a team that protect Tate’s catalogue of artwork.
Nikki Dinan, Tate’s Training Programme Manager, runs Tate’s Skills for the Future programme that is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“In our Paintings and Frames department, we were looking for a trainee to carry out the role of a Paintings and Frames Technician. One of the requirements of the role was to have a carpentry qualification. We received applications from some students, including Jack, from The Buildings Craft College who specialise in wood and stone masonry”, says Nikki.
“We recognised that some of the young people coming to interviews may be extremely nervous, especially coming into a large organisation like Tate, and that this could be their first interview. We allowed for this and scored applicants on their transferrable skills and the benefit to them as an individual.
“If we were to have just assessed the applicants on their written and verbal communication skills, this would have been a clear barrier for Jack.”
How the NAS and Tate have worked together
The NAS conducted a workplace assessment and produced a report outlining specific strategies and reasonable adjustments that would be useful for Jack to enable him to succeed in his role and complete his traineeship.
Following this, the NAS delivered an autism awareness session for Jack’s colleagues. The session enabled Jack’s team to build an understanding of autism and how to work with Jack effectively.
Jack attended a two-day work skills training course at the NAS for employees with autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, covering topics including organisation, communication and assertiveness.
Nikki, Jack and Jack’s supervisor receive ongoing support from an NAS workplace support consultant.
Nikki says: “The involvement from the NAS at a crucial stage has been fundamental for Tate. My personal knowledge of autism was limited before coming to this role.
“Having a trainee with Asperger’s has enabled us to learn a huge amount about autism and what this means for an individual. Having the opportunity to work with somebody with autism has been of huge benefit.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to be involved in the development of an individual who on the very first day found it extremely difficult to speak to anyone. Jack now communicates with colleagues and other trainees with confidence.”
Nikki used Access to Work funding to provide the workplace assessment, training and ongoing mentoring for Jack.
Nikki believes there should be a change in employers’ attitudes towards autism.
She says: “I think there is a lack of understanding around autism and much work is needed to raise awareness of the benefits of employing someone with autism as well as the benefits to the individual. It is important for people to understand that autism affects people in many different ways.”
Nikki believes giving a young person with autism a chance to become employed can create a better future for both the employer and the employee:
“It is essential young people with autism have opportunities to fulfil their ambitions and to be a member of an organisation who is truly valued for their skills and abilities. If we can provide these opportunities at the start of a person’s career, then it is more likely people with autism will continue to progress and remain in employment.”