Neurodiversity in the workplace will stall without support from FE

The latest Neurodiversity Index shows substantial barriers to workplace inclusion remain – and FE can play an important role in overcoming them

The latest Neurodiversity Index shows substantial barriers to workplace inclusion remain – and FE can play an important role in overcoming them

23 Mar 2024, 5:00

Young learners are contending with a range of challenges and one area that is often overlooked is how neurodiversity can be better supported as people train and enter the workplace. Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords; they are essential components of success.

However, the City & Guilds Foundation’s Neurodiversity Index 2024 shows that neurodiversity is still not given the attention it deserves. Whether learners and younger workers have been diagnosed with ADHD, are on the autism spectrum or have a learning disability, neurodivergent people face significant challenges entering the workforce and thriving in the workplace when they do.

According to this new piece of research, half of neurodivergent employees in the workplace have missed work due to a lack of support for the challenges they face with their condition. This is the workplace that young people across training providers and colleges when they leave their educational settings.

The report also shows that 36 per cent of neurodivergent employees have received no guidance or support in their work environment while 20 per cent are waiting for adjustments to be put into place. Understandably, this exacerbates feelings of isolation and hinders productivity.

Most concerning of all, the survey shows that only 49 per cent of employers say that disability and inclusion policies are important to them, down from 53 per cent in the Neurodiversity Index 2023. These statistics are a sobering reminder of the obstacles faced by those who aren’t neurotypical, and quite often these obstacles don’t start when someone enters work but much earlier in their lives.

The rise in diagnoses of neurodivergence, especially among young people, in recent years further emphasises the urgency of creating inclusive workplaces for the future. For instance, between 1998 and 2018, the UK saw a staggering 787 per cent increase in diagnoses of autism, while another study shows a 20-fold increase in diagnoses of ADHD between 2000 and 2018.

Embracing neurodiversity is a moral and strategic imperative

With such a substantial rise, we must adapt to support cohorts of young people who will be entering the workplace. Their greater representation is inevitable, and they need to be supported to offer their full potential. This means tackling practices that perpetuate the exclusion of neurodivergent individuals, but also empowering them to make the transition from education to the world of work and to advocate for themselves with their future employers.

While our report focuses on actionable steps that businesses can take to foster neuroinclusive environments, there are learnings too for those that are nurturing our young people as they prepare for work. This includes:

  • Rolling out mandatory neuro-inclusion training to support tutors, trainers and staff not only to increase their knowledge and awareness but also to make necessary adaptations where required
  • Adopting ‘Neurodiversity Champions’ who can model best practice and provide a first port of call for young people who are seeking advice
  • Encouraging young people to look for organisations that adopt inclusive practices during the hiring process, for example those that make job descriptions accessible or provide questions before an interview to allow for preparation
  • Ensuring that physical, technological, and communication accommodations are in place to support all learners to succeed.

Embracing neurodiversity isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s also a strategic one. By tapping into the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals, businesses stand to gain a competitive edge.

Many neurodivergent individuals possess highly valued attributes such as enhanced creativity and ‘thinking outside of the box’ as well as heightened analytical and problem-solving skills—qualities that are particularly sought after in future-facing growth industries like tech.

As has been written in these pages before, further education is ideally placed not only to empower neurodivergent learners but also to work with partners in the business community to advocate for and support the development of more inclusive workplaces. And of course, colleges and training providers are employers too, who can model this important work.

As we strive to build more inclusive societies, let us remember that diversity extends beyond what meets the eye. By embracing neurodiversity, we create environments where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Read the full City & Guilds Neurodiversity Index Report 2024 here

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