Working with employers to make apprenticeships more accessible to autistic learners

Apprenticeships can extend opportunities and diversify our workforce – but employers need support to make it happen. Here’s how

Apprenticeships can extend opportunities and diversify our workforce – but employers need support to make it happen. Here’s how

11 Feb 2024, 5:00

According to government statistics, fewer than three in ten autistic people are in work.

Yet autistic students may bring highly-prized attributes such as tenacity, seeing things in a different light, heightened analysis and confidence in problem-solving. These characteristics may be additionally attractive to some highly-skilled industries like tech, particularly when combined with advanced abilities in coding and programming, or excellent memory, which many autistic people can display.

However, our autistic students frequently tell us that applying for jobs or starting new roles can be overwhelming, with lots of quick-fire questions, noisy open-plan offices and anxieties over following unwritten social rules.

And on the other hand, many employers want to attract autistic applicants but simply aren’t sure about how to make their environment more accessible. As providers, our insights and expertise can play a positive intermediary role.

Here are some of the suggestions we can and should be passing on to our employer partners:

Recruitment

Implement inclusive recruitment processes that accommodate different communication styles and support neurodiversity. Offer clear, straightforward application instructions and consider alternative methods of assessment.

Support

Provide tailored support systems including mentors or job coaches to help autistic apprentices and those with special educational needs more broadly to integrate into the workplace. This can enhance their learning experience and overall job satisfaction.

Flexibility

Create flexible work environments that can adapt to individual needs. This may involve adjusting work schedules, providing quiet spaces or allowing for remote work when necessary. Create a structured and predictable work environment. Autistic individuals often thrive in routines and predictability, so establishing clear patterns and expectations can contribute to their success.

Communication

Foster clear and open communication channels. Clearly outline expectations, tasks and goals, and be receptive to different communication styles such as written communication or visual aids.

Colleagues

Conduct training sessions for existing staff to raise awareness about neurodiversity, autism, and SEND. This can help create a more supportive and understanding workplace culture.

Sensitivities

Be mindful of sensory sensitivities. Create a workspace that takes into account potential sensory challenges, such as providing quiet areas, minimising fluorescent lighting or allowing the use of noise-cancelling headphones.

Customisation

Develop apprenticeship programmes that can be customised to suit individual learning styles. This may involve incorporating hands-on experiences, visual aids or other accommodations to enhance the learning process.

Adaptability

Establish a system for regular feedback and adjustments. Check in with apprentices to understand their progress, address concerns and make necessary accommodations to ensure a positive learning experience.

Collaboration

Collaborate with support organisations that specialise in working with individuals with SEND and autism. Seek guidance and resources to enhance your company’s ability to create an inclusive and supportive apprenticeship programme.

Lifelong learning

Work with local schools, colleges and other providers to create careers networks where business and education can support one another to nurture talent and develop a local supply of engaged staff.

Disability Confident

Employer partners may be interested to know that many of these approaches are included in the government’s Disability Confident Scheme, which offers a positive, practical framework to improve how they recruit and retain disabled staff. This can make for a stronger workforce and also allows customers and other businesses to identify those who are committed to workplace equality.

Access to Work funding

It is worth reminding employer partners that not all of these adaptations need to be paid for by them. Schemes like Access to Work support disabled people to start or stay in work and can be used to cover the cost of support or adaptations beyond reasonable adjustments. For example, adaptations to equipment, a support worker to help an autistic employee in the workplace or disability awareness training for colleagues with whom the autistic staff member will work.  

By sharing this advice we are giving employer partners practical suggestions for fostering an inclusive work environment while also creating a more diverse, skilled and profitable workforce that can support their overall business goals.

And of course all of that applies to us as employers too.

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