Some 700,000 people in the UK have autism and yet just 16% of autistic adults are in full time paid employment. This, realised the Civil Service, was not just a waste of potential talent to the organisation but also to the wider UK employment market.
“The young autistic interns emerge with confidence and knowledge that they can thrive at work”
Cue its Fast Stream’s ‘Developing An Autism Friendly Culture’ project which promotes the benefits of neuro-diversity. It set up an Autism Exchange Internship Programme (AEIP) to support those on the autism spectrum by providing work experience, skills events, coaching and other interventions. It brought in multiple stakeholders to ensure success and has enjoyed support from senior leaders, many at Permanent Secretary level, who regularly champion its impact. In total 11 Civil Service departments were hosts in 2018, rising to 18 in 2019, and the number of interns has increased from 19 interns last year to 34 this year.
Ambitious about Autism, a specialist autism agency, supports all elements of the programme, from sourcing young people on the autism spectrum to providing manager awareness training. Each intern is supported by a departmental buddy and line manager who receive specialist guidance to build their knowledge and capability of working successfully with autistic people. They learn that even small adjustments can enable autistic people to thrive in the workplace.
Highly encouraging results have resulted. Ambitious about Autism reports that 84% of known programme participants achieved a job role, placement or study opportunity following the internship – a huge leap on the overall 16% in full time employment. Importantly, 100% of managers report an increase in understanding of autism, 94% increased confidence in supporting someone in the workplace with autism and the young autistic interns emerge with confidence and knowledge that they can thrive at work. So successful has it been that the scheme has now been taken up by some of the UK’s leading employers.