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Leeds Beckett project to boost job prospects for graduates with autism

The IMAGE project (Improving Employability of Autistic Graduates In Europe) led by Dr Marc Fabri aims to address this employment gap by focusing on the transition from higher education into the world of work, and the support universities and employers can provide during this transition.

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The prevalence of autism is approximately 1% of the population and autistic students are entering higher education at an increasing and unprecedented rate. These students are academically competent and might achieve better than their non-autistic peers. Unfortunately, at the end of their studies a large proportion of autistic graduates are left without employment. Leeds Beckett University will be working in partnership with Free University Amsterdam, University of Helsinki, Medical School Berlin and the University of Toulouse to look at ways in which the Universities can support the transition into the world of work and improve the prospects for autistic graduates.

What is the problem?

We know that many autistic graduates are unemployed despite having excellent qualifications. In fact, autistic graduates have many qualities that can make them desirable employees – such as attention to detail, passion for their subject, the ability to see things from a different angle, honesty, loyalty, working longer hours and punctuality. However, employers can be weary to recruit autistic graduates and are often not aware of the benefits they can bring to the business.

Particularly the interview process is a big hurdle, as highlighted in a recent Times article "We are wasting the talents of autistic people" and in The Guardian article "Autism in the workplace is an opportunity, not a drawback". It appears that jobs are often awarded based on interview ‘chemistry’, not on who would be the best employee in the long run. This is a loss to society, to businesses, and prevents many young people from fulfilling their potential.

Many large companies have discovered the benefits autistic employees can bring. For instance Microsoft launched their Autism Hiring Programme in October 2017 and SAP produced a fantastic video last year highlighting the benefits their autistic employees bring to the business (see SAP Autism at Work Overview video). These are just two examples, but any company of any size can potentially benefit from hiring autistic members of staff.

How we will tackle it

The IMAGE team wants to talk to employers to learn about their experiences and their concerns regarding hiring autistic people. We will also talk to autistic employees and students, as well as staff at universities. We will then produce a guide for employers to better understand the benefits and implications of hiring an autistic graduate, develop an interactive employability toolkit for autistic students, and create training materials for careers advisors in universities. The long-term impact of IMAGE will be greater autism awareness amongst employers, better support at universities, and ultimately more autistic graduates in employment.

How employers can get involved

If you have experience of interviewing or recruiting autistic employees, we would like to hear from you. This may be a conversation with one of our researchers, or we invite you to one of our workshops that we’ll run between now and February 2020. Even if you have never (knowingly) employed an autistic person, but you think your business might benefit from the skills many autistic people have, we would like to hear from you.

Please contact Dr Marc Fabri at m.fabri@leedsbeckett.ac.uk or call 0113 81 23317.

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Dr Marc Fabri

Marc is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Technology and an experienced researcher and innovator. He leads the Enabling Technologies Research Group which brings together researchers from digital health & well-being, participatory design, computing and user experience design.

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