With employment opportunities for people with autism gaining public attention on TV shows like Kitchen Impossible and The Autistic Gardener, Merseyside-based charity Autism Initiatives is empowering local businesses to reap the rewards of employing people with autism.
One in 100 people in the UK are estimated to have Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), which accounts for more than 600,000 people. Only 12% of those are in full-time employment, compared to 49% of people with general disabilities. However, research suggests that people with ASC thrive in a structured, well organised environment and can be excellent employees when their strengths are nurtured. A theory popularised by Channel 4 programmes Kitchen Impossible, fronted by chef Michel Roux Jr, and The Autistic Gardener.
Parent charity Autism Initiatives’ mission is to meet the needs of people with autism, their families and carers by providing a range of services that are personal, professional and innovative. With the new Care Act legislature promising to connect more adults with their communities in England, Autism Initiatives believe there has never been a better opportunity for local businesses to follow in Roux Jr’s footsteps and employ recruits with autism.
The development of Autism Initiatives’ Social Enterprise businesses, including award-winning cafe A Great Little Place, is part of the organisation’s overall strategy to support individuals with autism to lead productive and fulfilling lives. It is the organisation’s belief that all people with autism, irrespective of the severity of their needs and difficulties, have potential to make a valued and valuable contribution to society.
Susan Yarnell, Café Manager at A Great Little Place, said: “We want to reach out to local businesses and employers to encourage them to take on staff with Autism Spectrum Condition. With the correct support, people with autism are able to quickly learn and follow work-based routines. Their singular focus, attention to detail, and motivation to reach the end of a task are actually great strengths in a work-based environment.
“With our support, we believe there are ample opportunities for work placements that can be hugely rewarding for employers and staff with autism alike. These could be voluntary positions or short-term contracts. It is simply a matter of untapping the potential that we know exists within the community and among the highly trained individuals who have come through our system.”
Prominent US-based advocate for inclusive recruitment, Randy Lewis, is living proof that Autism Initiatives’ ‘business not charity’ approach to recruitment works in practice. Inspired by his son, Austin, who has autism, the former senior vice-president of America’s largest online pharmacy, Walgreen, employed thousands of employees with disabilities during his 16-year tenure. Now, 35% of the company’s distribution centre workforce is comprised of people with disabilities and the model is being rolled out by British retailers, including Boots and Marks & Spencer.
Susan added: “We are very much aiming to shift perceptions here, just as Randy Lewis did in America. This isn’t about tokenism, it is about equal opportunities based on merit. Walgreens discovered that far from damaging profits, employing people with disabilities had zero negative effect on their performance, with the added bonus that absenteeism and safety costs went down. The message is that employing people with disabilities, particularly autism, won’t hurt your bottom line but it will almost certainly enrich your front line.”
Autism Initiatives currently has vacancies for people with autism to join their work placement scheme at A Great Little Place. Each placement is carefully tailored to suit individual needs and interested applicants are encouraged to apply within for further details.
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