Supporting people on the autism spectrum – The Empower Programme

Victoria Reynolds

Victoria Reynolds is a career engagement and liaison officer for Merseyside Health Sector Careers and Engagement Hub hosted at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. She works across the region to promote the breadth of careers and roles within the NHS.

I recently learnt some key facts:

  • around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum
  • only one in six autistic adults are in full-time employment
  • some of those that are employed are often in jobs below their ability.

These statistics struck me, and I began considering how we could tackle this situation. I had been inspired by Bath University’s summer school which runs a three-day residential trip for young people on the autism spectrum to experience life as a university student. This includes talks from other students on the autism spectrum and a tour of the campus.

I was excited thinking about how simple steps – such as raising awareness of employment opportunities and providing support on employment preparation - could go some way to enabling this huge talent pool to access their chosen career path and, also, benefit the NHS in dealing with some of its workforce shortages.

I started out by calling the project the Empower Programme, as I wanted it to represent the underlying objective of empowering younger people to carve out their own careers, with the right support and guidance. I also decided that, to maximise opportunities, it was essential to roll the pilot out across Merseyside and Cheshire.

I started meeting with representatives from the universities, in particular, outreach and widening participation leads, graduate employment leads and student services. I then began engaging with heads of education and HR leads at local trusts.

To date, I‘ve had really positive feedback from both local universities and NHS organisations across the region on the proposed framework which will include the following activities.

  • Winter Careers Fair 2018
    This will target 16 to 18-year-olds on the autism spectrum who have career aspirations to go to university. Individuals will be able to speak with universities representatives to find out what support they will receive and gain an insight into careers in the health sector. (See Victoria's second blog for an update on the careers fair.)
  • Spring pre-employment workshop
    Final year university students will be invited to apply for a place on a two-day pre-employment workshop to support them with the transition from university to employment. It will cover a range of topics such as interview skills and techniques. It will also offer NHS focused sessions to develop an understanding of various careers and what it’s like to work in the NHS.
  • Supported internship
    Students that complete the two-day workshop will then be eligible to apply for a summer internship with a trust, where they can gain real-life insight into what it is like to work in the NHS. Following the internship, those individuals would ideally go on to obtain an interview for a bank, apprenticeship or permanent post in an NHS organisation.   

This is a pilot programme running for 2018/19, and I hope that we can widen the applicant pool to an even broader range of roles in the future.

Victoria will be updating us on her progress of implementing the Empower Programme in December 2018 following the Winter Careers Fair. For further information and to secure your free ticket at the event please visit the event page .

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