The Empower Programme - Careers fair for autistic students

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.

You will remember from my first blog on the Empower Programme (a project to raise awareness of employment opportunities for young people on the autism spectrum) that I was planning three stages of support: a careers fair, a pre-employment workshop, and a supported internship.

We recently launched the first phase - the careers fair - which was held at the City of Liverpool College. More than 90 parents, teachers and autistic students attended, keen to find out about applying to university, what kind of support is available, and to explore the range of opportunities in the health sector. 

It was amazing to have 25 different exhibitors there on the day, including a range of trusts and universities from across Merseyside and Cheshire. The trusts were there to showcase the broad range of roles in the NHS and were represented by specialists from IT, finance, marketing, engineering, clinical research and clinical coding to name a few! 

Here are some of the comments that the employers shared on what they learned from the day: 

“The event made me consider some of the barriers that might exist within our organisation and have given me some ideas to take back. I overheard some great feedback from one family who said they had found out so much useful information. One student we spoke to said she had never considered working in the NHS but now she most definitely would.”

“It was so rewarding to actually have the time and space to have meaningful conversations with both parents and students. I really think that this has all the makings of an annual, if not more regular, event, and I would be more than happy to be involved.”

It was also hugely beneficial for our visitors who had access to a wealth of information in one place. Feedback from the attendees (including students and their parents) included:

“My son is feeling very inspired and motivated by the event and has opened himself up to new avenues of pursuing his love of biology. He's now going to look into the apprenticeship or supported internship route and has gathered information on gaining voluntary work in the hospital environment over the next 12 months.”

• “Speaking to representatives from trusts and universities, I was assured of the welcoming that my son with autism would receive as he moves into the adult world.”

“The event opened my eyes to umpteen opportunities that I was totally unaware of.”

“Meeting lots of new people, being able to talk openly about my education, being treated and spoken to as an adult. Everybody was very warm and welcoming!”

There is a wide and neurodiverse pool of talented individuals out there, and with the right support and some simple adjustments, they could make a real difference in terms of the contribution they could make to our NHS workforce.

I will be reporting back on how the spring pre-employment workshop goes later in the year. 

Read Victoria's first blog on the Empower Programme.

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