With the UK officially in recession for the first time in 11 years and unemployment increasing, the impact of Coronavirus is having far reaching consequences across all industries, including our own.
While this is very challenging and will continue to be so, the pandemic has also had an additional and perhaps less expected impact. It has shaken our assumptions about ‘traditional’ ways of working.
Many of us have spent months at home, meeting colleagues virtually, and we have had to come up with new approaches to working and new ways of thinking and problem-solving.
As we move forward in this new era, there is a real opportunity to embrace this change by building more neurodiversity into our industry.
Neuro-diverse minds have been responsible for some of the most significant developments in recent human history. From Bill Gates, who revolutionised access to personal computers through Microsoft, to Steve Jobs, creator of the smartphone that has transformed forever the way people interact all over the world.
These individuals broke the mould and drove the world forward – generating billions of pounds of profit in the process. And yet businesses still seem to overlook the rewards that can be reaped by hiring different thinkers.
In the UK, only 16% of people with autism are in full-time employment. This is not only a missed opportunity for our industry, but a huge waste of personal talent and potential.
As a business ambassador for the charity Ambitious about Autism, this is something I’m passionate about changing.
Autism is often described as a ‘hidden’ disability, and because of this there is still a lack of understanding and awareness about how to support autistic people in society. It can affect how a person communicates, processes information and interacts with the environment around them.
In a workplace this could mean an autistic person could struggle with a busy office environment, bright lighting or lots of verbal instructions. However, while they face challenges, research has proven that autistic employees have many qualities that enhance a workplace, including brilliant attention to detail, unique approaches to problem-solving, reliability and focus.
In this new era, these qualities have never been more important and that’s why it’s so important we seize this opportunity to widen our talent pool of neurodiverse employees.
There are barriers to overcome. Autistic people often struggle with rigid recruitment processes that do not allow them the chance to showcase their talent. They need to work with recruiters and managers who understand what autism is and how to get the best out of their autistic employees.
Ambitious about Autism’s Employ Autism programme is working with employers, young people and careers professionals to create a UK wide network of professionals with the skills, knowledge and expertise to support more autistic people into the workforce.
This programme is aiming to create a nationwide system change that will enable more excellent neurodiverse candidates to enter the job market by providing them with the support they need to thrive. This has never been more vital. Career prospects for autistic young people are already very low, and the economic downturn will only make it more difficult for them to get that first step on the job ladder.
The change thrust upon us by Coronavirus, has provided us with an opportunity to help these young people and develop more inclusive, flexible workplaces that allow autistic talent to shine. This will benefit not just a generation of autistic young people, but our whole industry.