A PIONEERING project is under way at Russell Taylor Group to break down jobs barriers for young people with autism.
Behind the initiative is company chairman Peter Russell whose programme of work placements is giving students a chance to get on the jobs ladder by working in administration and IT roles at the business’ headquarters in Bromborough along with other employer partners.
Peter said: “Years of mentoring and coaching students to get them work-ready has shown me there’s a huge amount of hidden workplace talent out there, particularly among young people with autism who deserve every opportunity to find employment.
“Those in our first cohort are displaying strengths and skills going way beyond our expectations and who, with the right support, development and real-time working experience, will be set on the road to jobs they might once have thought impossible.”
Russell Taylor Group is working in partnership on its employability programme with Merseyside’s Hugh Baird College which matches students’ individual career aspirations with business leaders who can offer suitable placements and the right support for young people with autism.
Rachel Caswell, the college’s study programme co-ordinator, explained: “It’s very hard to find good, supportive and meaningful work placements but Peter, after informing him I was looking for business administration and IT placements for two learners on the autistic spectrum, was keen from the outset to meet them as he realised they were very employable but needed some extra support.
“He carried out mock interviews and was so impressed with them that he offered them placements straight away, both doing two days a week at the company’s head office.
“Companies like Russell Taylor Group which offer students work experience on a supported internship don’t realise how much they are impacting on young people’s work ethic and confidence. They get to have a hands-on work placement and build the skills they need to gain future employment - good attendance, punctuality, team work and communication are all accomplishments that these students need to make them employable.”
The Russell Taylor Group move to include people with autism in its workforce forms part of the company’s ideals to break down barriers to employment. Peter, a keen champion of developing and nurturing young talent within his own organisation, also gives massive help and support to the employability team at The Hive Youth Zone in Birkenhead by providing work placements for young people - many from disadvantaged backgrounds - to set them on the road to employment and offer them real solutions to getting jobs.
Peter continued: “As a coach and mentor currently working among local young people to help them overcome difficulties to getting jobs, it became apparent that many on the autistic spectrum can, with the right development and support, become highly skilled and extremely employable.
“They often have above average talents and strengths that enable them to thrive in the workplace with attributes such as high levels of concentration, reliability, accuracy and close attention to detail. Many also have great technical ability in the fields of IT, have excellent memories and detailed factual knowledge.
“However, they can be disadvantaged when it comes to getting and keeping a job, often due to difficulties with interaction and communication skills and sometimes lack of understanding by other people.”
According to the National Autistic Society, just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid work in the UK and, overall, only 32 per cent of autistic adult are in some kind of paid work. The charity says employment won’t be right for all autistic people but 77 per cent of unemployed adults they surveyed said they wanted to work.
Peter said: “Our employability programme is a unique way of opening up doors to real jobs for these young people and it’s wonderful to see their confidence growing as they become an integral part of our head office team. There’s obviously a huge autism employment gap and we’re doing all we can to help tackle the problem.”
Yana Williams, chief executive and principal at Hugh Baird College, added: “Our students on the supported internship programme are extremely employable and can bring so much to a variety of job roles, they just need companies like Russell Taylor Group to give them a chance.
“They need employers to be patient with them and give them a little extra support and time to help them build the valuable skills they need to succeed in their chosen careers.
“I would like to thank Peter Russell and the team for believing in our learners and I’d encourage others to follow their lead.”