Yesterday, the National Autistic Society, alongside the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), hosted a great event bringing together autistic people, employers and the Government to talk about employment and our charity’s important Autism Employment Gap campaign. We were very pleased to welcome the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton MP, to talk about how the Government will meet its pledge to halve the disability employment gap and to meet with employers.

A range of employers heard first-hand about the barriers to work faced by autistic people as well as some examples of how they can adapt their recruitment practices to make them more autism friendly. It also provided an opportunity for employers to tell us and the Government what information and advice they need to employ more autistic people. Before splitting into groups to discuss different approaches to recruiting autistic people, potential issues around supporting autistic people through changes, and differing levels of autism knowledge from employers, we heard from the Minister, the President of the CIPD Sir Cary Cooper, Sarah Davis, a young autistic woman, and our Chief Executive Mark Lever. Highlighting our charity’s Autism Employment Gap research, Mark said: “the vast majority of autistic adults want to work, but only 16% are in full time paid employment.  This statistic needs to change.”

The Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton said: “the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone in the country achieves their full potential” and she urged employers to sign up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme. She also spoke about the importance of the Government’s Access to Work scheme, which provides support to make workplace adjustments for disabled people in employment. This is especially important for smaller employers.

The employers and Minister also heard from Procter & Gamble, who worked with Emily Swiatek from the National Autistic Society’s employment, training and consultancy team to adapt their recruitment processes to make the workplace more accessible for autistic people.  They gave examples of how they tailored an internship programme specifically for young autistic people, including offering work trials instead of interviews, so autistic candidates could demonstrate their skills in a practical way.

Sarah Davis, spoke about her personal experience of applying for jobs, and how flexible working hours, step-by-step instructions and having managers who understood how autism affected her at work had really helped her in the workplace.

We then held workshops, where everyone discussed how they can improve accessibility to the workforce and what support they need to do this.  Our Autism Employment Gap report previously found that 60% of employers worry about getting support for autistic employees wrong and that they don’t know where to go for advice. So this was their opportunity to ask questions and tell us what sort of information and support would help them. The findings of the group discussions, together with our charity’s Autistic Talent survey, which we are currently promoting to employers, will help us make more employers aware of the strengths of autistic people. We will also use the information from the workshops and all the employers’ feedback in all our future work influencing Government on employment policy.