What is the Autism Employment Gap?
According to the latest ONS reports, 81.3% of non-disabled people are in employment compared to a 52.1% average of disabled people, a difference of 29.7%. This is referred to as the Disability Employment Gap. But this is not the biggest gap. When we compare the employment figures of the disabled average and autism, according to the ONS, the percentage of autistic people in employment stands at 22%, a difference of 30.4%. This is, by far, the lowest rate among the entire disabled community. In fact, the two next lowest employment rates are conditions that are typically linked to autism; for those with learning disabilities, the rate stands at 26.5 and for mental health conditions, 33.3%. What makes these statistics particularly alarming is that, most autistic people in other surveys conducted by charities such as The National Autistic Society have stated that they want to work but are being overlooked.
So how did we get here?
There could be many barriers to gaining or keeping employment for people with autism. But some of the main factors include:
A severe lack of confidence among the autistic population
One of the major challenges to building careers for autistic adults is their confidence or lack thereof. A lot of people have found that programmes intended to help people into work are not effective for people with autism and many report that they can be just pushed into jobs that don’t really appeal to them or cater to their skillset. Most autistic people surveyed also show a distinct lack of trust and confidence in the Jobcentre to cater to people of their disposition.
The Recruitment Process
The stiff and rigid recruitment process used by many employers gives autistic people a major disadvantage. Interviews are, by nature, a test of someone’s social and communicative skills, the skills that are adversely affected by autism. Most people affected by autism will need reasonable adjustments in interviews to be able to compete fairly. Whether it be due to over-sensitivity to external stimuli such as light or sound, difficult interacting with new people or communication difficulties, the recruitment process often impairs their ability to perform on an equal playing field. This leads to a vast majority of people not wanting to disclose their condition for fear of being discriminated against.
Workplace adjustments for autism
Most employers have said that they do not where to go for support or advice about employing an autistic person. This lack of knowledge often impacts whether an autistic person can stay in their chosen employment. Simple things like a light being too bright or being positioned to close to a source of intense noise and activity can influence an autistic person’s ability to work and function, and without suitable knowledge and plans put in place by employers to adjust for these situations, autistic people can be put at a disadvantage.
Surveys have shown that there is a distinct misunderstanding in what autism is and how it can affect people. It has also been shown that some employers believe that autistic people cannot fit themselves into teams and have no teamworking skills at all. A large portion of autistic people have found themselves on the end of bullying and harassment due to their autism at work. These experiences can lead to lower confidence and self-esteem, which can lead to long term unemployment and mental health issues.
How can we bridge this gap?
There are jobs for autistic adults out there. With a few adjustments, managing autistic employees and integrating them into a team can be a rewarding and eye-opening experience for organisations. But how can we bridge the gap?
Increase understanding and awareness
The only way to be able to empathise and understand people with autism is to learn more about it. Companies can do this by working with their existing autistic employees and autistic charities/advocates to ensure that the information and training methods they use are relevant and up to date. This does not mean that all employers don’t want to engage with the autistic community and learn. But it is critical for employees to seek out people who have the appropriate expertise and knowledge so they can become more autism aware. Many also agree that the government must do more to ensure that companies know their obligations under the Equality Act and advertise the Access to Work scheme.
Develop and provide more pathways for autistic people to gain skills and employment.
Be this training courses, work trials or apprenticeships, more must be done to provide direct work experience for people in the autistic community. Providing these skills and experience will only help to encourage people to be more willing to start and continue with work. More extensive programmes should be run with this intention in mind, whether this be done by employers themselves, by way of incentives, or as government ran schemes.
Rethink and re-evaluate the interview process
Interviews traditionally favour the neurotypical community. By rethinking this approach, autistic job seekers will have a more even footing. This can be done by replacing the interview with a work trial; giving someone the opportunity to show their skills over a period instead of doing so in a 30-minute interview can prove to be a more inclusive and successful method of recruitment. Sharing the questions prior to an interview can also give them a heads up on what to expect and enable them to answer more thoughtfully and confidently. Companies can also use their professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn to encourage feedback from their autistic followers on how to make the interview process more inclusive.