Learning difficulties, autism and employment

‘…6% of people with a learning disability and 15% of people with autism are in full time paid employment

I would like to say I’m surprised with the number of people with learning difficulties and autism who are in paid employment but I’m not. Unfortunately a large number of employers can’t get past the conventional way of employing people; CV, Interview then a choice is made to hire the appropriate person. In most cases this is the standard hiring process and works for many companies but not for those with a learning disability and/or autism.

This topic is close to my heart with a brother who is diagnosed with Asperger’s who finished university last year and is looking for work. His degree in graphics and animation and in my opinion he is talented; he is constantly working on something and expanding his skills and knowledge. However I also know that the conventional type of interview is a daunting experience for him. The interview tips that are given to people are not going to work for him. His body language and lack of eye contact doesn’t mean he’s not interested in the position it’s just he doesn’t understand that what is the right amount of time to hold eye contact or that crossing your arms are the slouching can show him in a negative light. He is passionate about what he does and has a great imagination not to mention his witty and sarcastic sense of humour that occasionally makes an appearance. But an interviewer will not see all this because they may not understand Asperger’s, have not been able to make changes to the interview setting to accommodate him or they just can’t be bothered to think outside the box. I may seem like I’m making sweeping generalisations here and unfairly vilifying interviewers and companies but the statistics don’t lie, they can be manipulated but in this instance they don’t lie. I am biased but personally I think employers are missing out on a valuable talent pool.

‘Normal’ is such a generic term

A disability of any kind does not automatically mean that person is incapable of being employed & being brilliant at their job. Like the rest of us they want to have some kind of self worth, feel a sense of achievement. Despite all the attention surrounding the lack of people with a learning disability, autism or both, I wonder just how many employees ‘get’ what it means to have learning disability, autism or both? What cookie cutter employee mould do they consider normal? ‘Normal’ is such a generic term these days, what is normal? We live in a day and age where people decide to pick which gender they relate better with or no gender at all, they are gender fluid. Yet there is difficulty finding gainful employment for those with a learning disability, autism or both.

So what can, needs and should be done about this?

As I sit here ploughing my way through a box of Mikado I browse through the intrepid world of Google seeking answers to this very question. To begin, with autism and learning disability are not the same.

Autism is not a learning disability, but around half of people with autism may also have a learning disability, which will affect the level of support they need in their life. Some people may also receive a ‘dual diagnosis’; ­ for example, they may have Down’s syndrome and autism.

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.

Network Autism offer useful pieces of advice for both Jobseekers and prospective employers. If you prefer a more visual guidance visit autism.org to view the video’s.

I know I am biased but do think employers are missing out on a valuable talent pool. With a bit of tweaking here and there, a bit of adaptability and understanding employers could tap into this hidden workforce which for far too long has been ignored.

Resources
Mencap
The National Autistic Society
Network Autism
Dimensions

How do your hobbies make you better at your work

I came across this question from Dave Kerpen on LinkedIn; How do your hobbies make you better at your work?

Exercise, reading a book, painting picture etc things we associate with winding down, relaxing and forgetting about work. Many of us try so hard to keep our personal life separate from our work life that we don’t always realise that experiences in our personal lives can actually make us better at our jobs. This question got me thinking about how my own hobbies and without realising how they have helped me in my work and shaped the person I am.

Kickboxing

Over the years my range of hobbies have varied, up until the middle of last year I regularly attended a kickboxing class. Finding the right class with the right people is important, the activity itself is a contact sport but it also teaches discipline and respect for each other. We don’t all walk into the class as black belts, it takes hard work, determination and practice to get the moves right. None of this happens if you don’t have the support of your club, your team and your instructor. Everyone at all levels working together to encourage and teach, you have no idea the positive effect a few words of encouragement can have when you think you haven’t got enough energy to survive that last minute in a round of sparring or if like me your lower body isn’t very flexible when you can finally get your round kick that little bit higher. It is those qualities that can be transferred to the workplace. Support and encourage your team, we all fall down sometimes and need a little help to get back up again knowing you have your team in your corner can make all the difference to how you progress, handle certain situations and projects.

Reading

My other hobbies include reading. When needs must, I have resorted to reading a book on my mobile phone using the Kindle app, but you can’t beat reading from a physical book. Yes they take up space and to the untrained eye can be seen as clutter, however there is something about a good book that can help you escape from the drama of life and help you relax. I’ve recently discovered audio books on YouTube and when I want to block out the world oddly enough having my headphones on and a book playing in the background helps me to concentrate, maybe I’m just odd like that but whatever works to help make me productive can’t be a bad thing.

Yoga

I’ve not ever been a fan of yoga until I discovered the online videos which I can do at my own pace and to my own ability. I’ll not ever be able to move in those pretzel shapes but just doing the short bedtime and morning yoga videos help me feel a lot calmer, the tight muscles and knots get stretched out and I feel much better within myself. The breathing techniques learnt from yoga help me bring myself back to a much calmer place when I’m feeling stressed at work. I have been known to have essential oils at my desk like peppermint to help my sinuses and altogether feel ready to tackle the task at hand. The office can smell of peppermint but who doesn’t like that scent?

As individuals we are always learning and changing, I’m a believer that depending on the job role our personal and work lives can and do influence the other. I know from working for the NHS has benefitted me and changed my thinking for the better.

So, how do your hobbies make you better at your work?

Job Centre Experience

I don’t know when I will find job, hopefully I won’t be unemployed for too long. Until then I have been encouraged to visit the job centre. It’s not something I envisaged I would have to do but that’s just the way it is.

Not everyone who claims benefits are scroungers or lazy people, I don’t know everyone’s situation and their reason for making a claim. Though whilst in the job centre I noticed there were some people I would prefer not to share oxygen space with. On my first encounter with the job centre I was speaking with an adviser when a random person simply could not wait their turn so decided to stand so close to me whilst I was still seated at the advisers desk that I thought she wanted to sit in my lap! The adviser carried on speaking with me and ignoring this rude person until we were done.

The second time I had to visited the job centre was slightly better, it was a group thing something I wasn’t overly comfortable with but survived. It was explaining the application process, the applicants commitment to find a job etc. As well as providing our relevant documents, I would have preferred a bit more privacy but I expect with the number of applications they receive this might be the most efficient way to process them in a more timely manner.

It wasn’t the first time time some of the people in the group had made an application Job Seekers allowance so were veterans at the process. For newbies like me it was a whole new experience.

The experience so far has not been as scary as I thought it would be. The staff at the job centre have been pleasant enough, maybe because I am recording enough evidence that show cases my job searching efforts.

Redundancy; It’s not the end of the world!

A few weeks ago I was made redundant.

I would have written sooner about this major change in my life but I have been keeping myself busy with looking for a new job, taking on baking projects as well kickboxing training. Being let go from my previous role was the push I needed figure out what it is I want to do, what direction I want to take my life in.

Naturally it is not something anyone wants to happen but in my case it was a positive change. Of course I was upset to be leaving a team I enjoyed working in, it was a team where I felt I fitted and had a good rapport with everyone regardless of personality type. I think they were a bit upset to see me go as well (probably going to miss the cakes!) but also goes to show how well they knew me. When I returned to the office for the final time I was surprised with a gift voucher and an excellent baking book! I have to tell you this book is brilliant, some of the recipes are a bit intricate, I do like a challenge.

Now it is time to move on, I wasn’t going to progress any further within the previous job role, both I and the company knew that and as I was told by the owner of the company when he broke the redundancy news to me, was the main reason for this decision. It’s good to know that at least they didn’t think I was awful at my job or I had a poor attitude, I just didn’t fit in with the direction the company was going in. Nothing personal, just business.

What to do with myself now?

I know I want to be able to use the skills that I have learnt from my old job and develop them further, this would be social media, seo, that world. Also I’m am considering taking my baking to a new level with a little side line business project. I’m still researching this avenue as there are a few things I need to understand and learn. Right now baking is not a money maker for me, it is a part time hobby that has the potential to be more in the future should I want it to be.

For now I would like to say I am enjoying being a lady of leisure but am finding I am more busy these days compared to when I was working. There are just so many things to do, to try, to learn there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.  🙂

Are employers missing out by not employing people with autism?

‘What is autism?’

According to The National Autistic Society Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It would be unrealistic to group all people with the autism as every individual is different. There are those with autism are able to lead independent lives others may need lifetime support.

Recently my youngest brother at the age of 20 has been diagnosed with ASD, from reading information out there me and my siblings knew our brother had some of the traits but weren’t sure, he is currently studying towards a degree. My brother has some social constraints which he is working towards improving and wants to be able to find a job after graduation. My concern is how some employers are fixated on trying to find a mythical perfect employee who ticks all the check boxes at the same time missing out on a perfectly capable and loyal employee.

It is estimated that 695,000 people in the UK may have autism spectrum disorder, depsite this figure though fully capable of doing a job only 15% of people with autism are in full time employment. This isn’t because the 79% of people with autism don’t want to work it is more about finding the right environment for them to work in and employers being able to provide that environment. It is not just employers we should be looking at educating but also work colleagues. Company culture is something all job seekers look at when looking for a job, for those with ASD this is no different. Whilst researching this piece I came across situations where people with autism have made requests to help them to do their job but were met with comments from colleagues thinking they are making up their autism or are trying to get special treatment. Just because a person with autism may not show any visible disabilities does not mean it doesn’t exist.

Only employing someone with ASD

There are companies who will only employ those with autism. Companies with this approach will adapt their interview process to make it less daunting and to gauge the skills and knowledge of the interviewee. The intentions of these type of companies are noble but we should also be looking at how to integrate those with autism with those who are considered ‘normal’. We need to be looking at ways employers, work colleagues and those with autism can all work together.

Every person on the autistic spectrum is different, what worked for this company may not work for another, it is about finding the right balance and people who understand what is required to get the best out of a person whether that is working in an IT environment or a library.

I would say to employers, before disregarding someone due to autism or any mental illness because you think they won’t fit in with the company culture, think if it is time to change your company culture?

References

Life on the Autism spectrum

The National Autistic Society: Employment Support Service Training and Consultancy

Fast track your career through job hopping

Job hopping is the term used to describe the act of an employee who moves from job to job in a short period of time. Previously this behaviour was frowned upon, it lacked a sense of commitment and loyalty on the employee’s behalf, planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of employers. Why would a company want to invest time and money in someone who could decide to move on in 12 months time?

Looking at this behaviour from a positive angle job hopping can give candidates the opportunity to re-invent themselves by making strategic career moves that could benefit both the employer and the employee.

Employee

  • With each job role you are increasing your skills and knowledge of the industry further developing your career.
  • As you become more experienced you will be to negotiate a better salary with each role.
  • With each role you are adding to your network of contacts.
  • You reduce the risk of becoming bored.

Employer

  • They will benefit from the skills and knowledge you have picked up through your previous jobs.
  • The person will already have a wealth of experience reducing the need for training.
  • With each new role you are determined to prove your worth thus working harder to achieve your objectives.

Job hopping isn’t suited for everyone, for those of you who do want to try and fast track your career here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Think about your next career move, will this new position utilises your newly developed skills and experience?
  • Don’t burn bridges with your current and previous employers, you may end up working with them again in the future.
  • Be prepared to answer questions regarding the number of jobs you have had in what would be considered a short period of time.

With employment rates improving people are no longer feeling pressured into staying in their current jobs, if employees are not feeling fulfilled then they are happy to look elsewhere.

Video CV Starring You!

The traditional two page CV is still the most popular and accepted method to apply for a job.  The job market is slowly improving but many people are still finding it difficult to get noticed so are looking to alternative ways to promote themselves and stand out from the crowd. This can involve printing your CV on a t-shirt, handing copies of your CV out on the street, turning it into a website, creating an infographic, creating a social media campaign or creating a Video CV.

In a previous blog post; Video CV – is this the next step for your CV? I discussed the pros and cons of creating such a CV. Instead of a recruiter reading about your skills, achievements, why you are a good fit for a job you can tell them yourself also giving you the opportunity charm the recruiter with your personality, in a strictly perfessional way.

As much as we would like to think that VCV’s are the future, that traditional CV’s are on their way out we know this to be a far off concept. It’s taken this long for companies and candidates to entertain the idea of using video as part of the job search and recruiting process I don’t think the standard two page CV has anything to worry about.

Depending on the job and the number of applications received recruiters are not going to want to spend precious time reviewing a VCV when they can read through a traditional CV in less time. Many people may not feel comfortable in front of a camera and may come across as awkward, not showing the true breadth of their personality and knowledge hindering their job search. These are just two reason why a VCV will not ever truly replace a traditional CV, this isn’t to say we should completely rule out the idea of VCV’s entirely.

Companies and job seekers are beginning to notice the potential benefits of having a VCV as well as a traditional written one. There are more companies specialising in helping to create a video CV, job boards like VideoRecruit allow you to upload a short video alongside your traditional CV.

Companies are also encouraged to create a recruitment video of their own to accompany their job postings. A survey carried out by CV Library found that nearly 80% of job seekers were more likely to apply for a job if there was also a company video attached. The purpose of a company video is to give potential employees a virtual look into what it could be like to work with them, what the offices look like and to gain some insight into the company culture. All this depending on the quality of the video and what information the company decides to share.

There are the pros and cons associated with having a VCV, the main ones related to discrimination be that age, gender, race, nationality not to mention being biased simply based on how a candidate looks despite their ability to do the job and a winning personality, all of which an employer can do in an interview unbeknown to the interviewee.

Don’t let the dark side of having a VCV deter you from stepping into that spot light, if you’re feeling brave then blow the dust off that camcorder and be the star of your very own VCV.

Is it better to study a degree subject you love or one that you are more likely to gain employment in?

Is it better to study a degree subject you love or one that you are more likely to gain employment in?

When it comes to choosing your degree course do you opt for a subject you are likely to enjoy or a something you are more likely to find a job in?

Looking at my own experiences and of those around me, I wasn’t really sure what degree I wanted to do and opted for a subject that interested me, Multimedia Systems I now work for a job board in a admin / social media role. One sister wanted to study art but felt pressured by parents to study for an Accounting degree, she did become an account, earned good money but found it boring at times. One brother had an interest in Psychology and is now a data analyst. My youngest brother and sister are still studying but opted for subjects that also interested them, fashion and graphics.

Can your hobbies become a potential career for you or are you better off choosing a subject that you are capable of doing but doesn’t really spark that fire in your belly?

Despite the gradual increase in the graduate job market it has been bleak at times. Graduates struggling to find degree related employment with approximately 85 graduates applying to one job. Although a third of graduates do find employment after graduation at least 57% are earning less than £16k. Despite the controversy surrounding them at least 85% of graduates are willing to take on unpaid internships if it could mean gaining employment. Others have chosen to change their career paths in order to find employment or taking any job that will pay the bills in the interim.

UK students pay a yearly tuition fee of £9k, students from abroad paying approximately £10k per year, with these kind of fees it can be argued that it is better to study towards a degree that is more likely to result in a well-paying job at the end of your studies.

On the other side of this debate would it not be better to study a course that you are passionate about? The theory is because you enjoy the subject you are likely to obtain a better degree classification. Your degree classification is something potential employers will take notice off but not the only thing. They will also want to know how capable you are of doing the job and fitting in with the team.

As already mentioned some graduates end up in jobs that are not related to their degree subject. Two friends both studied history at degree level, one is now a marketing manager, and the other went on to do her NCTJ and is now head reporter for a newspaper.

Deciding which subject to study is similar to choosing a career path. Do you opt for something you are passionate about but is difficult to find a job in perhaps doesn’t pay well or do you choose a career you’re not overly excited about but are good at and enables you to do the things you are excited about?

Every individual is different, for some the need to do something that involves putting their whole heart and effort into is more important than doing something that is considered ‘just a job’. Take the likes of Steve Jobs who said “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”. This worked out well for him as the things that he was passionate about eventually made him a lot of money and to him did not feel like work. For others, not loving their job doesn’t not mean they will not put effort into it and be a success they may decide to keep the two separate and not risk the turning the things that once put fire in our bellies into a regular 9-5.

Like our careers even the things we were once passionate about can change, what once interested us 5 years ago may not the same today. Make a decision that is right for you, in 5 years’ time you may decide you’re had enough of being a nurse and no want to become a comedian.

Unpaid Internships

Some of you may know that my youngest sister worked as an unpaid intern, she also had her weekend job and was traveling to her internship Monday to Thursday. Eventually the journey and lack of rest began to take its toll and she left after 2 months. The company were aware of her weekend job and were impressed she had lasted 2 months as they thought she would have left much sooner.

The company gave £10 a day towards expenses, this didn’t cover travel costs for any of the interns whom my sister worked with if anything my sister was one of the lucky ones as she also had a paying job.

One of the things she noticed was with the exception of 3 people the rest of the team was made up of unpaid interns. This company offered unpaid internships all year round and seems the majority of the workforce was made up of interns.

As it so happens whilst browsing the internship boards my sister came across this same company were advertising a number of vacancies, all the interns my sister had at one point worked with had also left.

How this company chose to run their business is up to them the question is, is this fair to those interns? It seems to be this company’s practice to hire unpaid interns who would then leave but then replace them with another round of unpaid interns. The company offered positions from PR to seamstress and in their eyes would be imparting invaluable experience to their interns who they noted went onto successful careers after graduation. But looking at it from a business point of view the company had ticking over workforce whom they didn’t paid a wage to, reducing their own costs whilst still making and retaining much of their profits.

From what my sister had said about this internship the work itself was ok and the people she worked with were nice and like the other interns she was aware it was unpaid but were also aware how important it is to gain work experience. In their mind the pros of this unpaid internship outweighed the cons.

There are companies that do take advantage of ‘free labour’ under the guise of an unpaid internships, fortunately in this instance my sister wasn’t a victim of this.

My sister has said if she needs to she would apply for an unpaid internship again. I know the need for experience is invaluable but does that even compare to the ‘free labour’ companies receive in return? There is no guarantee an internship will transfer into a permanent role or if the internship will provide the type of experience needed to get on that work ladder.

The debate of unpaid vs paid internships will continue until the employment rates for graduates improves, meaning companies taking a chance on someone who doesn’t have the experience yet but have the potential to be the employee who tick all the boxes.

Related Article

Internship; Paid / Unpaid

 

Should you tell your manager you are looking for a new job?

The job you once enjoyed is no longer as challenging or as fulfilling as it once was. Maybe the company re-structure has changed your working environment so that you no longer feel you fit into. Whatever your reason, you have come to the decision it is now time to look for a new job. The question is do you tell your current boss?

Do you opt for the honesty is the best policy route?

Your existing manager might appreciate your honesty. They may try to entice you to stay or help you find something suitable within the company. If that doesn’t work it is possible, if they are able to will help you find a suitable job by sharing contacts.

Others may see you wanting to leave as a personal attack and not be so positive about your honesty. Although you are planning to leave you still take your job seriously though your current manager may not see things the same way as you begin to notice you are being treated differently and have been passed over to work on projects.

Do you opt for the secret squirrel approach?

If you know the best option is to remain quite about your plans to look for a new position until you have something lined up there are a few things you should avoid.

Don’t use your company computer to search for new jobs and don’t broadcast your intentions on your social media networks. If you do have to take phone calls regarding positions try and wait until you are outside of the building or during your lunch break away from the office.

I’ve worked with some good and some poor managers, though there hasn’t been a manager that I could say I would have been comfortable with telling them I was looking for a new job and leaving once I had found something. I would only let my managers know I was leaving once I had handed in my notice and had a confirmed position lined up. In my current job I do know of a work colleague who told our manager of his plans to leave but handed in his notice at the same time without a job to go to. In this colleagues case he had already got the ball rolling and had some opportunities in the pipeline. The managers though sorry to see him leave were also supportive of his decision.

Every situation is different as is every manager employee relationship. It will be up to you to judge what type of relationship you have with your current manager. Ideally you would like to leave your current position on good terms with your manager, especially if you want them to provide you with a personal work reference.