A partnership project between Plymouth City Council and Seetec Pluss supports autistic people to find and sustain employment.
A partnership project between Plymouth City Council and Seetec Pluss supports autistic people to find and sustain employment. It offers a range of individualised support to both the autistic person and to potential employers. By involving the people who use the employment service in the initial design and in regular feedback sessions the service has developed and evolved in a way that meets the needs of the target group. In the first year, it has secured sustained employment for over 50 percent of referrals.
The Plymouth Autistic Employment Project is for autistic people who want to have a job but have struggled with getting or retaining employment in the past. The project recognised that there can be a long wait for an adult autism diagnosis (potentially over two years) so the project needed to be able to work with any adult over the age of 18 with autistic traits, with or without a diagnosis.
This service emerged from a Learning Disability place and train service commissioned by Plymouth City Council for Adult Social Care Clients that the council initially wanted to expand to meet the needs of autistic people. However, focus groups with autistic people showed that this was not the service they wanted, and they needed something that worked for autistic people and that could accommodate the larger numbers of autistic people coming through the Job Centre.
Referrals come via the Job Centre which also has close links to Plymouth’s post-diagnosis autism service for adults; so, people can be directed from this service to Seetec Pluss.
Once an individual is referred into the service then the lead worker takes time to find out what their preferred method of communication is and, to ensure that the person does not have to repeat their story, the information held by different agencies is collated and tied together. The service then works with the person to find out a bit more about what they want to do next, and a bespoke approach developed for everyone. This could include work experience, CV development, placements in specific roles, first working with the individual to reduce social isolation or some wellbeing activity.
If the person is at the stage of applying for jobs, the project supports them to talk to the potential employer and encourages positive disclosure of their autism. Staff also provide support for interviews including securing reasonable adjustments and ensuring that the interview environment reflects individual sensory needs.
There is also a job coaching provision that supports people in the workplace by breaking down the roles, helping people understand the workplace culture and providing support for the little work things that people may struggle with like taking breaks, lighting and coffee rounds.
The service also provides advice and support to employers to ensure that they can do the right things to support people in the workplace.
This is a very small project, supporting 37 people and with 1 member of staff. The staff member brings experience of working with adults with autism to the project. In the first year of operating, it has secured sustained employment for over 50 percent of referrals.
Collaboration with Seetec Pluss ensures the project gets the right referrals and their staff are becoming more skilled in understanding how to adapt approaches for autistic people.
How is the new approach being sustained
Seetec Pluss was approached to fund the initial service 41,000 pounds via the DWP community fund grant scheme, though this took six months to secure. Another year of funding has been secured with a slightly larger team in place and increasing the number of people we will support to 55 with 25 going into work. We are looking towards this becoming a permanent service either with Seetec Pluss or joint funding.
We are developing an employer’s network working with Babcock (one of Plymouth’s biggest employers) to establish this. The network will promote employment of neuro-diverse individuals and the adaptions needed. Future plans include extending the service beyond Plymouth – there are underserved communities of autistic adults in most places and the Plymouth service has shown that a small amount of money goes a long way.
Keys to success have been:
Bespoke service: each person has their own plan that has been developed with the individual and reflects their different starting points. The scheme benefits from not having to stick with the prescribed guidelines/routes into employment associated with other Seetec Pluss programmes such as the Health and Work programme.
- Support to employers: the service supports the individual and the employer navigate taking on a new role and new workplace. This prevents the individual becoming isolated in the workplace and provides assurance to the employer when things do not appear to be going in the right direction.
- Lead worker: it is important to have a lead worker that brings experience of working with autistic people to the role and is skilled in forming relationships and providing challenge when needed.
Regular workshops and feedback sessions involving people using the service means that it changes and evolves to reflect feedback. This ongoing monitoring and reflective learning has led to changes in the approach, for example a forthcoming name change to the Neuro-diverse Employment Service, and the recognition that a job coach is needed to fully understand each role.
On ongoing challenge is that sometimes people are referred to the service who need additional help with their mental health, communication skills or to reduce social isolation.