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Swansea researcher reveals new stats on autistic graduate prospects

Autistic graduates “one of the least likely groups to be in gainful employment”

(Adobe Stock)

New research from Pro Bono Economics demonstrates that doubling the employment rate for autistic people – currently at roughly half that of neurotypical people – could boost the economy by up to £1.5 billion.

Yet, many employers are unaware of the benefits hiring autistic people could bring to their business ¾ and autistic graduates are often left unsure where they can fit in after the well-structured experience of university studies, or where their skills may be best utilised, given the unpredictable nature of job hunting.

This Autism Awareness Day [4th April], Dr Brian Garrod, Professor of Marketing at Swansea University, is calling on higher education providers to follow Swansea University’s lead and look more closely at how they support autistic students in entering the job market.

Dr Garrod has been studying tourism experiences of neurodiverse people for years. When his autistic son raised concerns about his own graduate prospects, Dr Garrod delved deeper into the statistics and discovered his son was not alone in feeling anxious and concerned about what his post-university future held.

The research led Dr Garrod to launch a major new study into how autistic students feel about their career opportunities upon graduation. Working in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University and his colleagues in Swansea University’s Wellbeing and Disability Service, Dr Garrod interviewed students and careers advisors, and has now created a toolkit to help careers advisors give much-needed support and guidance to ASD students. Swansea University has adopted the programme and is encouraging other higher education providers to do the same.

Long-term, Dr Garrod hopes to transform the way autistic students are supported when facing the daunting task of job-hunting ¾ a particularly prevalent issue following the recent Buckland Review of Autism Employment report, which found that autistic people have far more negative experiences in job interviews, group tasks, and psychometric tests.

An autistic Masters student from Swansea University, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke of these difficulties of job-hunting as an autistic person. He said: “… the interview [is] a dance, and you’ve not been told what the steps are. You’ve got this person there who’s trying to dance with you, and you’ve no idea what the what the steps are. So, of course, you’re making a mess – standing on their feet – and you’re clumsy.”

Dr Garrod said: “Autistic adults are one of the least likely groups within the working-age population to be in gainful, full-time employment. University career advisors aren’t always given the tools and training needed to support students with additional needs when it comes to finding the right sort of career for them, and this leaves many autistic students to fall through the cracks.

“For autistic people, leaving university can be incredibly daunting as it marks a huge change in routine and expectations ¾ having that support from careers advisors will make an incredible difference in making them feel heard and confident in taking the next steps to find the job that’s right for them.

“From an employer’s perspective, businesses can benefit hugely from ‘autism advantage’ by hiring someone who has the specific skills and interests that would help to drive their organisation forward. We hope to get businesses on board in future, and we look forward to creating a business toolkit to further support autistic people with career progression.”

More widely, Dr Garrod hopes to encourage changes within the business world to adopt more transparent and accessible interview and hiring practices. He continued: “If you imagine how a ‘successful’ job interview is described, it is impossibly neurotypical-orientated. A firm handshake, eye-contact, and reciprocal questions would deem an applicant more successful than someone who struggles with social communication. That individual may have extensive knowledge and talent to offer the employer – but they get written off before the interview even starts.

“Entering the world of work brings so many benefits beyond financial gain – it offers socialising opportunities and the chance to pursue long-held passions. At the moment, just 30% of autistic adults are in gainful work. I know we can see that number rise with the right support and understanding.

“I hope that through continued campaigning and the provision of resources like our toolkit, we will see more autistic graduates benefitting from gainful, long-term employment.”

This Autism Awareness Day marks the launch of Dr Garrod’s careers advisor toolkit, which provides a comprehensive guide for careers advisors for how to better support autistic students. The toolkit is available to access, free of charge, here.