Beverley Breen, Programme Manager for Step into Work+, discusses how their award-winning project supports autistic adults into employment. The project won two awards at the 2017 Autism Professional Awards: Outstanding Adult Services and Most Supportive Employer.
Author: Beverley Breen
Step into Work+
Step into Work+ (SIW+) works with people with autism looking for full or part-time work, who do not receive extra care funding. The project is delivered by Autism Together (formerly Wirral Autistic Society) and has been funded for 5 years by the Big Lottery.
Our programme endeavours to provide a tailored and autism specific approach to employability coaching and training for adults with autism who are keen to work but are experiencing difficulties in finding or maintaining employment.
We are a small team of two - myself, Bev, an experienced adult social worker and Hema Chandrashekhar, a special needs teacher. When planning and developing the programme we came up with an approach that puts teamwork at its core.
Our approach involves working with small groups of people with autism, a maximum of six at each session. The programme runs over 24 weeks and involves a range of modules and a work placement.
Eight weeks are based in the SIW Centre with a focus on developing workplace skills with modules including:
- Working Together
- Workplace Conduct & Rules
- Travel & Transport
- Basic Skills/ Life Skills.
We also offer our unique "Business in You" module which gives each team the chance to create their own individual event or micro business which will be a real and viable event. This is when the students can put all their skills into practice in a safe environment. These have included:
- fundraising events
- running a pop up shop
- designing and running a treasure hunt
- arranging and running an awards ceremony for their fellow students
- opening and running a not-for-profit Tuck Shop
- running workshops to teach or learn a new skill e.g. knitting.
All sessions are well structured and posted each day to give students time to process, and we provide plenty of breaks and facilities for time out in the Quiet Zone. We’ve also introduced Smart Fridays to practice dressing for business.
Our approach is team-based to develop the confidence and skills useful for both the workplace and the world.
A 12 week work based placement is organised which is person centred and fully supported by SIW+. All placement providers are given autism awareness training.
Students are fully involved in deciding where they go on placement and are not just “fitted in” with an existing placement provider. Some examples of placements we’ve organised include:
- dog grooming
- garden centres
- care work and more.
A minimum four-week follow up back at the SIW centre builds on the skills learned throughout the programme and work placement. This part of the programme looks to the future with support in job applications and interview skills, as well as signposting to other agencies, for example further education, volunteering etc.
Students are always welcome back long after they have completed the formal programme to ensure they still have some support. This is open ended and we still have returning students who attended the first ever programme.
These are some of the things we do on paper; what is much harder to describe is the change we see in people over the time they are with us.
One individual would never make eye contact or even speak a great deal but who now enjoys a game of Cluedo with his Step into Work+ friends.
Another student found it difficult give any personal details to anyone no matter how important (including GP, benefits agencies or employers), and now works three days a week in a customer facing environment dealing with the public as well as working alongside colleagues.
Tom is one of our Student Mentors; previously he never left his house without his mum or dad but he now travels independently and has also taken up the trampoline.
Jamie is a former student who now works part-time for us on general admin tasks. He has learned to drive and travels on his own by bus and train.
Georgina now lives independently and is job searching with us.
All this has taken time and hard work by students and programme leaders, but the key has always been never to give up. We have never given up on any of our students. One of our former students is now in prison at the moment and we keep in touch with him, reminding him of the small strategies we developed together to keep himself calm.
We never say goodbye to anyone and they can always come back with good or bad news and we try our best to be there.
Winning our Laing Buisson Specialist Care Award for Autistic Spectrum Service in 2013 and most recently being awarded two National Autistic Society Autism Professionals Awards in 2017 (Outstanding Adult Service & Most Supportive Employer) has given welcome recognition to Step into Work+ and to our successful model which supports people with autism into employment.
We have many challenges ahead, not least is further funding, but we maintain our belief that autism is part of an individual and they should stand up and be proud. We certainly are!
Date added: 3 May 2017