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On Friday 6th October 2017 at the Rolls-Royce Learning and Development Centre in Derby, we proudly launched our WORKING WITH AUTISM Business Networking Event supported by Rolls-Royce, Unite and Sunshine Recruitment.

This interactive networking event allowed invited guests including local policy makers, business leaders and key individuals including Cllr John Whitby (The Right Worshipful Mayor of the City of Derby) Annie Hall (High Sherriff of Derbyshire) Heather Wheeler MP (Member of Parliament South Derbyshire) Cllr Nicola Roulstone (Representing Pauline Latham MP) representatives from Ashgate Hospicecare, Bombardier, D2N2, Derby College, Derbyshire County Council, Fernite of Sheffield, Gelards, HCB Solicitors, Home-Start Derby, Loates, Pattonair Holdings Ltd, Rolls-Royce, Smith Cooper, Sunshine Recruitment and Unite.

The event focused on the overarching point “What can we do but more importantly what can we do differently?” when supporting autism in the work place.

Around 50,000 people in the East Midlands have autism; however, only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment with a further 16% in other paid work. The outlook for young adults with autism spectrum disorders is often challenging. They have some of the lowest general and graduate employment rates in the country. Figures show that in Derby 2,587 children and adults are believed to have an autistic spectrum condition, and of this figure 1,653 are of working age. In Derbyshire (excluding Derby) 7,784 children and adults are believed to have an autistic spectrum condition of which 4,810 are of working age

This event showcased some of the fantastic work local companies are doing with Autism East Midlands in supporting employees on the spectrum and what great employees autistic adults make. Event Speakers included:

Introduction & Welcome – Jane Howson (Autism East Midlands Chief Executive)

An Employer’s Perspective – Lara Warburton (Rolls Royce)

My Personal Experience – Jacob Moss (Fernite of Sheffield)

Transitions into Work – Matt Orford (Autism East Midlands)

Myth Busting for Employers – Chrissa Wadlow (Sunshine Recruitment)

My Personal Experience – Debbie Austin (Autism East Midlands)

Jane Howson (Autism East Midlands Chief Executive)

The employment rate for people with autism has not changed in the last decade and remains extremely low, with only 16% of autistic adults in full-time work.  However, we know that with the right support and simple, low-cost adjustments to their environments many more autistic people could thrive in the workplace.  This event will show, through our partners’ experience, how we can help local businesses to embrace a more diverse workforce, celebrate their employees’ individuality and reap the rewards of doing so.

Lara Warburton FCIPD UK Diversity and Inclusion Manager HR International and Shared Services (Rolls-Royce)

Rolls-Royce are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive place to work where all our people can be themselves and be at their best.  Research suggests that roles in Engineering and IT are more likely to attract people at the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum, which makes the issue especially relevant for our business, our employees and their families. We were therefore honoured to host Autism East Midlands’ Working with Autism conference. It was great to discuss our journey to date, and also to understand what initiatives other organisations have implemented.  One of the key messages from the event was that many of the changes which create an inclusive working environment for people at the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum are small, take little investment and are quick to introduce, but have a huge impact. Some also have a broader benefit for all employees.

Jacob Moss, Apprentice Engineer, Fernite of Sheffield (Event Speaker)

This event was important because it helped highlight both the issues and solutions surrounding autism in the workplace, and hopefully opened the door to greater understanding of autistic people. We are autistic and we 

are here to stay. We have our quirks and just like anyone else need help to achieve our full potential but if you let us we can achieve great things.

Peter Benyon, Inclusion and Support Coordinator – Derby College (Invited Guest)

As Derby College’s lead for support for students with autism it was particularly vital for me to attend Autism East Midland’s event at one of the most prominent and iconi

c employers in Derby. Employers like Rolls–Royce are setting the example for highlighting the strengths of people with autism and the hugely positive role they can play in the workplace. For society to see beyond deficits and impairments and witness the skills and strengths of individuals this example is one that needs to be followed by all industry-leaders. As an educator and advocate it is this glass-ceiling that I wish to see neuro-divergent people shatter and this will only happen through the collaboration of charities like AEM, employers like Rolls-Royce and education providers like Derby College.

Chrissa Wadlow – Managing Director, Sunshine Recruitment (Event Speaker)

I’m honoured to be given the platform, at such a worthy event, to improve awareness of autism and how we can make slight adjustments in the workplace to ensure a far more enriched experience for both the individual and the employer. We should all be striving for equality in our companies and it is refreshing to witness such an enthusiastic approach to improving business practice from flagship businesses in the region like Rolls-Royce. We can learn a lot from their efforts!

Debbie Austin – Specialist Trainer & Mentor, Autism East Midlands (Event Speaker)

I hope that I was able to dispel some of the myths surrounding autism, the assumptions that employers often make about someone who is autistic and what they can achieve. I would say that given the right environment, where people don’t judge or make assumptions and have empathy for those who are different, autistic people can thrive and achieve their potential. We may come about things from a different angle or have a different career pathway to others, but that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong or inferior, just different.

Autism East Midlands would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in supporting this business networking event and we look forward to coordinating future events across the East Midlands.