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28 March 2022
By Della Driscoll

Autism Acceptance Week: Simon's Story

Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people interact and communicate with the world. In the UK, one in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum and there are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children.

Autism Acceptance week is an opportunity to learn more about autism and how we can support autistic young people and adults throughout school, and their transition into the workplace. Our Specialist Employment Team help those with autism and many other disabilities and disadvantages to find and sustain paid work. We've spoken to a member of our own team Simon, who has autism and struggled to find work before he came to us.

Simon's Story

My apprenticeship story starts in the second half of 2019. I had been unemployed since leaving college over a year ago. I had several job interviews all with negative results which started to take a toll on my mental health. I received help through Kent Supported Employment and got a placement for work experience at KCC’s film office in December. Around the same time I had an interview with The Education People to be an apprentice. I was initially unsure about becoming an apprentice as I didn’t know a great deal about how they worked or how much I would be paid. I received a lot of coaching from Kate and the actual interview went very well. I received a call from The Education People a week or so later saying that I was accepted. It was the best news I’ve ever had!

I started the apprenticeship on February 3rd 2020. Everything was very new to me, but everybody I met was very pleasant and supportive. My line manager Alex Ellis was really understanding and we had a weekly support meeting on Friday afternoons for a general catch up and to discuss anything I needed help with. As well as this, we had a meeting with Kate James every few weeks to discuss how I was getting on.

Everything was going well until the end of March. With the Coronavirus pandemic, we were instructed to work from home. This really brought home that I had got this job at the perfect time, any later and I would have really struggled, having not made personal connections with the people I was working with. There was a serious issue at the time with VPN internet issues, which initially made it difficult to work from home. Thankfully, Alex was very patient and the weekly meeting have continued since.

At the beginning of May the pandemic had still not been resolved and I was put on furlough. This was slightly troubling as I was worried I may not be able to come back, however, I was reassured everything would work out. I maintained contact with Alex throughout this period. Due to being on furlough, my whole apprenticeship was put on hold. I returned part time mid August, and my apprenticeship was extended by several months to make up for lost time.

During 2021, I really settled down into my role as a Data Apprentice. Kate went on maternity leave in August and Alice took over. I was unsure at first, but Alice was just as good as Kate. I continued to receive support right until the end of my apprenticeship in September 2021, which I passed. Before Kate left, she asked Louise Clements in the Business Transformation Team if she had any work experience, Louise said yes and then Alice continued with the contact. It turned out Louise was looking for a person to fill a new role. This was very exciting and positive. After completing the work experience, I was offered the job. I have remained in contact with Alice since, which has been reassuring, had I needed anything.

I started working for the Business Transformation Team in November 2021 as a Systems Support Assistant. As I had already been doing work experience with them since September it wasn’t a massive change from what I had already been doing and everything went smoothly. That being said it has taken some getting used to being part of a team rather than the one on one I had with Alex, but everyone is very pleasant. Since I have started, I have taken part in several projects and I feel valued by the others.

To anyone who is currently unemployed, I recommend going for an apprenticeship, even if you are unsure what you want to do later in life. Take every opportunity you get as the world around you can change very quickly.

Alex Ellis line manager during Simon’s apprenticeship:

"Simon came in to interview for an Apprenticeship opportunity we were advertising in January 2020. He interviewed really well and had informed us as part of his application that he had autism.

He started with us in February 2020 and the Specialist Employment Service were forthcoming immediately in offering their support to Simon, and to us as an employer. Simon supported the data and reporting function within the team and sometimes found this difficult due to the volume and complexity of the work and the size of the team. The service supported us throughout Simon’s Apprenticeship, encouraging him to get involved in other things, such as working groups to improve training opportunities for people with disabilities and staff groups for young people employed within the company."

As well as the invaluable support offered to us as an employer, and to Simon, The Specialist Employment Service were also in touch with Simon’s training provider to ensure they were on hand if needed to support Simon to complete his training with them. Seeing the support the service were able to provide, I completed a Level 2 Understanding Autism qualification. Simon achieved a distinction in his NVQ and is now in permanent full-time employment within another part of the company.

Louise Clements Head of Business Transformation:

"Simon initially joined the Business Transformation Team on work experience, one day a week for six weeks. Simon was looking to secure a permanent role within The Education People after he successfully completed his apprenticeship and was hoping to gain some more experience to enhance his skills and increase the likelihood of this. Simon showed great willingness and enthusiasm and very quickly demonstrated his aptitude for the tasks he was given. He worked closely with all members of the team, undertaking different tasks, and showed great maturity in listening to and taking instruction from multiple people. As the end of Simon’s apprenticeship approached, we were able to demonstrate two of our core values: 'People together' and 'improving the chances for young people in Kent'. Simon has assimilated into the team very well and is confident in sharing his thoughts and opinions. Simon is still undertaking training as he has only been with us for three months, but he is already independently working on some areas which he has been given responsibility for (with full support from named mentors within the team). Simon has greatly eased the ever-evolving workload of an exceptionally busy team, and has quickly become well-liked and valued as a colleague."

For more information about our Specialist Employment Team and how they may be able to help you, find out more on our website.