AN OPPORTUNITY for work experience at a Sunderland supermarket has given pupils at North East Autism Society schools a chance to grow their employability skills.

Pupils from Thornhill Park School’s Emsworth site got stuck in to work experience at Tesco Extra, where they had the chance to work on the shop floor, picking online shopping orders, as well as interacting with customers on the checkouts, and collecting trolleys and baskets that shoppers were no longer using.

Suesie, Community Champion at Tesco, worked with staff at Emsworth school to set up the opportunity, after having previously volunteered at NEAS events and raised funds as part of the supermarket’s approach to community causes.

Suesie said: “I went and had a meeting at the school and talked about what we do, and we came up with this arrangement of inviting the kids in to do a bit of work.”

They’ve been really good, and they took to picking off the shelves instantly.

NEAS schools offer support to help pupils meet a range of targets as part of their preparation for adulthood, and work experience offers a great opportunity for autistic young people to build their confidence in a working environment.

Judith Gibbons, teacher at Aycliffe School, said: “Our learners might have a greater barrier to accessing public transport, or being out and about.

“Sensory issues might make it more challenging for them, and obviously what we want to prevent is that becoming a barrier to them accessing the community, or accessing places of work," she added.

It’s really important that we support them in being able to do those things so they can access life in the same way that everyone else is able to access it.

Aaron, a pupil at Thornhill Park School, was one of the first to attend the work experience sessions at Tesco, where he jumped right in to operating a checkout, scanning items, and chatting with customers.

Suesie said: “Normally, you’d think to yourself it’s a worry going on checkouts because you’ve got to actually deal with customers, but they all so far have taken to it incredibly.”

Aaron also took to collecting and organising the trolleys and baskets shoppers had used.

He said:

It’s just like a good job, doing the baskets and trolleys.

Offering work experience to an autistic young person can make a huge difference in their future employment, helping them start building a CV as well as growing their confidence, and the North East Autism Society is calling on employers to create more opportunities like these for autistic people.

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