Blog contributed by Rachael Leisk
Employer Engagement Officer at Employment Futures

For Employability Day, I am reflecting on what employability means, not just for the individual job-seeker but also for neurodivergent communities and for employers.

I have worked as an Employer Engagement Officer for the North East Autism Society since January 2023. This role involves a lot of talking and listening and – well – engagement. Previously an NHS Speech Therapist working with adults with communication difficulties, I have always been passionate about engaging in conversations around difference.

Employability is about the individual’s skills and knowledge, yes, but no employee works in a vacuum – they work within a culture, a team which has a set of processes but also, crucially, a set of values. Research shows that many people are attracted to those who are like them – whether this is in a romantic relationship, or in hiring new staff. And yet it has been repeatedly demonstrated that diversity strengthens businesses and the teams within them in multiple ways.

Currently, less than 30% of autistic people are in employment (ONS 2021). This needs to change: employers need talented neurodivergent people in the workplace and neurodivergent people need the world of employment to embrace and celebrate difference. Only by enabling neurodivergent individuals to demonstrate their skills can we change some of the negative narratives around disability and difference in the workplace.

Enabling and facilitating this provides me with a varied and stimulating day-job! Every team and situation requires a bespoke approach. To give examples of some current recent activities and organisations who are on the journey: I deliver autism awareness training (recent engagements include Pulsant, Premier Inn, Northumberland Zoo, Northern Rights, The Sage Gateshead, Princes Trust, to name a few...).

I also support organisations on their Disability Confident Journey, or their involvement with the North Tyneside Good Work Pledge (Bazaar). Several organisations have recently committed to exploring their recruitment strategies and invited us to lead them in this journey (Turner and Townsend, Your Homes Newcastle). And to model alternative methods of recruitment we are developing an employment and recruitment event that better meets the needs of neurodivergent job-seekers (working in partnership with Newcastle City Council and Department of Work and Pensions).

One of the highlights of my role is when I am able to develop a close relationship with an organisation to support them in many aspects of their Disability, Equality and Inclusion commitment, through delivering training, raising awareness of Access to Work (Sage Gateshead), arranging work-experience placements (N21), introducing them to potential employees…

And of course none of this happens in isolation – we have a wealth of charitable and voluntary-sector organisations in the area, and networking with partner organisations means that we can mean there is “no wrong door” for neurodivergent job-seekers and employees and that opening a conversation with an employer can often be facilitated by a warm introduction from a colleague.

So on employability day I want to extend a “thank you” to all of the organisations on the journey with us in recognising the many benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, so that employability becomes a shared societal goal.

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