HELPING others to find their perfect job role can be tough, but for Michael Knaggs it’s proven to be his calling in life.

Michael, from Ryton, Tyne and Wear, was unemployed and seeking work himself when the opportunity arose to join the North East Autism Society’s Employment Futures provision in April 2017.

He was made aware of the Employment Specialist vacancy by his work coach at the Job Centre, and over the past four years Michael has become a valuable part of the fast-growing team.

Employment Futures, which is based in Sunderland, aims to break down barriers and support autistic and/or neurodivergent adults to secure employment - and the mission is one close to Michael’s own heart as his son Daniel, 26, is autistic.

He says: “My work coach thought the job would be a good fit for me, taking into consideration my background as a carer for my son.”

Michael says Daniel, who was diagnosed at the age of five, inspires him on a daily basis and describes him as one of his biggest assets.

“The way I talk to my participants is the way I would like people to talk to my son - empower him, give him choice and allow him to understand,” Michael says.

“I’ve learned an awful lot from him, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been on various autism awareness courses but I think the learning curve has been my son; supporting him, encouraging him and thinking about strategies.

Daniel is the one that has prompted me to have the passion and motivation to help others. 

Before joining NEAS, Michael enjoyed a varied career which included a stint in the army and a number of years spent driving heavy goods lorries.

While these roles may be a far cry from his current position, they helped Michael develop a wide range of transferrable skills, all of which have contributed to his success since joining NEAS.

“When I left school I was very shy and withdrawn, I didn’t have a lot of confidence at all,” Michael says. “When I joined the army I developed a lot of confidence, self-discipline, resilience and focus. Without a doubt that helped massively in shaping who I am.”

Asked what his advice would be to anyone considering applying for a role at the North East Autism Society, Michael says traits such as patience, empathy and understanding are essential.

“Whatever department you may be considering joining, don’t fear the unknown and don’t worry about having no previous experience in this sector,” Michael advises.

When I joined Employment Futures I had no professional experience at all, it was all very personal experience as a carer. It was a completely new career, culture and a new way of working, but NEAS are very welcoming and very supportive. 

Michael also says the Society’s five-day induction process was invaluable when he joined NEAS in 2017, as well as the opportunity to do additional training and up-skill on the job.

He adds: “It was quite an in-depth, thorough programme of induction training - but leaving the induction, I still felt well supported. If I wasn’t sure about something, I still felt very comfortable approaching my line manager – and that continues to this day.

“If you’re not sure, there is always someone you can talk to so you never feel isolated or on your own.”

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