Autistic people visiting Job Centres across the North-east could soon find the Jobcentres are tailoring support even further to meet the individual needs of its autistic customers. 

A pioneering partnership between Job Centres across Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and the North East Autism Society’s Employment Futures team will see almost 200 Job Centre staff fully trained to be more autism aware by the end of September.

Already Jobcentres across Sunderland, parts of North and South Tyneside and in Northumberland are putting reasonable adjustments in place to make Jobcentres more accessible for autistic people, or others who would identify as neurodivergent. By the end of October all staff in Jobcentres across Northumberland, Tyne & Wear will have received the training.

Job Centre Sunderland

The programme was an eye-opener for Simon Harper, Disability and Employment Adviser (DEA) at Houghton-Le-Spring Job Centre:

We are aware that we see an increase number of people who are autistic. We wanted to upskill our staff in order that we were providing the best service possible for any individual who visit our Jobcentre.

We approached Derek Groves from Employment Futures and were delighted to run a few pilot training sessions for our staff.

Derek and his team were able to provide training for Jobcentre staff as well as organise a visit to a Jobcentre for a small group of autistic job-seekers. This helped to shine a light on how small tweaks could make the world of difference for this group.  

Derek, Employment Futures Manager, said:

We provide an array of services from workplace mentoring, employer training and in this case it was in offering neurodivergent training which included Autism awareness with a view to making the environment at the Job Centres more accessible for autistic people and those with other needs.

There are probably a few obvious things that many people know about which could cause anxiety for someone who’s autistic: like queuing, or turning up to see one person only to find out they aren’t available. But there’s other things that are simply about knowledge and having a correct understanding of neurodiversity. We always wait to see if the changes we suggest, or the new knowledge gained, begins to inform practice – and in this case it’s great to see evidence that it has.

As well as now offering quieter time slots for autistic people, every element of the JobCentre experience is being thought through, for example, Sensory checks and the use of Autism Passports. 

Simon added:

It’s not just a case of saying ‘come at this time’ because we know our Jobcentre will be quiet. We have to think through whether the journey there and back will be hectic. There’s no point swapping one form of chaos and distress for another. 

A great example of what we have changed since this process began is in the correspondence we send out for work placements. One of our team – who is autistic – helped us to redraft the wording to make it clear, concise and a lot more helpful to someone who is autistic. Her suggestions highlighted why the lived experience shared through Derek’s training was so important for us. The new letter format has now been adopted nationally. 

Job Centre plus

For more information on the North East Autism Society or Employment Futures call 0191 410 9974 or follow JobCentre Plus on Twitter via @JCPinNTW or Telephone: 0800 328 5644