A HIGH-PROFILE North-East company has urged other businesses to consider employing autistic people following the “huge success” of a pilot scheme.

Four autistic employees, who were recruited by Tyne Tunnels to join the customer services team, have produced results that are significantly above average.

The company launched the pilot scheme last October, initially recruiting two autistic ‘customer experience agents’ to review pictures from automatic number plate recognition cameras and match them to the payment system.

Earlier this year, the businesses decided to develop the ‘Diversity Employment Scheme’ and contacted the North East Autism Society (NEAS) for expert advice through the charity’s Employment Futures department.

As a result, two more neurodivergent employees became part of an expansion of the customer service team, and such has been the success that Tyne Tunnels plans to continue with the scheme.

“It’s no longer a pilot, it’s an established part of the business, and we’re delighted with the results,” said Sophie Hannah, the company’s marketing and communications manager.

The data shows that their quality assurance is well above average, and it’s great to have them as part of the team.

Tyne Tunnels has gone through a major expansion of its contact centre at Wallsend, due to a transition to ‘open road tolling’. Traditional toll booths have been replaced with motorists being able to pay remotely in a variety of ways: by phone, online, through pre-paid accounts, or by cash at pay-points.

Around 80 new staff have been recruited, with the four neurodivergent employees playing an important part in the successful transition.

One of them, Harris Roxborough, 32, of Wallsend, said: “It’s a lot of staring at number plates all day but I find it fun and satisfying.”

“A lot of my colleagues have told me that they could not do my job as long as I do but I find it my greatest strength.

I hope other employers see neurodivergence as an asset rather than a nuisance. We may need extra help in some areas, but we can also do things that other people wouldn’t be able to do, or simply wouldn’t enjoy.

Employment Futures sourced the candidates for Tyne Tunnels, sent in CVs, carried out a sensory review of the workplace, and ensured all employees had autism awareness training.

Tyne Tunnels make a quiet room available for all employees and, knowing that routine can be important to autistic colleagues, set desk space is allocated. They are also allowed flexibility in planning breaks and lunches.

“The North East Autism Society has been a fantastic source of support and we would definitely recommend them to other businesses who want to improve their diversity,” added Sophie.

“There’s a common misconception about autistic and neurodivergent people, but they have strengths and it’s all about making the most of those differences.”

Derek Groves, Employment Services Manager for NEAS, said: “Tyne Tunnels is a shining example of how a progressive company can not only improve its diversity but enhance its performance by working with us to find the right employment opportunities for neurodivergent people.”

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