Adrian Wallace, chief executive of Tyne Tunnels operator TT2, has a strong personal interest in autism and inclusion. His 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter are both autistic, with ADHD and dyslexia. 

But he also argues passionately that it makes good business sense for organisations to tap into neurodiverse talent and think differently about how they recruit and support staff.

“We now know so much more about neurodiversity and there are more people getting diagnosed, but I don’t think industry has kept up at all,” says Adrian, who joined TT2 last September.

“What industry does is take a once-size-fits-all approach. But business is about managing existing and continuous change.

It’s about breaking the process down, breaking down what you want to achieve, and then applying the right skills and people in order to do that.

TT2 did just that when it was expanding its customer service team and worked with the North East Autism Society to hire autistic employees to review pictures from automatic number plate recognition cameras and match them to the payment system.

“The staff we hired excel in these focused tasks,” the chief executive says. “They like to have a plan, understand the system and know the parameters. If we have to introduce change, we introduce it as early as possible so they can feel comfortable with it.”

He’s now looking to expand the scheme further and is always thinking about new opportunities that will benefit both neurodivergent people and the business. 

This might include assembling neurodiverse teams to work separately on problem-solving. “If we create an environment that’s comfortable for people to contribute, we may get very different perspectives that unlock things for us rather than always take a standard approach,” he says.

I’m also exploring the idea of doing taster sessions within our business. It can be so valuable because often it’s not just about the technical or business role, it’s as much about giving people the confidence to come into these environments.

Adrian’s own son and daughter are very different – one is fearful of going out, while the other is very gregarious – and he knows that opportunities have to be as individual as the person they are aimed at. 

“I think there are more opportunities there and I don’t think we should be blinkered about what those opportunities look like,” he says.

“We have to give people time, and learn about how they operate and react, seek their feedback and act on lessons learned because we might not get it right immediately.

“There’s a real place for neurodivergent people if we don’t look at things traditionally but ask whether there’s a better way to do things, and not be scared of doing them.”

Adrian is backing our 1,000 Opportunities: Inclusive Futures campaign, and is keen to share ideas and case studies with other North East businesses. Click the link below to become an Inclusive Futures partner and join the network.

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