For most young people, there has never been a better time than right now to start a professional career. As the Canadian economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic, companies are aggressively hiring to their pre-COVID levels and beyond. Young people typically command lower wages while bringing a fresh energy and dynamism to the workplace, which makes them ideal hires for many organizations. However, autistic young adults across British Columbia still continue to find it hard to get their foot on the professional career ladder, but with the right support they can take their rightful place in the workforce.
Barriers to Autistic Employment
Recent studies estimate that over 80% of British Columbia’s adult autistic population are either unemployed or in work that doesn’t make use of their unique skills and talents. There are many reasons for this chronic underemployment, including:
- Low expectations – for most of their childhood schooling, autistic students will be aware that they are different to their neurotypical peers and that the world has to be modified to accommodate them. With this background during their formative years, it’s easy to assume that there will always be a safety net, and indeed many people don’t expect to find autistic people in the workplace. As a society, everyone has to do their part to expect inclusion and to embrace the strength in different brain types.
- Negative stereotypes – if you look for autistic role models in popular media, you’ll find it hard to find neurodivergence portrayed in a positive light. For many people, their experiences of neurodivergence run as far as Rainman and Sheldon Cooper, while the actual truth of autism is that no two people on the spectrum are alike. There’s also the misconceptions of what autism is (and what it isn’t) leading to unkind phrases like “I’m a bit autistic about my running” that downplay the seriousness of the diagnosis.
- Neurotypical biases – when it comes to finding work, autistic jobseekers will quickly discover that the majority of hiring practices are biased towards neurotypical workers. Most job adverts require a high level of abstract thinking, and the traditional cover letter requires applicants to make cognitive connections between concrete experience and abstract expectations. Finally, the face to face interview heavily favors individuals who are able to read body language and pick up on subtle social cues.
Helping Young Autistic Adults Find Work
Given these barriers to autism employment, it’s not surprising to see historically low levels of youth employment in the British Columbia autism population. Helping young adults with ASD to get a job can be a tricky process, but these steps will help get the ball rolling:
- Make lists – the world of work can feel intimidating to young autistic jobseekers, so you can help them narrow down on their ideal career by making lists. You should start off with a list of their perceived strengths and perceived weaknesses, and move to a list of job fields that potentially interest them. Finally, make a list of activities that they would and wouldn’t like (or be able) to perform in work, and help them collate this information into an action plan. You should be able to see patterns that will direct them towards certain careers and away from others.
- Identify autism friendly employers – while they are spread out across Vancouver, you’ll find a growing number of businesses who specifically brand themselves as being autism friendly. This means that they either already have autistic employees, or are willing to make accommodations to bring inclusion and neurodiversity into their workplace. These are great places to start looking for jobs for young autistic people as many of the barriers to employment will already be removed.
- Get appropriate training – autistic jobseekers face two rounds of Autism employment training that they will want to go through before starting their new role. Firstly, they should undertake any necessary professional qualifications or training that will help them complete their day to day role. Secondly, they should undergo some sort of employment readiness training. This should include work on getting ready for work in the morning, navigating the commute and organizing and prioritizing their workload.
Here at Orbital, we pride ourselves on our personalized support for young people with ASD who are looking to join the job market. Our employment readiness training has a strong track record of successfully preparing autistic jobseekers for the workplace, and we provide a wide range of training to help young autistic adults get their first step on the career ladder.