Former teacher ‘with a big idea’ launches company to tackle autism employment barriers

A business has launched in Northampton that wants to change the way autism is viewed in the workplace.

Founded by ex-teacher Thomas Cliffe, Track NN Limited supports people on the autism spectrum by providing access to employment through training, consultancy and other opportunities.

Thomas told All Things Business that he was shocked to find in a report by the National Autistic Society (NAS) that only 16% of adults with autism were in full time employment and that, having worked with children and young adults with autism for several years in his career, felt compelled to do something about it.

He said: “I was just a teacher with a big idea and now I have secured the investment to make my idea a reality and change lives.

“People with autism have so much to offer employers and I just could not believe that such a small number were in full time and part time (32%) employment.

“In my experience – and this is a bit of a sweeping statement – people with autism might not perform well in certain job-hunting situations. For example, they will read job descriptions and take what companies are looking for too literally and not apply, or they will be too honest at job interviews where most people will adapt their answers to fit what they think potential employers would like to hear.

“But, if they get past those hurdles, employees with autism bring loyalty, productivity, creativity and fantastic attention to detail. We are all unique people with different skills and we all have autistic traits, just not everyone is on the autism spectrum.”

According to NAS, autism is ‘a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people and how they experience the world around them’ and ‘the overwhelming majority of autistic people want to work, but the types of work that people want vary greatly’. It goes on to say that ‘autistic people report assumptions from services and employers that they want work that is solitary, technical or requires attention to detail’ which isn’t always the case.

Thomas wants to raise awareness of this issue and offer the support needed to break down barriers and get autistic people into employment, not only helping the individuals themselves, but employers to find suitably skilled candidates, and the parents and carers who are unable to work as their loved one cannot find work.

“Workplaces need to be made aware of just how they can help – and not just in recruiting people with autism – but in looking after the staff they already have as many organisations could already employ someone with autism without realising it. It could be that someone has not disclosed the fact they have autism to get the job and then spends each day ‘masking’ it which can be draining and damaging to their mental health.”

Track NN works with businesses in two fundamental ways – training and consultancy and creating opportunities. The training and consultancy side of the business looks at an organisation’s recruitment and selection processes; mentors new and existing employees; ensures job tasks are clearly defined; and trains existing employees to become workplace leaders for autism, enabling full disclosure and conversation about autism to take place.

The creating opportunities arm of the business works with local employers, schools, colleges and Universities to encourage them to give people with autism employment or work experience. One idea Thomas is currently working on is the development of a café in Northampton town centre which will not only provide work experience but will give potential employers the chance to see individuals at work, as opposed to carrying out formal interviews. Track NN can also provide information on funding available to make adjustments to the workplace.

“Work is such a big part of our identity and who we are and can give us so much in terms of a sense of purpose, independence and belonging. People with autism have so much to offer and valuable skills to bring to the table. By engaging with businesses and encouraging them to be proactive and get involved, we can really make a difference.

“I was born and bred in Northampton and am incredibly proud of Northamptonshire. I truly believe that this county can lead the way in changing the way in which we view autism in the workplace.”

He says: “I see some brilliant people with passion who genuinely want to work but are not being given the opportunity. If we can replace traditional interview processes and other barriers and look at people as individuals and recognising their strengths and what they can bring to a business, we can change lives and make a substantial impact on the economy.

“Workplaces need to be made aware of just how they can help – and not just in recruiting people with autism – but in looking after the staff they already have as many organisations could already employ someone with autism without realising it. It could be that someone has not disclosed the fact they have autism to get the job and then spends each day ‘masking’ it which can be draining and damaging to their mental health.”

Track NN works with businesses in two fundamental ways – training and consultancy and creating opportunities. The training and consultancy side of the business looks at an organisation’s recruitment and selection processes; mentors new and existing employees; ensures job tasks are clearly defined; and trains existing employees to become workplace leaders for autism, enabling full disclosure and conversation about autism to take place.

The creating opportunities arm of the business works with local employers, schools, colleges and Universities to encourage them to give people with autism employment or work experience. One idea Thomas is currently working on is the development of a café in Northampton town centre which will not only provide work experience but will give potential employers the chance to see individuals at work, as opposed to carrying out formal interviews. Track NN can also provide information on funding available to make adjustments to the workplace.

“Work is such a big part of our identity and who we are and can give us so much in terms of a sense of purpose, independence and belonging. People with autism have so much to offer and valuable skills to bring to the table. By engaging with businesses and encouraging them to be proactive and get involved, we can really make a difference.

“I was born and bred in Northampton and am incredibly proud of Northamptonshire. I truly believe that this county can lead the way in changing the way in which we view autism in the workplace.”

“People with autism have so much to offer employers and I just could not believe that such a small number were in full time and part time (32%) employment.”

Autism facts

Being autistic means you see, hear and feel the world in a different way to other people.

Autism doesn't just affect children. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.

Between 48% - 56% of autistic people do not have a learning disability.

Autism is a developmental disability. It’s a difference in how your brain works. Autistic people can have good mental health, or experience mental health problems, just like anyone else.

Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that's more than 1 in 100. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people – 7000 people in Northamptonshire.

While autism is incurable, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people's lives.

If you would like to find out more about how your organisation can work with Track NN Limited, visit www.track.org.uk