If you have Aspergers syndrome and are looking to get into the workplace, the Step into Work Plus (SIW Plus) programme could be for you. SIW Plus at Wirral Autistic Society aims to prepare people with Asperger syndrome (AS) for employment, whilst also helping employers to recognise that they can be capable, dependable employees who excel in certain roles.
SIW Plus runs regular 24 week programmes involvingeight weeks of training, a twelve week work placement and then a four week review. Teams are small (six students), to combat stress and anxiety, and there are intakes two months.
The programme recently beat strong competition from across the UK to win an Independent Specialist Care Award (Autism Spectrum Services Category).
SIW Plus is funded by a Big Lottery grant of £265,000, and we want to reach up to 160 adults with AS in the next five years, who would otherwise fall into the gap between employment and care funding.
There is an innovative training approach that encourages students to realise their full potential in a safe environment. Just some of the things we do are:
Create new businesses from scratch
In teams, members aim is to create a new businesses from scratch: a new chocolate bar, CHOCANA, was one such invention, and is now being considered by a local chocolatier.
These give students the chance to dress for business, go on external trips and visit speakers, which provide a chance to practice social skills.
Team games and IT programmes
Aimed at targeting memory, concentration, collaboration and multi-tasking, these take place regularly throughout the course.
Work placements are approached creatively. Students aren’t shoe-horned into fixed placements, but instead individual skills are assessed and potential employers are then approached and offered autism awareness training.
One football-loving student, placed with Tranmere Rovers FC, was tasked with preparing the team’s kit for all home games. Others students are library assistants, animal carers, hotel staff, dog walkers, IT assistants and receptionists.
Another student took on a front of house role at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, and has since been offered the role on a permanent basis. He said: “I have been thrilled to participate and have surprised myself with how much I have been able to achieve.”
Jane Woodason, Education Manager at the Light Cinema, said: “We are pleased to be giving him – and his warm and pleasant personality – a chance to shine here, and have been impressed by the way he has developed skills and adapted to his tasks. We’ve watched his confidence grow and grow and he’s working really well with our customers and staff. He’s achieved a great deal and we are proud of him.”
To date 58 students have accessed the programme with almost all achieving successful work placements. Lottery outcomes have either been met or exceeded. The Lottery funding requires each student to have one work placement.
In fact, a quarter of students have had two or three work placements, thirteen have accepted permanent paid roles following their placement, and six remain as volunteers. Enquiries have come from across the UK, and two upcoming programmes are full. But that doesn’t mean you can’t apply for the next…
Before I started the course I spent most of my time at home. I was happy doing that, but I knew that I was a worry to my family. I wanted to find a job so I could support myself, so when I heard about Step into Work Plus, I decided to find out more about it.
I went to a drop in session and met the staff. They were very friendly and understanding and I felt safe with them, so I decided to join the course.
I was nervous about meeting the other students in my group because I don’t like meeting new people, but we all got on really well from the beginning. Sometimes we went out together at the weekend, and to this day we still keep in touch.
During the course we learnt about work place conduct, applications, CVs and interviews. I don’t know as much as I should do about this, but I felt comfortable asking questions because I knew that nobody was going to laugh at me.
We also had to work as a team on many activities, including a business project. was dreading this because team work has always been a nightmare for me. At first it was difficult, but soon we started to work well together. I liked being part of the team and started enjoying team work, which was a real surprised me. It has also helped my confidence because I know that team work is an important skill to employers.
I was even more surprised when I was asked to lead the group. I didn’t want to do it because people have just laughed at me when I’ve had to be a leader before, but I bit the bullet to help build my skills. It was stressful at first, but the staff supported me, and in the end I was proud of what the team had achieved. I’m not sure if I would want to do it again, but this experience has definitely helped me to feel more confident in dealing with people.
I was nervous about going on my work placement with a local employer because I didn’t know what it would be like. However, when I got there everyone was really friendly. The people I worked with built up my confidence week by week. I was treated the same as anyone else.
I discovered that I like having somewhere to go each day, and I always looked forward to going there. I’ve learnt a lot about the job and about dealing with people. It’s helped me understand what employers are looking for, so I feel more confident about knowing what to say when I apply for jobs. It has also given me a few ideas about what work I could do in the future.
Overall, the course has made me feel much calmer and happier in myself, and my family aren’t so worried about me anymore.
To apply for a place on the course, contact Step into Work Plus, which is run by the Wirral Autistic Society, on 0151 559 2399, or by visiting www.autistic.org.
By Step into Work Plus