“Without Pete, I wouldn’t be here”

How a council support service changes the lives of people with autism

For Aidan Ratnage, finding a permanent job had been a challenge.

After being diagnosed with autism in his early twenties, Aidan had several unsuccessful job interviews and struggled to find employment that really suited him.   Aidan pic

But with the help of Oxfordshire County Council’s specialised autism employment support service, the 27-year-old from Abingdon has been working full time since December 2021.

He’s been building up his workplace experience as an apprentice computer analyst for the council, supporting around 6,000 people with their IT queries.

Aidan said: “I’ve always found it difficult in job interviews. I’m quite literal, so sometimes my answers are too honest. I was also going for jobs that weren’t right for me so even if I got the position, it didn’t really last long.”

Through the autism employment support programme, Aidan was put in touch with Pete Newman, a dedicated employment advisor at Oxfordshire County Council. It was Pete’s job to get to know Aidan and use his experience to support him to find long-term sustainable employment that brought not just financial benefit, but also real inclusion and independence.

Pete said: “It’s not just about finding any position for a person and hoping for the best.

“We support people from the very start of their employment journey and continue to offer that helping hand for as long as it’s needed. This can include employer engagement work, to ensure a positive working relationship is established for everyone involved.”

Aidan is one of more than sixty people who have been supported by the autism employment programme since it started in January 2020. It offers employment coaching - including support to develop confidence and clear job aspirations - as well as help to write CVs, fill in forms and practice interview skills.

Once a candidate has found a job they enjoy, their employment advisor continues to support them, making it more likely that they will stay in the position for longer.

In the last year, the service has helped 17 neurodivergent people find paid employment, with 12 people – like Aidan –staying in the job permanently.

Funding has now been confirmed for the programme until March 2025.

Karen Fuller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Interim Director for Adult Social Care, said: “People with autism offer real value and diversity to Oxfordshire’s workforce and it’s great to see the employment support programme going from strength to strength.”

“The service is helping us to deliver our adult social care Oxfordshire Way vision, by supporting people to live happy independent lives within their own communities.

“It also plays an important role in helping us achieve the council’s strategic priorities to tackle inequalities, support the social care system and to work with local businesses and partners for social benefit.

“I wish Aidan every success as he continues his career.”

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