To mark World Autism Awareness Week we asked Amy, Jonathan and Damon to tell us about their work experience placements in the Civil Service.
The Civil Service Autism Exchange Programme, in partnership with charity Ambitious About Autism, started in 2015 to offer paid quality work experience to young people like Amy, Jonathan and Damon with autism, and autism awareness training for employers.
The programme offers those taking part the chance to learn new work skills while providing career development and networking advice. In exchange, participants teach managers and government departments about autism awareness.
As someone who had always been interested in experiencing life in the Civil Service, the Autism Exchange placement was very helpful in providing practical experience of work. I learnt about the variety of children’s services and education work being undertaken by the Department of Education.
In addition to helping with the core team responsibilities and compiling a report on children’s services, I volunteered to provide daily sector and media updates to the team. I also met the then children’s minister, and discussed with him ways the department was safeguarding and supporting children across the UK.
I took advantage of the opportunity for training and assessment by Civil Service coaches, who helped me to pinpoint strengths and identify areas for further improvement.
The flexibility provided by the team to support me attending prior commitments – such as the inaugural Work and Health Expert Advisory Group meeting, and a ceremony in which I was awarded a British Citizen Award – was very positive.
The members of the team also reported finding the experience of working with me really beneficial, including my line manager who said about the placement: “Jonathan’s interest in the work and the environment, his curiosity and intelligence, made him an excellent colleague. I think it was also a good discipline for our team to have the support of the Insight programme to help us plan a placement that had structure and real purpose. We hope that Jonathan will keep in touch with us in future and consider a return to the public sector one day.”
During my placement in the Civil Service I was able to experience the variety of work on offer. And I continue to support the Civil Service through sitting on the Autism Exchange Steering Group and the Work and Health Expert Advisory Group.
The placement helped me to build workplace skills and I have now moved into a full-time role as a trainee solicitor. The Civil Service is an environment that I would certainly consider returning to in the future.
Autistic people often have 'special interests' – subjects about which they are passionate and knowledgeable. My special interest is current affairs and policy, so when I saw Ambitious about Autism's exchange programme was running a placement in the Civil Service, I jumped at the chance!
The interns were matched to departments that suited their interests. As I had been working voluntarily on a start-up micro record label after graduating, my experience of working in small businesses contributed to the choice of placement with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The placement was only for two weeks, but I learned so much in that time. I worked in the Commercial New Nuclear team, and was tasked with researching nuclear technologies for a short presentation and in-depth document to refresh the team's knowledge. I was pleased to have been given a brief that would build on my research skills.
Members of my team gave me great insight into the working life of a civil servant, and helped me to imagine myself in the role. I was surprised by the breadth of roles available: from coders to communicators to commercial officers.
The civil servants who worked with us were supportive of our needs, and at our final meeting we discussed some of the barriers to employment for people with autism: namely, the interview process and reasonable adjustments.
I‘m now ambitious to secure a role within the Civil Service. I have been applying for roles and building my skills in web coding and research in anticipation of vacancies.
Last summer, I held an internship with the Tax Gap Team at HMRC. This placement enabled me to apply the knowledge I gained during my degree in the workplace and develop essential skills such as teamwork, programming, presentation and communication.
I was given the opportunity to work on three separate projects. These included creating a random stratified sample from a large set of data using the statistical software SAS, which I learnt to use during this internship; working on creating insight reports for Self-Assessment Business and Non-Business and Corporation Tax, analysing data on non-compliance rates and tax at risk; and working within a team of three analysts towards a publication on Tax Gap Estimates for 2015-16.
I did not know what to expect from the Civil Service, but during the placement, I learnt that civil servants work within a code of conduct and are very objective and play an integral role in the workplace.
The team became more aware of the constraints that people with autism encounter in their daily lives and I felt welcomed by the team. They also learnt that despite my disability, I was able to fulfil my duties in a very effective and influential way.
As a result of this placement, I successfully applied for a position as a statistician within the Government Statistical Service. I hope I will be able to gain a position within the Fast Stream in future so that I can progress further and develop my leadership skills.