The White Rose Industrial Physics Academy (WRIPA) is a collaboration between business and the university physics departments of Hull, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield and York. Funded by the OfS, WRIPA places a strong emphasis on supporting physics students to find regional technical work. As part of this endeavour the WRIPA team at the Department of Physics, University of York are working with key stakeholders to break down barriers to students with social communication/Autism Spectrum Disorder from gaining work experience opportunities and graduate roles.
The careers support provided by the project is underpinned by a combination of targeted initiatives, collaboration with employers, and connection with external experts. These interventions have proved successful and we hope it will be useful for others to learn about our experiences of supporting autistic students.
Targeted Initiatives: In September 2021, Beth Medley, Employability and Placement Officer at York, introduced a tailored approach to careers and employability support within the department. This involves providing 1:1 meetings to all students who would like to discuss their potential career path including advice about summer internships, Year in Industry opportunities or graduate roles. This adapted support allows students to work through key documents such as CVs and cover letters during the sessions as well as practise interview techniques. It also provides the opportunity to discuss individual student needs and any adjustments that may be vital to their success.
Collaborating with Employers: Further interventions have included talks from employers such as AWE, Hannah Jevans is a physicist working within the business and she presented to students about her autism, outlining the barriers she faced and how AWE helped her to thrive in her role. Hannah also offered advice around disclosing a disability to employers and why this would be beneficial. The talk was attended by undergraduate physicists from across the WRIPA Consortium and provided a relatable industry role model for the students with whom they are able to identify with. At the WRIPA Recruitment and Placement Fair in 2021, a neurodiversity Q&A Panel Discussion took place with speakers from United Response and the National Autistic Society who discussed support available and how students can enhance their employability skills.
Connecting with external expertise: WRIPA has also collaborated with Living Autism to provide ‘Autism Champion’ training for team members in order that they can deliver employability workshops for the students, focusing on Knowing Yourself, Employer Expectations and Matching Strengths to Employer Expectations. Students who attended the workshop left with a CV that clearly shows their key strengths and skills and had an understanding of the terms ‘disclosure’ and ‘reasonable adjustments’.
Beth will continue to apply a person-centred approach with all students to unlock their talents and abilities. She will utilise WRIPA’s suite of digital career tools, https://wripa.ac.uk/for-students, these tools demonstrate the vast array of physics-related careers. Students will also be encouraged to disclose their disability before the start of any recruitment process so that reasonable adjustments can be made, ensuring an effective and positive experience.
For more information about the work of WRIPA contact Beth Medley on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wripa.ac.uk. Follow us on Twitter @WRIPAinfo or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/white-rose-industrial-physics-academy