Returning to JobCentre Plus, this time whilst in work!
A morning (un)like many others
I woke up this morning with the customary belly ache I get before delivering a training session. Imagine your diaphragm being sucked up into your lungs whilst your midriff is tightly wrapped by a boa constrictor and then you’ll get the gist. I had extra reason to feel anxious this morning, however; I was returning to Bognor Regis JobCentre to deliver a taster session for Aspie Trainers. Past experiences of signing-on for Job Seekers Allowance have taught me to be wary of this place. From a sensory perspective, a combination of: the open-plan layout; the brightly coloured walls; the patterned, tiled carpet; the noise; and the palpable sense of frustration emanating from everywhere, collides to make a discombobulating experience. All of this has left me overwhelmed, bordering on sick, in the past. Added to that there were people (I’m successfully repressing the urge to head-butt my laptop at this point), none of whom seemed to want to be there, but were forced out of necessity, also known as money. Fortunately I wasn’t going to sign-on today; I’ve been employed part-time for best part of three years now (ok, so it’s 2 years, 10 months, and three weeks, but who cares), and I had been given 30 minutes to try and encapsulate what it was like for me in the past, whilst conveying information about the eternal question: what is autism?
Autism and employment
According to The autism employment gap: Too Much Information in the workplace, published by the National Autistic Society (NAS) in 2016, only 17% of autistic adults are in full-time employment. I’m one person out of the 32% who currently have some form of employment (which includes those in full-time work), meaning that 68% are currently unemployed. When one considers that the Government has pledged to get 64% of disabled people into work by 2020, they’ve got some serious work to do, fast. The majority (60%) of employers spoken to by the NAS are worried about employing autistic people because of their support needs, yet I for one feel that those of us on the spectrum can be successful in any career path that we choose to follow. I believe that with a little training (from autistic people themselves, naturally) employers’ fears can be mitigated. Consequently, I saw this trip to the JobCentre as a step towards getting us (the autistic people/people with autism/neurosiblings, etc.) the right kind of support to find, and keep, work.
Return to the JobCentre
Inevitably, the RMT union had decided to hold another strike (*cough* sort it out Chris Grayling *cough*), so I checked my iPhone for train times, before getting my morning routine underway. I’d remembered to allow extra time for this; so far, so good. I packed my laptop, my charger, my VGA to HDMI converter, my water bottle, and my spare phone battery, and I was good to go. I arrived at the train station and (shock horror) the trains were running on time, so I was able to sneak a cheeky Costa in before returning to the JobCentre for the first time since February 2013.
It was 09:10 when I got there, on time, and keen to get things underway; I wanted to get in and out of there as fast as possible. The Disability Employment Adviser who I had arranged the session with met me at the side door. We did the perennial awkward introduction, where she offered me her hand whilst I politely garbled out something about being hyper-sensitive to touch, then she guided me to the main open-plan area for the first time in four years. The décor had changed slightly, and it was much quieter (this was prior to opening hours), but in essence it was still the same. The Employment Advisers were finishing up their meeting in a small side-office, then I shuffled in, hooked up my laptop to their projector, and I was off.
My impression of the JobCentre Employment Advisers
Now I like to think that, given time, I can be as compassionate as the next guy; it’s just takes me longer to process what’s going on. I came into the session fearing that I might see some familiar (unfriendly) faces, but I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t recognise anyone. Overall, my impression of the Employment Advisers has improved; they were friendly, seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and judging from their questions they were actively engaged. I feel that the session went ok (there’s always room for improvement) and when I said that we (Aspie Trainers) could offer a more detailed (paid-for) session they seemed interested, which is positive.
From a personal perspective, I’m grateful that I was able to return to the JobCentre and put some bad memories to rest; I was worried beforehand that I was going to rant about said experiences, but I didn’t. I’m one of the lucky ones who has managed to find meaningful employment (albeit part-time), and as I said above, this is not the case for most of us on the spectrum. I’m hopeful that things will change for the better in the near future, and, more importantly, that today’s session was a step towards making that happen.