Why it’s time to ‘Get Autism’ | NCFE

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Why it’s time to ‘Get Autism’

Andy Lovatt Andy Lovatt CEO of Digital Advantage

When, as a society, we fail autistic young people, we not only deny them fulfilment and purpose, and the economy a much-needed resource, we also risk them becoming a cost to society because of their health and social care needs.

The unemployment rate for people with Autism Spectrum Condition in the UK is 71% – a frightening number which we’re on a mission with partners to reduce. 

With our partners SENDCode, we’re working to establish a place and movement where autistic young people leverage their incredible digital aptitude and interests to enter the digital workplace.

A workplace where they are valued by their employers for their contribution and support the wider economy by closing national digital skill gaps.

They then act as real-life role models for others, raising aspirations and mentoring those who follow in their footsteps.


The opportunity for transformation is driven by industry demand and a growing digital economy that has an ongoing shortage of skills.

A 2021 report by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) stated that “employers indicate that about one-third of vacancies they find difficult to fill are, to some degree, attributable to a lack of appropriate digital skills amongst applicants.”

Autistic young people frequently have these skills but are excluded from the workplace due to a complex range of institutional systemic issues.

For example, they struggle to achieve their potential through delays in diagnosis due to under-resourced services; a lack of appropriate educational provision and support; low aspirations including a lack of real-life role models and appropriate careers advice.

There are also issues in terms of employers not understanding the benefits autistic people bring or how to create an inclusive workplace; a lack of support for both employers and young people in the workplace; available support being siloed and difficult to access and navigate.

Innovative Solutions

We address these issues by providing strengths-based, experiential learning delivered by industry professionals and experienced teachers from diverse backgrounds.

Our innovative training and development programmes, devised with young people and their support networks, are delivered in several settings. 

We also work with other support services including the Greater Manchester Learning Provider Network, NCFE, and employers to radically transform the wider landscape of support.

Digital Advantage deliver fully funded outreach programmes to around 20 SEND schools and colleges each year, reaching around 200 students annually, funded primarily through Manchester’s Access Foundation, the Digital Industries Support Hub (DiSH), Lancashire County Council and Future U at the University of Central Lancashire.

In September 2022 we opened our Digital Independent Specialist College (DiSC) with our partners SENDCode. This unique provision provides a supported pathway from education to employment in the digital economy for autistic young people who have a passion for creative and digital making.

From outreach programmes to Alternative Provision, pre-internship and supported internships, as a partnership, we provide individualised, strengths-based, experiential learning that works to get 14–25-year-olds with ASC into creative and digital employment. 

We also employ two apprentices with ASC ourselves, Dylan and Max, who have become great assets to the marketing team.

The employment challenges

Whilst there are a number of enlightened employers out there, most noticeably Autotrader and Talk Talk, the 71% unemployment rate highlights the challenges faced by those with ASC who are more than capable of becoming valued and useful employees.

Employers need to make some adjustments to existing recruitment and career support, taking advantage of Access to Work to get significant financial support for mentors, support workers, training and assistive technology.

Training providers are encouraged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate any additional needs an ASC person may have – supported Apprenticeships need to be a much bigger thing.

If we’re to make a difference, tech employers need to connect to their humanity as well as rediscover the value of neurodiversity to their business model.

We’re about to launch a campaign which we hope will catalyse a movement of enlightened employers who can help shift the dial on this appalling number.

The Get Autism campaign aims to challenge 100 Greater Manchester employers a year to employ an autistic young person.

The campaign has been designed by our interns and is deliberately provocative. It challenges employers to:

  • Get Thinking: 71% of people in the UK with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) will not find full-time employment!
  • Get Creative: How can you and your business change this? 
  • Get Talent: There are some uniquely talented and trained young people ready for the digital workplace. 
  • Get Funding/Support: Employers can get significant financial support to employ someone with ASC? Find out more at Access to Work.
  • Get Involved: Sign up, find out more, make a pledge and let’s make Greater Manchester the best place in the UK for employment for young people with ASC.

To find out more information about the campaign and how you can get involved, visit the Get Autism website.

Digital Advantage is a charity established in 2020 to help young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), especially those with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), gain creative, digital and employability skills and help them find work in the digital economy.

The unemployment rate for people with Autism Spectrum Condition in the UK is 71% – a frightening number which we’re on a mission with partners to reduce. 

Andy Lovatt, CEO of Digital Advantage

Young person looks into a computer screen in a dimly lit room

Thomas Hoschtitzky, DiSC Supported Intern

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