It has been claimed that graduate jobseekers with ‘neuro-diverse’ disabilities are not receiving enough support from universities and the government to help them into work, as competition for graduate jobs remains tough.
Graduate Fog is also concerned that employers may be using the over-supply of graduates as a reason to ‘cherry pick’ candidates without these disabilities over those with the same qualifications who may be slightly disadvantaged because of their condition.
The alarm has been raised by a Fogger who contacted me to share his story.
“Tariq” claims that thousands of neuro-diverse graduates — with conditions including dyslexia, Asperger’s, ADD, Tourette’s, dyspraxia and mild austism — are slipping through cracks in the system.
He says that much of the existing support for young people with conditions like his (Asperger’s and dyspraxia) is designed for helping non-graduates – not graduates – to find work.
“The job centre will help disabled non-graduates but not disabled graduates,” he says. “Disabled non-graduates are allowed to go on WORKSTEP [a programme which supports disabled jobseekers]. But disabled graduates receive very little support.”
Tariq says he’d disgusted that his university was happy to accept thousands of pounds of his money, when they must have known all along that they are failing to deliver proper after-care to young people like him who will need extra help to make their qualification ‘pay’ once they graduate.
“It is a disgrace that universities are charging us huge fees – which they plan to increase – while providing so little support to graduates with disabilities,” he says.
Tariq says his job search has been severely hampered by his dyspraxia and Asperger’s syndrome, which were not diagnosed until after completing his studies.
Since then, he has struggled to find work other than casual maths tutoring and market research interviews, which he does from home, where he lives with his parents. He earns £200 to £500 per month.
This is despite having a BSc(Hons) in Mathematics & Computer Science from Birmingham university, a PGDip in a Mathmatical Finance discipline from City University and an additional professional qualification in Statistics.
Tariq admits he was unprepared for how tough life would be outside the uni ‘bubble’.
“I was unrealistic about my chances — definitely,” he says. “Originally, I wanted to work in accountancy or actuarial work — I assumed this would be easy because I was a graduate.”
He went into his postgraduate studies feeling wiser — but was disappointed again when the job market nose-dived straight after he qualified. “I hoped to find a job in IT as a computer programmer or web developer but the IT job market declined rapidly and competition was just too tough.”
He says he’s lost count of the number of job applications he’s submitted, which have included Tesco’s graduate training scheme, the government statistical service, business analyst at Churchill and web developer at a web design company. His conditions mean he’s not suitable for sales or manual work, but he has applied for call centre jobs. “I passed the spelling test but failed the interview,” he says.
All graduates find the application process daunting — but Tariq says he has found it particularly challenging, especially assessment centres.
“I have good qualifications and the psychometric tests generally cause me no problems. My only real difficulty caused by my Aspergers is not having excellent communication skills — so interviews can be tricky and I find assessment centres very stressful. It takes me a bit of extra time to process instructions.”
He knows plenty of other neuro-diverse graduates who are struggling to find — and keep — jobs.
“Most people I know with these conditions say they struggle with interviews and assessment centres,” he says. “A friend with dyspraxia and mild Asperger’s lost his job on a graduate training scheme after being told he was too slow. I’m not sure of the exact stats, but I’ve heard that only 25% of graduates with Asperger’s have full-time jobs and 10% are employed part-time. That would certainly fit with my group of friends.”
Tariq has called on universities modernise their approach to helping disabled graduates with their job search. “The careers advice I received was terrible, unclear and focussed almost exclusively on the big graduate training schemes. The staff clearly had very little knowledge or training about my disabilities.”
His experiences with his local job centre have been similarly disappointing — he describes it as “almost useless” and says the disability employment advisor said she couldn’t help him because he was a graduate. “She was unfriendly, knew very little about what my disabilities meant in real terms — and insisted that I did not need her support.”
Tariq says the Dyspraxia Foundation referred him back to the job centre and the National Autistic Society won’t allow him to use the services for graduates, as he left full-time education several years ago. They will only place him in low-paying admin jobs with no prospects, he says.
Tariq now aims to complete an MSc in Statistics, which he hopes will lead to a job at a university or abroad. In the meantime, he continues to scour newspapers and online job boards daily for suitable vacancies.
But his difficulties finding work have led to gaps on his work history, which he suspects make his CV off-putting to employers — thereby adding to his problems. He admits he is “not confident” about the future.
“The combination of so many qualifications but very little experience seems to trigger concern from recruiters. I know big gaps on my CV look bad — but how am I supposed to fill them when nobody will give me a chance?”
*Do you have a disability that makes job hunting extra difficult?
Is there enough support and advice available to you – from your university and job centre? What have your experiences been with recruiters? What do you feel your chances are of landing a job that reflects your qualifications?