How did you found out about EmployAbility?
After I graduated from university in 2003, I had quite a difficult couple of years. Despite having a very good academic record I struggled to gain employment. I made hundreds of job applications, and attended dozens of interviews, but had no luck. I drifted into low skilled temping and bar work. Eventually, I decided to return to university to study for a Masters degree, as I felt that I was wasting my life trying and failing to find meaningful work and that an additional qualification might help me. When I first started at my new university in London, I declared that I had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as a teenager. I was invited to meet the university’s disability coordinator, who said to me that several other students with Asperger’s syndrome and autism had been involved with an organisation called Prospects, which was the employment support arm of the National Autistic Society, and offered to put me in touch. I began attending Prospects, where my mentor was Justin. I found Justin and the rest of the Prospects team to be really very helpful, both in terms of general support (such as helping me plan my studies) and in terms of employment support. Justin helped me gain a summer role as an administrator at a leading Investment Bank in the City of London. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Justin subsequently left Prospects, but this wasn’t the end of our journey as he went to work for Employability, which had then only recently been founded, and was able to continue providing me with valuable employment support in his new role.
How were we able to help you?
Employability proved to really helpful, and provide some life altering opportunities, which helped me get to where I am now. The first step in the road was helping me to identify appropriate opportunities. I had already gained a bit of financial services experience, so we initially focused on this area, which was good because there were plenty of opportunities in this sector and Employability had already established good relations with several prestigious employers, EmployAbility helped me to apply for several of the internships and graduate programmes that they organised with partner organisations. This included advice on interview techniques, help with reasonable adjustments to the recruitment and assessment process, and even attending assessment centres with me to help and provide support. I was eventually successful with an application for a summer internship with Barclays Commercial Bank, arranged through Employability.
Where was your placement and what was it like?
My placement was in the HR operations team at Barclays Commercial Bank. The role was based in Birmingham, which was an interesting change of scenery given that I came from London. Justin came up to visit me at least once to help me settle in. The role involved process mapping various HR processes, mostly recruitment based, and helping to identify potential improvements and cost reductions. I also had the opportunity to attend several master classes given by senior Barclays staff, mainly in London, on topics ranging from Treasury management all the way through to marketing. Even before I arrived, Employability provided disability awareness training to my manager and colleagues. I found this to be a rewarding experience, and an important step in my career ladder.
I subsequently returned to University to continue studying, with a view to becoming an academic. Unfortunately, I was not able to complete a PhD, as I did not receive the necessary funding. As such my thoughts returned to gaining employment. I initially got another six month contract in financial services, but was still looking for a long term solution. With the support of Employability. I applied to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) Employability Graduate Scheme. Again, Employability were really helpful and supportive during the application, recruitment and assessment process, and my application was successful. Despite being over 30 by this time, this was my first full time and permanent position! This proved to be a great career move, as my combination of financial services experience and policy knowledge proved to be valuable in a financial services regulation environment, and several years on I am still gainfully employed and my career has developed further. Without the support of Employability at key stages in this process, I do not believe that I would have got to the positon in my career and in my life which I have got to today.
Where are you now and what advice would you give to any disabled students who are looking for jobs/placements
I currently work as a Policy Analyst at the Bank of England.
In terms of advice, the first thing that I would say is that I would advise is that disabled students should make use of any support that is available from specialist organisations such as EmployAbility. A related point is that disabled students should ensure that any prospective employers are aware of your conditions and implement any necessary reasonable adjustments to both the application, recruitment and assessment process, and if your application is successful then subsequently to the on-boarding process and the actual work place. An organisation such as Employability can help with this, but if not then employers are still under a legal obligation to provide such adjustments even in the absence of such support. Unfortunately, and as I myself experienced during my own difficult transition from education to employment, disabled applicants do generally start from disadvantage, and the support of organisations such as Employability are ensuring that employers meet their legal obligations can help level the playing field.
More positively, I would advise anyone starting out their career (not just disabled students!) that you should try and find employment in an environment and subject that you find interesting, rewarding and fulfilling, as you will never thrive and be successful in any job that you don’t enjoy and find interesting.
At EmployAbility we work with disabled university students and graduates to ease the transition from education into employment. To take advantage of these opportunities, the first step is to register with us. You can also contact us with any specific queries.