Consultant Alan, featured on Radio 1’s news beat, speaking about skills shortages.

On the 13th of October 2021, I was featured on BBC Radio 1’s news beat. The news story was covering skills shortages around the UK. We are in an exciting time with a record number of job vacancies in the UK, however, many businesses are complaining that their roles cannot be filled. I suggested that a lot of job descriptions and person specifications may put applicants off applying. These often ask for a number of niche skills that would be difficult to fulfill by one person. I only had a limited time to speak on the radio, but if I had a few more minutes I also wanted to mention that those job descriptions can be a particular barrier for neurodivergent people searching for work.

Contradictory news articles in October 2021 say that there is a record number of job openings but, at the same time, there are stories about job seekers still struggling to find work. Job vacancies have required applicants to provide a wide range of essential skills which would be difficult to possess. It has been suggested that people are struggling to find the training to upskill and this search has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This suggestion is completely feasible but not the sole contributor. Potential employers are often asking too much in job descriptions and leave the bar too high for people to enter appropriate work.

Earlier this year, I was on the job hunt search for a position as a data scientist. During this time I read hundreds of job descriptions. The majority of which I found quite intimidating. These descriptions, which were for entry-level jobs, made it seem like I needed a dozen different niche skills just to start in the field of data science. I do not believe there exist people who hold all of these “essential” skills. This lowers the number of applicants and, in some cases, leaves some technical jobs empty.

There’s a common statistic that says that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. I believe that a similar gap exists between neurotypical and neurodivergent applicants. A common trait of autism is “taking everything literally”. You could imagine an autistic person being intimidated by job adverts, believing they are not qualified for a job and therefore not applying. I, personally, had a lapse of confidence during the job search which led me to skip applying for certain jobs. The job application process is very stressful for autistic people and the barriers to work begin before they have even applied. With unemployment for autistic adults at a record high, and underemployment also a massive issue, application processes should be made as accessible as possible at all stages. In particular, employers should take some responsibility to make sure job descriptions are accessible.

I am now working for auticon, an IT consultancy business that was hiring data scientists. The unique fact about auticon is that they only hire autistic consultants. I found their job posting accessible. They listed four broad skills and asked people to apply if they meet at least three of them. Plus, they listed some further skills that are optional. This is a lot more accessible than a list of a dozen essential niche skills. Other good practices I saw from other companies were to offer training, whilst in the job, if not all the skills were met. Furthermore, adding lines like “if you think you are a good fit but don’t possess all skills please send in an application” can be a simple way to encourage people to apply.

Overall, the skills gap continues to be a problem plaguing British businesses. However, the power to fix this skills gap could be passed to companies themselves. Lowering the bar could allow talented people, who could lack confidence, to apply to work easier. This can be a lifeline to autistic people and allow them to apply for more jobs. If all skills are actually essential then providing some training on the job could empower people to upskill when courses were hard to obtain. These steps could provide an autistic person the push to apply for work and, overall, reduce the unemployment rate.

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