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The Perfect Job for Young Adults with Autism

ThePerfectJob_MPI Foundation Article

Carole McKellar, CMM (MPU U.K. & Ireland Chapter), sat in a hotel in Berlin three years ago with two industry colleagues, and they started talking about their lives. Discovering they all have children with special needs, they made a connection: the meeting and event industry would be perfect for young adults with autism.

In 2013, this idea became a reality with the trio of the MPI Foundation, the organization Meeting Industry Meeting Needs and HelmsBriscoe (through their HB Cares activity) all working together to create a program to place people with autism in work environments within the meeting industry.

“I have a 21-year-old son with high-functioning autism, and I saw through his experience that children up to the age of 18, or until they finish full-time education, can access a lot of support,” says McKellar, chair of the MPI Foundation’s EMEA Council. “Once full-time education ends, that support tends to fall off the cliff.”

In the U.S., 21 percent of people with autism have full-time jobs. In the U.K., that number is only 15 percent.

“That’s a really scary figure,” McKellar says. “When you look at that, there are a couple of issues. One is the individual with autism’s lack of confidence—‘What does work mean?’ ‘What will I be asked to do?’ ‘Whom should I speak to?’ And on the employer’s side, there’s a little bit of reluctance, because autism is a communication and social condition and there is a wide spectrum with different levels of impairment, which leads to uncertainty.”

Because of this, McKellar saw an opportunity.

“The idea was to create a work experience placement program within the meeting and event industry, and the plan was to raise the funds needed to support individuals and employers to give the program the best chance of success. We recognized that if you’re going to bring somebody with an impairment into a work environment, they need some support, as does the employer,” she says. “We raised the funds and then we found great suppliers within the industry who were prepared to host young adults with autism, just for a few weeks, to give them that work experience. Our goal was to give the young person some confidence and help them to see that they could be successful in the work environment. And on the human resources side, within hotels, they could start to see that this is a pool of talent they could be recruiting from in the future.”

Hiring a person with autism has its rewards, especially for an industry that requires a lot of attention to detail and has a high turnover.

“Every person with autism is different; however, there are some commonalities: very good with routine and checklists, therefore very good with quality control, and being focused,” McKellar says. “So if you look at a lot of the back-of-house activity that we have within meetings, a lot of that requires attention to details that means young people with autism can excel at the job.”

The trial program was a success, and McKellar looks to repeat it in 2014.

“We’ve had some great success stories from the individuals who enjoyed the meeting industry and would be interested in future job opportunities,” she says. “We partnered with the National Autistic Society in London, and they provided each individual and the employers with training before they went into the placements and support while they were in placements, and now they’re working on applying for jobs. We have success stories from the hotels saying this really opened their eyes.”

At a January 27 fundraising event in London, supported by the JW Marriott Grosvenor House, attendees will participate in an interactive networking evening to include painting, gift card making and other creative activities. This year, six job placements were funded. McKellar hopes to raise enough money for even more placements next year.

“These are people who can see they have a future in the workplace,” McKellar says. “What we’re doing is really changing lives.”

The MPI Foundation would like to thank the Devonport House, Grand Connaught Rooms and Marriott Regents Park for their involvement in the HelmsBriscoe Cares program.

About the Author

Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).