IMAGE Project addresses poor employment prospects of autistic university students across Europe

Improved autism awareness means that more autistic people than ever are doing well in school, moving on to university, and entering the job market with university-level qualifications.

Unfortunately, most are not finding jobs: in the UK and Europe, between 84% and 90% of autistic adults are not in full-time employment. Others are working well below their ability level in lower-paid roles. 

The Improving Employability of Autistic Graduates in Europe (IMAGE) Project has brought together researchers from Finland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK to create solutions.

We found similar problems in all of these countries, despite differences in culture and national employment initiatives. Some lucky graduates find the help they need, but most do not. 

Participatory research design

Now, working together with autistic students and graduates, employers, academics and careers advisors, the IMAGE Project team is developing free ‘Good Practices Guides’ that will be available in summer 2021 in five languages. There will be guides for academics who work with students, careers advisors and employers. IMAGE will also produce an online toolkit for students and graduates, packed with resources for improving their employability and developing self-advocacy skills.

During Autism Awareness Week 2021, from Monday 29 March until Sunday 4 April 2021, every single day the IMAGE team will release previews of the guides, the student toolkit and the training materials on Twitter and at the project website. These resources have only just been created and never been shared before.

Tailored support is important

Autistic students and graduates need an individual approach. Many people are in a position to help and it’s important to consider where and how employability support can be provided: making adjustments for sensory issues is one example, providing clear and unambiguous information is another. Academics can help autistic students get—and get the most out of—internships and other work experience. 

Careers advisors are often not sure how to advise autistic people about sharing their diagnosis, and may not know about employment laws and practices around disability. Employers also need to make sure their recruitment and employment practices do not disadvantage qualified candidates, and prevent disability discrimination. The ‘Good Practice Guides’ suggest helpful practices and link readers with extra resources.

The IMAGE Project team found that careers advisors had limited training on (neuro)diversity and helpful strategies, so a training programme for university and other careers advisors is also being developed. The training package will be released at a conference in Amsterdam later this year.

The IMAGE Project wants to make finding good jobs for university graduates with autism less a matter of pure luck than the result of smart planning and inclusive action.

The IMAGE Project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and led by Leeds Beckett University, UK.

The IMAGE project website

For more information

Finland: Dr Henri Pesonen,

France: Pr Bertrand Monthubert,

Germany: Dr Timo Lorenz,

Netherlands: Dr Mitzi Waltz,

UK: Dr Marc Fabri,