The IMAGE project is an Erasmus+ funded strategic partnership of 5 Higher Education Institutions from 5 European countries (see list of partners).
It is about supporting autistic university students to appreciate and demonstrate their strengths to employers. The acronym IMAGE stands for Improving EMployability of Autistic Graduates in Europe.
Our work moves away from a deficit model of autism and instead focuses on skills development, self-advocacy and the sharing good support practice amongst universities and employers.
The prevalence of autism is approximately 1% of the population. People with autism are entering HE at an increasing and unprecedented rate. These individuals are academically competent and might achieve better than their peers without autism. Unfortunately, at the end of their studies, this group faces a substantial employment gap: A large group of skilful individuals is left without employment.
The reasons are multifold: Careers advice provided by HE institutions is ineffective for autistic students; academic tutors lack understanding of how best to support autistic students develop employability skills or gain work experience; recruitment procedures create barriers; and employers are unsure how to support autistic graduates in the job.. This is despite the many qualities that make them desirable employees: attention to detail, honesty, loyalty, working longer hours and punctuality.
European HE systems currently fail this student group, and autistic graduates enter a fast-growing pool of untapped economic potential, preventing personal fulfilment and creating long-term costs to society.
The aims of the IMAGE project are:
- To create an employability toolkit for autistic students so that they can develop their employability skills and better understand career goals;
- To develop new training materials for HE careers advisors so that they better support autistic students, and provide training to 400 advisors across the partner countries;
- To share examples of good support practice with academics, HE senior managers and policy makers and thereby make HE sector more inclusive;
- To make employers better recognise the strengths and benefits of qualified autistic employees, and reduce disabling barriers to recruitment and employment.
- To actively involve target groups in the achievement of above objectives, using a participatory design approach.
How we aim to achieve this
The project will use a participatory design methodology, involving the target groups in the conception and design of all outputs. During the co-research and co-design activities, around 50 autistic students, 50 careers advisors, 100 academics and 50 employers will participate.
The IMAGE project will produce an employability toolkit that autistic students can use independently, training materials for careers advisors to develop their skills and professional practice, and a set of good practice guides for professionals and employers to raise awareness of autism and become more autism-friendly. It is very likely that project outputs will benefit other disadvantaged student groups too, including students with other disabilities.
All outputs will be tested and evaluated during the project, and made freely available to the HE community and employers at the end of the project. The long-term impact will be greater autism awareness amongst professionals, more inclusive HE institutions and procedures, better skilled autistic graduates, and ultimately more autistic graduates in employment.