Grand Pier champions Richard Branson’s plea to help people flourish
Earlier this year, Sir Richard Branson urged employers and educators to “do more to make the most of the untapped potential” of people with conditions like autism “to allow people to flourish”.
The entrepreneur spoke out during World Autism Awareness Week and said: “What is repeatedly overlooked is that people with autism also often have wonderful cognitive abilities when it comes to logic, pattern recognition, precision and concentration.
“These are skills that are vital to any business and yet only 16 percent of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment. This is because many autistic people find it difficult to secure mainstream employment, despite over three quarters wanting to work.”
He then urged employers to do more to support autistic people.
His words are echoed by managers at Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier, which has seen for itself what a huge difference being given a chance can make to someone on the autism spectrum.
Adam Baker, aged 24, is one of several autistic people who work at the iconic seafront attraction.
Adam has been a retail assistant on the Grand Pier since October 2017, and says he thoroughly enjoys his job.
Adam, who grew up in Weston, was diagnosed with autism when he was two-years-old and was non-verbal for the first five years of his life.
After leaving school he completed a three-year Performing Arts course at Weston College, followed by an Aspirations course, which saw him stay at Weston Bay, the college’s specialist residential centre for students on the autism spectrum.
But he then struggled to find permanent employment.
He said: “My confidence at job interviews was not brilliant and this went against me.”
But the Grand Pier could see that Adam had potential and offered him his first job. Despite being very nervous to start with, Adam has not looked back since.
He said: “I was very pleased to be offered a job. I was not very confident to start with, and I do have anxiety issues sometimes, but I was made to feel very welcome here and I really enjoy my job.
“I like talking to customers and I always like to give them a warm welcome. My manager, Sue, is very supportive, and the rest of the team are very nice.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to Kerry and Michelle Michael, Paul, Sue and the rest of the team for giving me this chance. It has helped improve my confidence in talking to people and taught me some new skills.
“Autism is a disorder that affects communication and delays development of key life skills, but it’s so important that people like me are given a chance to work and show what we can do.”
He said there are a number of different ways in which his autism presents itself at work, and it can be beneficial.
“I hate clutter and I like to follow certain routines. Sometimes, my manager allows me to open the shop in the morning. I always follow the correct procedure and order for doing this, as this is important.
“I do not like leaving tasks unfinished, and I make sure I deal with one customer at a time. That can mean others have to wait a short time, but I always thank them for waiting when it’s their turn to be served. I can be a bit forgetful at times, but I listen carefully to people, and learn from my mistakes.”
Sue Waller, Retail Manager at the Grand Pier, said: “We have a number of team members who are on the autism spectrum, and by gaining an understanding of autism, this has introduced many benefits to our business, as well as creating new opportunities for our employees.
“Adam has a very positive attitude and takes pride in providing a warm welcome for our guests, which is very important for a family-focused attraction.
“This week (w/c 17 June) is Mencap’s Learning Disability Week, one of the themes of which is ‘inclusion’, so perhaps this is a timely moment for other employers to think about giving people on the autism spectrum a chance, as they have so much to offer.
“As an employer, it’s very satisfying to see how someone’s confidence improves with time, which enables them to do their job even better.”
Adam added that he has some advice for people who may be in the same position he was in a few years ago, when he was struggling to find work.
He said: “I would say to those people that you are unique, you do have talent, use it, do not waste it.”
For more information about the Grand Pier, including its Accessibility Guide, as well as details of its many rides, attractions and events, visit grandpier.co.uk.