Oxfordshire Start-up Company Switch IT initiates crowd funding to support accredited training for young people with autism
11th August 2014, Oxfordshire. Social enterprise Start-up Company – Switch IT Training and Consultancy Ltd – is turning to crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to provide accredited COMPTIA A+ IT training for young people with autism in Oxfordshire. Switch IT was created from the belief that all young people have a right to accessible education/training, and a right to work. As well as trade certifications and work experience, Switch aims to provide a social network and friendly environment that enables its students to flourish. Initial talks with the Department of Work and Pensions in Oxfordshire identified 4-5 eligible young people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD/High Functioning Autism [HFA]); however, the DWP says that it is unable to contribute anything towards the cost of the programme. Funding is required not just for teaching and course provision, but also to rent suitable ‘classroom’ premises for the students.
Disappointed, but undeterred, by the lack of government funding, Switch’s co-proprietors Jill Hunt (a mother of a young adult with autism) and Ryan Evans (an experienced IT Technician/Administrator and private tutor for ASD students) are determined to ensure that these young people, and others to follow them, will receive the training and work experience they need to move into employment. Switch is therefore embarking upon a fundraising mission to raise at least £10,000 in just 30 days using online ‘crowd funding’ via JustGiving, and appealing to local businesses to invest in the future of regional IT skills as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.
Autism costs the UK £28.2 billion per year (source: Knapp et al, The Economic Consequences of Autism in the UK (Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, 2007) and only 15% of adults with autism, many of whom have also been diagnosed with learning difficulties, are in full-time employment (National Autistic Society). The National Audit Office estimates that it costs £2-3 million to support a person with moderate learning difficulties over their working lifetime, yet £1 million per person could be saved by equipping them with the skills to live semi-independently; a further £170,000 could be saved by supporting that young person into employment (source: National Audit Office, Memorandum for the Committee of Public Accounts 17 July 2012).
Given the current economic climate and the Government’s drive to reduce the welfare bill, it is clear that the training Switch aims to provide would not only result in considerable savings to the public purse, but also provide a future and hope for young people with ASD.
Switch’s Programme Manager and Director Jill says: “As a mother of a young adult with autism, I’m only too aware that finding, securing and maintaining a job can be extremely challenging for someone with ASD. Our trainees will benefit from an autism-friendly learning environment and the opportunity to build relationships with a true peer group. The extended work experience part of the programme is key to getting these young people into employment; as it prepares them for the expectations and responsibilities they will encounter. Simulating real working conditions allows potential issues to surface, which we can then resolve in a safe and failure free environment. We’re aiming to provide employment opportunities within our own company and to act as a bridge into the wider IT community.”
Jill has previously been a volunteer for the charity Independent Parental Special Education Advice (known as IPSEA) and an Independent Parental Supporter for the Parent Partnership Oxfordshire.
Lead Trainer and Director Ryan adds: “While working alongside young people with Autism, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a wide diversity of personalities, characteristics and range of behaviours, which has been both challenging and extremely rewarding. I use a blend of recognised teaching strategies and environment-specific behavioural management techniques, incorporating short lessons, frequent breaks, minimal pressure and lack of distractions to create an autism-friendly learning environment.” Switch’s course materials have been adapted to enable students with ASD to access the course and achieve their full potential.
Jill concludes: “Awareness of the benefits of employing ‘Autists’ is definitely on the rise – especially in the IT industry – which is really encouraging. Parents of young people with Autism – and the professionals that work with them –
have a responsibility to ensure the best possible outcome for their young person. We also have a responsibility to help reduce the long-term cost to the public purse where possible.
“Oxfordshire County Council estimates that there are currently 2-3,000 adults with both learning disabilities and Autism in Oxfordshire (source: Commissioning Strategy for Autism in Oxfordshire 2012 – 2017). If only 15% of those ever achieve full-time paid employment, the cost to this county and the country runs to billions of pounds over their working life times. These incredibly gifted but vulnerable young people have so much to offer their communities, and they deserve the chance to fulfil their potential. We are urging anyone who is able to please donate, to help us give our first students the chance to study IT and have a working future.” Anyone wishing to donate should visithttps://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/Switch-IT