Civil service to launch 'autism internship programme' next year

Three-week paid internships will support people on the autism spectrum to apply for Fast Stream and other civil service roles
The Cabinet Office. Photo: Sgconlaw/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cabinet Office is preparing to open a new cross-government internship programme for people on the autistic spectrum next year, in a bid to recruit a more diverse selection of of future civil service leaders.

Plans are underway to develop a paid “autism internship programme”, beginning next summer, through which autistic 18-25-year-olds will apply to work in a government department for three weeks.

The programme is intended in part to develop a more diverse pipeline of future civil service leaders by encouraging more autistic people to apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream, according to a contract notice seeking a supplier for the scheme, published last week.

“Diversity is key for the Cabinet Office and [civil service HR] and it is vitally important that the Fast Stream and early talent programmes reflect the society it serves,” a supporting document for the contract says.

The programme is being led by the Fast Stream and Early Talent team in the Cabinet Office, whose strategy is to “identify, attract and recruit diverse talent” to become future civil service leaders, and many of those it aims to target through the internship scheme will have the relevant skills required, a statement of requirements has detailed.

The document notes that just 16% of adults with autism are in full-time, paid employment, according to the National Autistic Society.

But it adds: “Through various studies, it has been discovered that people with autism often have qualities such as careful attention to detail, an intense commitment to tasks and strong intelligence coupled with out of the box thinking that makes them a desirable hire.

"Organisations such as Microsoft, GCHQ, Hewlett Packard and Vodafone have started to implement initiatives to recruit and attract people with autism."

FSET is offering up to £90,000 for a single supplier to support the delivery of the internship programme. Suppliers can bid as a single entity or submit a consortium bid.

The contracted supplier will help to recruit applicants, manage the programme, and provide training and support. The supplier must be a “specialist recruiter in this area”, the contract notice says.

The recruitment of interns will begin in the coming months. Applications will be sifted and placements assigned for the first intake in around six months’ time, with placements beginning around June 2021.

Around 60 interns are expected to enrol on the programme each year, across 20 civil service departments.

The programme will offer work experience, coaching and support and “awareness sessions”. Each intern will be given a “tailored development plan” alongside their placement, as well as support applying for the Fast Stream or other opportunities.

Ahead of the first intake next summer, the contracted supplier will provide a toolkit to help civil service HR support people in and beyond the internship, as well as departments on how to support people with autism in the workplace. Around 120 line managers are expected to receive training, according to the contract documents.

The supplier must also complete an evaluation of the programme within the first year, taking into account feedback from interns and departments.

The contract will run for two years initially, beginning in October. There will be an option to renew for a further year.

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