Unlocking potential – careers advice for neurodiverse young people By Oli Masters

Oli Masters

With the most recent figures showing only 29% of autistic people in employment1, Oli Masters, Regional Careers Advisor, Outcomes First Group, shares his expertise in re-engaging neurodiverse young people, igniting their aspirations, and preparing them for a productive and fulfilling future.


The latest official statistics from The Buckland Review of Autism Employment (2024) show just 3 in 10 working age autistic people are in employment. Included in the list of findings, the report also says:

‘From a young age, autistic people are less likely than their peers to have the time, connections or support to seek out work-related experiences, and career advisors are often poorly equipped to support autistic people. This has knock-on effects for later employment prospects.’


The whole process surrounding getting a job, isn’t geared towards neurodiverse people – there are so many hurdles for the applicant to overcome. Providing bespoke careers advice and support can really change lives.


Job applications and interviews involve uncertainty and speculation, and changes to routines, which is challenging for anyone, especially people with differences of any kind. Job interviews are usually high pressure scenarios with very limited processing time or access to advocacy. In fact, an interview only provides the employer with a tiny snapshot of the candidate, in an unrealistic situation.


At 11 years old I received an autism diagnosis. Mainstream education was challenging and when I left school I had no idea about a career path or what life had to offer. After bouncing around jobs, not knowing what I wanted to do, and unaware of the skills I had and the roles I was suited for, I was inspired by a careers advisor on a Job Centre course and decided I wanted that advisor’s job.


Presently, I’m completing a Level 6 Apprenticeship in Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance with Complete Careers, having previously completed my Level 4 and worked with adults across the country with a huge diversity of situations and circumstances. I’m now based at The Greater Horseshoe School, Newton Abbot, Devon, and support seven other special schools in the south of England. The schools have between 20-150 pupils, and once they reach Year 8, they meet with me 1-2-1 for careers advice sessions at least every year until they leave school. I love the variety of settings and how the schools and the pupils have different approaches to learning. It makes for an interesting and diverse job.

Many older pupils arriving at our schools have spent a significant portion of their mainstream education dis-engaged with learning, isolated from lessons due to ‘being disruptive’, or excluded from school. When they begin their journey at one of our specialist schools, they are usually in a really difficult place, with their academics impacted and very little trust.

Raising aspirations is key. Low personal expectations present a huge barrier to neurodiverse young people reaching their true potential. Building back trust and developing a relationship is the first step. It takes time. I always meet each of my pupils on their own terms. To an observer, it may not look like any careers advice session they’ve seen. It could take place during a walk around school grounds, or at the gym. It could start as a ten minute session, it may last for hours. It’s all about finding a way to ignite that spark.

Imagine driving your car through the countryside, the journey may be enjoyable and the scenery may be beautiful, but without a destination, how do you know where you are going? Most of us, when we get into a car or hop onto public transport, have a destination in mind in order for that journey to be a success. Why shouldn’t education be the same? There is likely to be more ‘buy in’ from pupils if there is an end goal in mind, and they are also more likely to engage in learning and retain information if it relates to their journey.

Careers advice is crucial. For me, it’s more important than any subject on their timetable. Each school offers different work-experience opportunities, however we all believe in a pupil-centred approach, placing the young person’s choices, needs and aspirations above all else. This includes external and internal placements. We act as facilitators, finding suitable placements and providing the necessary support.

We provide the appropriate support for as long as they need. Pupil’s may be attending an external work placement for just a few hours once or twice a week, or daily. Alternatively, there are many on-site opportunities in school. Our farm at The Greater Horseshoe School, provides possibilities for pupils to practice work-based skills.

There continue to be prevailing stereotypes and stigma associated with neurodiversity which impact employers’ willingness to give neurodiverse young people job opportunities. But, we aren’t all Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, we have our own unique differences and we don’t all struggle with or excel at the same things. Challenges are very much individual and situational, stemming from trauma received during that person’s lifetime.

Initially, finding employers willing to look past an individual’s needs or differences can be difficult. But those who go ahead, and are prepared to believe in our pupils and give them a try, are surprised how talented these young people are.

The most rewarding part of my job is being part of a young person’s life journey. I am fascinated by this. Two people in similar situations when they set out, will have different outcomes each and every time. As advisors, these journeys tell us a story, and while we don’t tell them what should go into that story, we can help them get their chapter titles in the right order. That’s the best bit for me, listening to the story and helping them decide where to travel next.