When Max Green, a 19-year-old IT desktop analyst, won west Berkshire’s 2016 Apprentice of the Year award, he was both delighted and, he admits, surprised.
Just two years earlier he had left school convinced he was unemployable. “I have autism. I had no qualifications. On paper I had nothing to offer. I was very worried about the future,” recalls Max, the star of a new National Autistic Society film highlighting the difficulties facing those on the autism spectrum when looking for or staying in work.
Max knew from a school work-experience placement that he wanted to work in IT – and that he could do the job – but he believed his autism would prove a barrier. The effect on his self-esteem was terrible. “I felt worthless.”
Max’s first interviews only served to compound his fears. Being in an unknown place, surrounded by noise and bustle, facing new people and fielding a series of questions, is particularly intimidating for those on the autism spectrum who can be extra-sensitive to receiving too much information, he explains. “Despite being passionate about the subject, I always forgot everything I wanted to say. It always went terribly.”
So when Max spotted an advertisement for an apprenticeship with the Sovereign Housing Association in Newbury, he applied with low expectations of success.
“They must just have seen something in me, the determination perhaps,” he says, as he describes his delight at eventually being offered the post.
Fortunately this interview panel recognised Max’s discomfort and was unphased by the fact that he was wearing a colourful checked shirt while the other candidates were in suits. They worked hard to help him showcase his skills, for instance looking at notes he had made during his work experience and asking him to explain specific points.