Murphy: Best for Special Innovation

Dawn Moore from construction firm Murphy talks to workingmums.co.uk about a new innovative programme to employ people on the autistic spectrum.

Two construction workers wearing Hi Vis jackets with Murphy logo on the back and hard hats facing towards a construction site at night.

 

If you are on the autistic spectrum and are struggling to find a job or have a child who is, you might be interested in the work being done by construction firm Murphy, joint winner of this year’s inaugural WM People Top Employer Award for Special Innovation.

It has been working with Ambitious about Autism on its Employ Autism programme. The charity works with the Department for Work and Pensions and aims to provide autistic people with access to paid internships and employability support in order to create more employment opportunities for them. Murphy is the first and only construction company to sign up to its charter.

Just 29% of autistic adults are in employment. For Murphy this represents an opportunity, although it recognises that some forms of autism make employment more challenging. Through the Employ Autism programme, Murphy is providing paid internships to autistic candidates, with training provided by Ambitious about Autism to ensure that the internships are successful. The programme is rigorously evaluated to encourage replication and influence policy and practice and Murphy has also gone one step further than any other business in any sector with the programme, by guaranteeing a permanent job at the end of the internship for those that want it.

“Murphy is always looking for different pools of potential talent and for an opportunity to do something different as we can never get enough talent in a sector like ours,” says Dawn Moore, the family firm’s Group People and Communications Director, adding that Murphy’s purpose is ‘to improve life by delivering world class infrastructure’. “Our culture is about fulfilling that purpose,” she states, “so it wasn’t hard to get managers’ support and it is thanks to them that it has been such a success.”

Employer partner

Moore says the company heard about Ambitious about Autism through the charity grapevine as Moore was a charity trustee in the past. She contacted them and found they didn’t have many employer partners at the time. Ambitious about Autism has a jobs board where Murphy can advertise suitable roles. They also help with designing and providing training on how best to support candidates. Thirty of Murphy’s managers have been through this training. All of them voluntarily. It involved two online modules.  One focused on understanding autism and the different forms it takes. The other was about how to recruit candidates successfully and support them in finding a job. 

Moore did the training too and says it made her realise the importance of involving parents and family members in the induction process to ensure that support is tailored to individual needs. This has resulted in adaptations to the hiring process to put candidates on a more equitable footing. Adaptations have included the provision of fidget toys at interviews and sending interview questions in advance because people with autism tend to respond best to routine and structure. One person needed to have a regular five-minute break to maintain his focus. “These are things we wouldn’t know unless they come from the individual or someone who knows them well,” says Moore, who adds that Murphy has found that autistic candidates have a forensic attention to detail which makes them good candidates for jobs like planning or estimating. “We have definitely learnt that there are some roles where neurodivergent candidates with the right support have traits that are real strengths,” she says. “By understanding this we can have very successful outcomes all round.” 

First cohort

There were six people in the first cohort which involved six-month placements from last September. Candidates applied through the jobs board in the usual way and the application process was made as easy as possible, requiring a short cv and candidates could ring Murphy directly. The aim was to take the stress out of the process. Moore says demand for places was high, showing the talent pool is sizable.

The next cohort will start in the summer. The aim is to start small, build a community and provide personal support. From there the programme can grow and previous cohorts can support each other. The long-term goal is for hiring of autistic individuals to become a core part of business as usual. Moore adds that since the programme started employees have felt able to talk about their own neurodiversity or about their children who have autism and whose employment prospects they are worried about. “It has a knock-on effect that is really positive,” she states.

The approach Murphy has taken is similar to the company’s award-winning returners programme for prison leavers which has now been in place for three years, makes around 40 permanent job offers a year and has been extended to 91 prisons around the UK. The company is asked to talk to other employers about the programme regularly. Moore admits there can be challenges, including reoffending, but the success rate in terms of retention is similar to the normal hiring process, she says. 

Murphy has also been working with refugees for the last two years since contacting the Home Office about working visas for Ukrainian refugees. Moore speaks of a Ukrainian couple who they hired. The woman is a highly qualified systems analyst and her husband, who came to the UK after her, is a civil engineer. With language support, they have integrated well into the Murphy team. 

Moore is keen to stress that these are all programmes rather than initiatives. “These programmes for different talent pools are part of our core recruitment work,” she says. “If we are serious about them as an employer we want them to be in place continuously. It is thanks to all the time and effort that line managers have put into them that they have been so successful.”



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