Studeren en Werken op Maat (Individualised Study and Work; SWOM) is a Dutch organisation that provides coaching for disabled young professionals. They partner with universities and other organisations to support students and graduates to complete their courses, find work, and deal with other life dilemmas. About 70% of their clients have an autism diagnosis. We spoke with experienced SWOM coach Irene Stortenbeek to find out more about how they achieve success.
In the Netherlands, quite a few universities refer autistic students to external service providers rather than providing specialist careers advice themselves. Clients might also be referred by other organisations, and payment could be through a personal budget arranged with their municipal social services office or other means.
How does job-coaching work?
SWOM provides job-coaching before, during and after the application process. An important first step is writing a profile that specifies what a client needs in order to work most effectively. This ensures that there is clear communication with the coach about how autism affects the client. Additionally, it ensures clear communication with (future) employers and colleagues.
SWOM guides young professionals with an intensive project (average length of five months) towards the phase in which they can successfully start in a full-time job that fits their competencies and employability.
Once the client has landed a job, SWOM organises regular evaluations with employer and employee, so that any problems can be identified and fixed. For example, an ICT graduate who found out in their first job that the typical ICT environment was too fast-paced and overstimulating. They needed more time for onboarding, reflection and evaluation. These are the kinds of problems that could be handled with better understanding of autism by the employer, and some workplace adjustments.
What makes it so effective?
Because SWOM is an independent organisation, it can communicate and negotiate more freely with different stakeholders alongside their clients. Important parties might include the university, employers, city councils, the national benefits agency and social care departments.
They have also learned that social support is important for clients. SWOM organises a buddy network for clients, and holds get-togethers on important themes for young professionals, like managing your finances.
Tips for current students and graduates
- Identify what you will need in order to work most effectively and sustainably (use the IMAGE profile builder tools)
- Talk openly about your autism with your employer, and explain how it might affect you day-to-day
- Share the IMAGE Good Practice Guide for Employers with your employer to increase their understanding of autism
Tips to share with employers
- Embrace autism and understand what the positive and negative impacts can be for each employee.
- Focus on what employees need to make a job sustainable—that might be adjustments in the workplace, or it could be a reduced work week.