Building a better future for everyone

Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Unite rep Dan aims to build a better future for neurodiverse workers

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It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week this week, and today UniteLive speaks to Unite rep Dan Smith, who is working with his branch and employer to raise awareness of the issues facing neurodiverse workers. He is now taking the message into local schools and events aimed at young people to show how Unite supports all workers.

Dan Smith is a rigger and crane supervisor based at Babcock International’s Devonport facility in Plymouth, and has dyslexia and ADHD.

Recently, Dan has become a full-time Unite health & safety co-ordinator with a special interest in neurodiversity. He has been working across the business to explore the reasonable adjustments required for employees with neurodiverse conditions including those with dyslexia and autism, to ensure they are supported as much as possible in the day-to-day delivery of their roles.

Dan said, “Unite and Babcock have been very supportive, and recognised the adjustments that workers with certain conditions need, and also understood the potential of these workers.”

“Babcock is currently looking to introduce a full-time neurodivergent team, and I will be representing Unite as we work together.”

Dan originally got involved by writing an article for an internal magazine at Babcock and from there was invited to get involved with a roadshow.

This was just the start of Dan’s work with the neurodiverse community as he then began delivering employee awareness sessions as an “Introduction to Neurodiversity”.

Dan noted, “These sessions explain the conditions and how individuals with them can be a positive part of the workforce. Sessions also highlight the reasonable adjustments that can help, and how most of these tools are very simple and not expensive.”

Dan’s work has resulted in a change to the way that interviews are carried out at Babcock, where people can have an idea of questions in advance or take their own prompt cards in with them to reduce stress and anxiety.

This has all led to Dan working with Babcock’s ‘Creating Futures’ outreach project as well as the ‘Unite in Schools’ programme.

As part of a recent Creating Futures apprentices careers event at Home Park, Plymouth Argyle FC’s ground, Dan and the “Neurodiversity Network” Team of Peter Stokes, Phillip Oki, Hannah Rose and John Helliwell set up a stand where they had to the opportunity to talk to young people interested in being the next generation of workers at the site. They provided them with materials highlighting how Babcock encourages neurodiverse people to work for them and the support they can expect.

In his work with ‘Unite in Schools’, Dan has been working with Unite South West’s Brett Sparkes.

Dan said, “I have started going into schools as part of Unite Devonport. I recently spent a week at Tor Bridge High School talking to a range of students in all year groups about neurodiversity, and then to the sixth form about entering the workplace.

“I explain symptoms, such as brain fog, and discussed what reasonable adjustments there are. I also talked about my experiences and made the room feel a safe space. One student even had the confidence to speak about their ADHD, which took a lot of courage as it was something they had been bullied about in the past.

“I hope that by doing this it improves understanding and from that we can build a better future.”

Dan is currently proposing a motion to conference about a possible future role for Unite neurodiversity reps, as well as working with the South West Unite education team in developing a course for reps.

However, until that is ready, Dan’s offered some advice to reps so they can support colleagues.

“If you are a rep that is interested in the issue, then get yourself on a course,” he said. “In particular, the Unite Equalities reps course, which is designed to give reps the confidence and knowledge to address equality and diversity issues, is a really good place to start.

“There is a lot of information out there, but also a lot of misinformation, so get your knowledge from proper sources like the Dyslexia Association, ADHD UK and other support organisations.

“You have to understand that individuals may not have talked about their condition at work before, and are in a vulnerable position – so you have to make sure you have set aside time and a safe space to have any conversation if they are looking for support.”

But with reps like Dan taking a lead, Unite is perfectly placed to support all its members and highlight the positive side of neurodiversity at work in building a future for everyone.

Find out more about Unite Education reps courses here. And you can find out more about Neurodiversity Celebration Week here.

By Keith Hatch