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The Crucial Role of Managerial Support in Bridging Higher Education to the Workplace

Apr 11, 2024

5-minute read

Neurodiversity in higher education and graduate recruitment

According to UCAS data for 2023, the number of accepted UK university applicants who identify with a disability has increased by 34% compared to 2022. Universities are increasingly focusing on diversity and inclusion in Higher Education (HE) to create an environment that promotes student success. However, the journey can be more challenging for neurodivergent students, who may struggle to navigate social interactions and manage their academic workload. A report by the National Centre for Learning Disabilities (2023) found that 46% of students with learning differences drop out. As many students may not have a formal diagnosis, universities offer assessments with educational psychologists to identify challenges and support strategies. However, as neurodivergent students enter the workforce, they may face environments that are not always conducive to success.

According to the Labour Force Survey from the Office for National Statistics (2021), employment statistics showed that approximately 52% of individuals with disabilities in the UK, aged between 16 and 64, were employed in 2020. The same report shows that only 21.7% of autistic people are in employment, highlighting the pervasive issue of workplace inclusivity in both recruitment and retention.

Bridging the gap

Addressing the needs of neurodivergent individuals requires a joint focus from both higher education institutions and employers. Universities are working to create inclusive and supportive environments for all students. This includes providing faculty and staff access to resources such as counselling services, academic accommodations, and neurodiversity awareness training. Companies should recognise the value that neurodivergent talent brings to the workforce and accommodate these individuals to make the transition from higher education to employment smoother. Research has found that nearly half of employers plan to increase their number of graduate hires (ISE and Handshake, 2022). An ISE survey (2020) revealed that not only do graduates contribute approximately one billion pounds to the UK economy, but they also found that graduate retention is high. Once a company has successfully recruited graduates, to maximise potential and retention, it’s essential to focus on their seamless integration into the workforce for successful integration. Graduate onboarding programs can involve a high number of people, making the role of supportive managers even more critical. 

Graduate onboarding

One of the major challenges of onboarding graduate employees is bridging the gap between their education and the workforce. Nearly 40% of recent graduates believe their college or university did an inadequate job of preparing them for the emotional or behavioral impact of the transition to the workplace (Mary Christie Institute, 2023). Graduates who enter the workforce directly from education often have less experience navigating situations where there are different requirements in terms of unwritten social rules, structured environments, and behavioural expectations, which may not always align with the dynamic nature of the workplace. As a result, there is less emphasis on passing assessments and more on the need to fit into an environment where success or mobility relies on visibility, networking, collaboration, and understanding the complexities of social communication. Because of this, adaptability becomes crucial for graduates as they make the transition from academic rigidity to professional flexibility.

According to the Pearson Education and Skill (2019) survey report, 40% of employers are dissatisfied with the work readiness skills and attributes of their early career employees. This highlights the importance of having comprehensive onboarding programs that provide graduates with the practical skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their roles right from the start. The onboarding process can be a period of uncertainty for employees, so it’s crucial for managers to provide support to ensure their success. During this time, individuals may encounter new processes that can affect their task completion and confidence levels.

The importance of managerial support

Graduates are the leaders of tomorrow, bringing fresh perspectives and unique talents, but they need opportunities to refine these skills further. This makes supporting graduates in their new roles essential, as it eases their transition from academia to the workforce, boosting their confidence and helping them to adapt. When considering a new job, millennials prioritise the quality of their manager, recognising the crucial role of managers in career satisfaction and growth (WeSpire, 2019).  Neurodivergent individuals who begin their journey into the professional world and choose to disclose may require additional support from their manager. The Equality Act 2010, states that employers must legally provide and fund reasonable adjustments, and there are other methods managers can use to support their employees in their new roles. These include:

  • Facilitating a psychologically safe environment and inclusive workplace culture
  • Understanding and appreciating communication differences
  • An awareness of what adjustments can be made to support the individual is crucial.
  • An awareness and understanding of different working styles, preferences, and factors related to well-being. 


The success of new graduates is also dependent on the support and guidance provided by their managers. Investing in employee development, building strong relationships, and addressing the unique challenges faced during the onboarding process can help managers nurture tomorrow’s talent and cultivate a resilient, high-performing team. As organisations continue to prioritise recruiting and retaining top graduate talent, supportive managers play an increasingly important role in their professional journey.

At Thriiver we’ve been empowering individuals with disabilities and neurodiversity in the workplace. Partnering with businesses, we build inclusive cultures where everyone thrives together. Our experience has shown us that embracing diversity delivers powerful results and benefits for all. To create an inclusive culture and support managers through this process we offer a range of services, including:

  • Manager Awareness Training: a customised service that bridges awareness and action, empowering leaders to take an intersectional approach to confidently create environments where team members can thrive.
  • Workplace Strategy Coaching and Co-Coaching: a personalised and tailored approach, for individuals to find practical solutions to challenges while recognising and playing to their strengths.

Are you ready to be empowered and embrace the power of neurodiversity? Reach out to us at: insights@thriiver.co.uk to book your sessions.

Interested in finding out more about this topic?

Our Neurodiversity Consultant, Emma Owen, through her previous experience in neurodiversity and academia, has co-authored a number of articles regarding neurodiversity in higher education. 

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