Meet FastFutures graduate Aiden Tsen

Leaving school and making decisions on what to do next is a daunting experience. Meet recent FastFutures graduate Aiden. Despite dealing with personal and educational challenges, he has taken on the FastFutures programme to gain digital skills and reach his goal of setting up a social enterprise.

Tell us about yourself

I’m a 20-year-old Autistic, multiple LGBTQ+ (any pronouns are good!) Oxford dropout due to long-Covid. Since May 2021, I’ve been working as a freelance public speaker and writer on diversity and inclusion. I keep a personal blog and multiple Instagram art accounts (accessibility; hobbies).

Luckily, I’ve recently been able to secure some paid writing and public speaking work. I even gave a talk for Autscape, Europe’s largest annual Autistic conference! The wildest thing though is that I have started Year Here, an alternative post-grad Master’s course in social enterprise, even though I don’t have a degree!

What was your main challenge prior to FastFutures?

When I was 13, I received my autism diagnosis following the transition to secondary school, and my life was actually harder in the next few months thereafter. Due to the stereotypes around autism, I also struggled to accept that I was bi. My education was heavily disrupted – throughout my teen years, my attendance was under 80% due to a mixture of illness, sensory issues and being illegally suspended from school.

And of course, I dropped out of Oxford. Going to Oxford was my dream, especially in light of everything I’ve gone through and how hard I worked. Saying I wanted to leave is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yet if I wanted to survive, I didn’t have a choice.

When I didn’t know what to do with myself, I decided to look for an employability programme. Then I learned that it’s so hard to find programmes non-students are eligible for. If I were less determined, I would have given up on myself. It would’ve been easier.

Somehow, I heard about FastFutures. When I saw the initial application form, which simply asked if you were between 18 and 24, I knew I had to apply.

What are your goals and aspirations?

My ultimate vision is simple: I don’t want anyone else to ever feel unwanted by the world like I did. I don’t want there to be people like me in the future, who have to become strong in order to simply live to 18 because of who we are.

My proposed solution towards that aim is less simple: I want to set up a social enterprise that does public speaking and equality, diversity and inclusion consulting. Then I want to use any surplus to establish a mentoring programme run for and by under-30s from historically excluded groups, paying mentors for their work. I also want there to be a decreased emphasis on traditional academic education when entering employment.

As part of that, I need to understand how to do a bit of everything from a skills perspective. FastFutures has been really helpful for that. I’d never even heard of financial statements before the module on finance! It’s definitely set me up well for Year Here.

Most importantly though, FastFutures has helped me to understand that I’m capable despite my lack of formal education. I realised that due to my experiences of growing up autistic, I’ve been conducting informal primary research for years. I ranked as the top contributor on the Hive learning platform out of the 1,300-strong cohort for my engagement. And then it’s an honour to be asked to be the first guest blogger!

What’s been your highlight of the programme so far?

I’ve had a video call with one of the panellists from the first Leadership Q&A session recently, which was absolutely wild! I’ve also been tweeting at Avado a lot (such as whenever I post something about the programme), so I was really happy when they followed me back!

As a result of FastFutures, I even got to speak on radio to share my story! It was really cool getting to talk to local and national radio stations, including a live interview on BBC Radio London. So I’m really grateful to FastFutures for all the opportunities it offers.

However, my biggest highlight would have to be that I’ve made some really good friends. I plan on keeping in touch with them well after the end of the programme!

What’s one thing you want people to take away from this post?

Firstly, although I’m unique as an individual (and possibly in terms of demographic categories), the overarching theme is true for many young people: the educational and employment systems are failing my generation.

Over half of my peers go straight to university after sixth form. Many of them are considering doing Master’s courses because they don’t think they can compete against the past few years of recent grads. Equally, not having a degree isn’t a reflection on someone’s intelligence or skills – I’m proof on the intelligence front, and I’ve met lots of FastFutures participants who’ve said they’ve learned more skills from the programme than from their degree.

That’s exactly why I think FastFutures is so great: it provides more insight into and skills training for the world of work than a traditional university education in a much shorter timeframe, and it’s more inclusive, too! In my various articles about the programme, I’ve recommended it multiple times. I really do recommend the programme to any 18–24 year-olds with the right to work in the UK. So I’m really grateful to Avado, and also FastFutures’ employer partners for everything they’ve done too!

Secondly, I’m a 20-year-old uni dropout who’s both mentally and physically disabled. It is not okay that I feel my best shot of living in a world where it’s okay for me to exist is by starting something myself. That being said, the existence of inclusive, practical programmes such as FastFutures really gives me hope for the future of our society.

If you want to watch me try to change things, any support is greatly appreciated! Due to my unique name, I’m super easy to find on everything I have, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Reads, email subscriptions and post shares from my blog are especially appreciated – everything helps!

I hope you’ve learned a bit about me and my experience so far on this amazing programme! Thank you for reading, big love 💖💜💙 [bisexual colour hearts]

Lynette Bhebhe

Posted September 17, 2021