Jake Anson, right, practises his coding during Specialisterne’s four-week training and assessment program. (ABC Ballarat: Patrick Laverick)
Like being dropped ‘into the abyss’: Suicide among young adults on the autism spectrum
Global IT company IBM will hire about 10 employees with autism at its Client Innovation Centre in Ballarat, joining the growing trend of neurodiversity programs in the workplace.
- IBM will hire around 10 employees with autism at its Client Innovation Centre in Ballarat
- The unemployment rate of people with autism is 31.6 per cent, according to Amaze
- Employers can make small adjustments to harness autistic individuals’ unique skillset
The program is the first of its kind for IBM Australia, though the company will roll it out in Canada, Japan, Brazil and Argentina this year after launching in the United States in 2017.
Last week, around 15 candidates commenced IBM’s pre-employment training and assessment program run by Specialisterne, a social enterprise which connects autistic applicants with employers.
Successful candidates will work across various roles in the company including testing, application and software development, data analytics, networking and cybersecurity.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a movement which recognises that various neurological conditions result from natural variation in the human genome.
It is particularly used within the autistic community to highlight the skills and abilities that neurodiverse individuals possess relative to neurotypical people.
“I know from employing 29 autistic people that the skills of these people, of which I am a part, are extraordinary,” Chris Varney said.
Mr Varney is autistic and is the founder and chief enabling officer of the I CAN Network, which mentors young people with autism.
Gareth Watson, left, and Scott Davidson are among the 15 candidates in Specialisterne’s four-week training and assessment program. (ABC Ballarat: Patrick Laverick)
“If you can deploy them cleverly and set up the right support structures, they can do two weeks of work in two days,” he said.
Specialisterne’s Steph Carayannis has beem running IBM’s training and assessment program and agreed.
“It is important to remember that not all individuals on the spectrum have the same strengths, and everyone’s experience is slightly different,” she said.
“However, some of their unique skills and capabilities include: an eye for detail, thinking outside of the box, an eagerness to learn in areas of interest, accuracy, an ability to complete repetitive tasks, punctuality, and reliability in the workplace, exceptional memory and creativity.”
Ms Carayannis said data from JP Morgan Chase’s neurodiversity program showed that employees with autism were 48 per cent faster and 92 per cent more productive than non-autistic employees.
Specialisterne has worked with several Australian workplaces including Westpac, PwC, the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria, Xero, and the Australian Taxation Office.
ANZ and DXC Technology have also run specialised autism employment initiatives.
Job interviews less suited to autistic candidates
The face-to-face job interview has been a staple of the recruitment process for decades, but it is one area that businesses could adapt for autistic candidates.
Of those who are unemployed and have autism, around one third said they are unable to attend interviews due to anxiety, according to research released last week by Amaze, the peak body for autism advocacy in Australia.
“Since autistic individuals exhibit differences in their social interactions and communication, they often don’t do as well in the traditional interview recruitment processes as it relies more on rapport building and verbalising the individual’s skillset,” Ms Carayannis said.
“We adapt a patient recruitment process where applicants are required to showcase their skills instead of verbalise them.”
Aside from recruitment, employers can make several other simple adjustments to harness autistic employees’ abilities, according to Keith McVilly, Professorial Fellow in Disability and Social Inclusion at the University of Melbourne.
“Employers could leverage the skills and what people, who identify as autistic, have to offer the workplace if they developed their understanding of how reasonable adjustment might be made,” he said.
“In exactly the same way that employers make reasonable adjustment for an injured worker to return to work, or a woman returning from maternity leave.”
While adjustments should be individualised, Dr McVilly suggested some could include providing the ability to dim lighting, shielding workspaces from open plan office noise, crafting consistent schedules, and prioritising written communication over social interaction.
Are things changing?
Research released by Amaze last week painted a bleak picture of autism and employment.
The unemployment rate of people with autism sits at 31.6 per cent — nearly six times greater than the rate for people without any disability — and the real rate is likely a lot higher as some have given up looking for work.
However, Mr Varney was optimistic.
“It’s fantastic that IBM is setting this up in Ballarat and there are a myriad of great neurodiversity employment programs starting up right across the banking sector and the tech sector … it’s just great,” he said.
“Those companies are making a really smart move because autistic people are an asset to a workplace.
“We’re such a goal-oriented group … we’re a very loyal group of people, very hardworking … [and we] can be a real strategic asset if you get the setup right.”