Power On The Spectrum: New Hiring Strategy Benefits The Autistic Community

Individuals who have often struggled to find employment receive new opportunities for full-time jobs.


Getting a job can be a challenge for anyone, but this challenge is amplified for autistic individuals who can find difficulty in the most basic interpersonal interactions. Janis Oberman, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult, certainly felt the weight of this challenge. Oberman weaved her way through temporary positions for many years before she was hired as a software specialist full-time at SAP, a German software company.

The firm, based in Palo Alto, California, hired her two years ago because of the company’s new global recruitment procedure which welcomed individuals who had Autism and Asperger’s. Oberman, who has a master’s degree in multimedia studies from California State University, East Bay, knew that it was a big deal that she was hired. She said of her skills, “I’m not very good at things like networking. I’m all right at interviewing, but not great at high-pressure interviews that are going on a lot in tech.”

For the sake of diversity and inclusivity, more companies recognize positions that individuals on the autistic spectrum will be successful in. SAP is only one of several companies who have partnered with the Danish company Specialisterne, which prepares autistic individuals for the workforce. Also partnering with Specialisterne, Microsoft hired eleven individuals on the spectrum full-time in software and date positions after launching a pilot program last year.

Mark Grein, executive director of Specialisterne’s U.S. division recognizes the duality of challenge in employing more autistic individuals. Having a child with autism, Grein sees the personal motivation for companies, saying “To change the corporate culture, to look differently at the labor market, it’s useful to have an influential person on the inside.” At the same time, true success for Specialisterne means identifying a business need first, leaving the social benefit secondary.

Fortunately, autistic individuals have many marketable skills including the ability to find data patterns and anomalies, and to stay focused while performing repetitive work at a high-quality – skills that are particularly useful for data analysis, information technology, software design, and multimedia work. Risk management and human resources firm Willis Towers Watson was prompted to begin its autism initiative in spring 2014 when there was a surge in the need for analysts. Willis Towers Watson consultant said of these new hires that “They performed really well, and they opened our eyes that we should consider them for jobs in HR, technology, and benefits administration. They’re diligent and capable of a period of prolonged focus. If you can alter your sourcing strategy by not unconsciously screening them out when you interview them, you can solve management issues.”

Placing autistic individuals in a team fosters creativity and innovation. The initiative taken by these companies is important because it is re-teaching the way autistic individuals should be viewed, and the roles they are capable of playing. Though many people on the spectrum are concerned about being placed into a specific niche, companies are working to ensure that new employees are placed in positions that they can be fulfilled by, in addition to being qualified for.

Working with autistic employees also encourages their peers to be more direct and precise with their language, expressing goals and project directions more clearly because many individuals with autism can miss speech ambiguities. Across the board, hiring autistic individuals benefits the company, the individuals already employed, and the entire autistic community at large – particularly because companies work to offer full-time positions rather than internship or temporary posts. This shift in hiring practices is sure to bring happy tidings for the future of the autistic community and for the companies that hire them.

Photo source.

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