Neurodiversity in the Workplace is an employment initiative that works holistically to place and support people with Autism into high-level technology based jobs for which they are uniquely qualified. Although they have the training and skills to perform these jobs successfully, they were repeatedly denied access to these opportunities due to their diagnosis and support needs. Our initiative provides pre-employment training, assistance through the interview and onboarding process, and individual support on the job. In addition, communication, interpersonal, and other soft skills that may have been a barrier to achieving meaningful employment are addressed in a week-long training module for new employees, and managers are trained in the best ways to provide supports. This initiative leverages partnerships with global corporate companies to recruit, train, employ, and provide on-the-job supports to these employees.
The behavioral health of the person with Autism is addressed throughout the training, onboarding, and employment process. Through an innovative collaboration between The Arc of Philadelphia and the employer, the individual behavioral health needs of each person are assessed and a strategy developed to ensure full, competitive employment in their field of expertise. The Human Resources department of the corporate partner is a critical component in ensuring that the new employee has the behavioral, environmental, and technical supports they need to perform their new job successfully. The Arc works closely with HR to provide these supports and also to guarantee access to behavioral health support through eligibility for quality benefits as part of the employment package.
Having the chance to prove your value, to work in a collaborative environment with others who support you, and to appreciate the skills you can bring to a corporate partner, has a direct and profound impact on the quality of an individual’s behavioral health. Additionally, behavioral health support needs are identified before and during the employment process to ensure the individual is obtaining what they need when they need it. The Arc’s support staff are on site at the employer to ensure coordinated efforts with the company in addressing the individual’s behavioral health needs, and to have the flexibility to address any new care needs that might arise due to workplace circumstances.
Building a community of supports for each person is a key component of the success of this initiative. Managers are trained along with the employee with Autism. Circles of care are created naturally through fellow employees self-identifying as being interested in becomming mentors, “buddies,” and part of building community for the new employees through social outings and partnerships. This design reduces the need for costly health care supports by building stronger natural supports in the workplace and social living environment. Also, because The Arc provides interventions on the front end, the need for more costly health care interventions down the line are reduced.
Including people with Autism in the corporate space promotes an exciting expansion of workplace diversity that helps employers comprehend the value an integrated workforce can bring. Providing different perspectives, promoting stronger ties among employees, and enhancing the company’s bottom line are a few of the ways a workplace can be enriched by being diverse. Mentors, natural supports, and community building within an organization create a more productive workforce and higher employee engagement and retention numbers, while ensuring the access and behavioral health care supports individuals with Autism need to obtain and retain full and competitive employment in their field of expertise. Tens of thousands of technology jobs go unfilled in the U.S. and matching the skills that many people with Autism possess with these unfilled opportunities is an innovative way to address pressing problems for the community of people with Autism as well as for corporate technology companies.
The Neurodiversity in the Workplace initiative has been designed in such a way that it can be replicated and implemented in other locations and with other companies. In fact, part of our work is to help these global employers meet their larger goal of successfully supporting and hiring people with Autism across the country and around the world. To do this we are creating a blueprint that is both replicable and flexible to meet behavioral support needs in a variety of locations. At present, we have replicated the program for three corporations, SAP North America, Willis Towers Watson, and Ernst & Young. Additionally, we partner with SAP to present this successful initiative to other companies, many of whom have already expressed interest.
The need for people with disabilities to have access to employment opportunities is receiving considerable public attention. With this attention has come a push for funding to be available from the state's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). We have had a contractual relationship with OVR for over 30 years and they are an important funder of the Neurodiversity in the Workplace initiative. We have partnered with a private family foundation to help develop the model and are continuing to apply for additional grant funding. Corporate partners have also committed their resources to make this program successful; for example, one company has pledged to ensure that 1% of their global workforce will be people with disabilities by the year 2020. Finally, we are marketing the manager training component of the initiative to other companies who have expressed an interest in learning how to support people with Autism in their workforce.
Neurodiversity in the Workplace is very easily replicated. In fact, since its inception at SAP North America, we have partnered with two additional corporations to employ people in finance and accounting jobs. The program continues to develop to a point that it will be turn-key for any company who wants to sign on. Because of the overwhelming success and partnership with other organizations, a toolkit for successful implementation is being created to use as a guide. By connecting employers, people with autism, provider and vocational rehabilitation supports, The Arc of Philadelphia has been able to create a model that can be effectively duplicated.
Successful outcomes of Neurodiversity in the Workplace are measured by the number of job placements obtained, the length of job retention, the satisfaction of corporate partners, and the satisfaction of the people with Autism on the job. The program is in its second year. To date, 25 people have been hired and retained at three different corporations with 100% retention. In partnership with The Arc, SAP North America is meeting with universities from around the world to determine additional lines of research. Once parameters of this research are developed, they will contribute to the evaluation of programmatic outcomes. Companies embracing the neurodiverse employee is the greatest success factor. The Arc holds a leadership role in bringing this opportunity to our region. We are building a coalition of companies, governmental agencies and non- profit corporations who are willing to commit to inclusive hiring practices and identifying opportunities for people with Autism.