Many individuals with autism are highly educated, highly capable, and above all, brilliant. Today, numerous companies are seeing bright opportunities in this untapped employment pool.
In the United States, statistics indicate that as many as 80-90% of adults on the autism spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed. These poor outcomes are not the result of an inability among individuals with autism to demonstrate their competence and to perform job tasks. Rather, for the vast majority, job opportunities are not being made available to them. However, the truth is that a multitude of these individuals are highly educated, extremely capable, and above all, brilliant.
High unemployment rates among this untapped talent pool should not be the case. And now, numerous companies are looking at these statistics and instead of turning away, they are seeing opportunities.
An asset in the workplace
Starting a new job can be both nerve-racking and exciting. This was especially true for Anthony Moffa, who had been hired as an associate software engineer at JPMorgan Chase in December of 2016. It was his first job where his employer would know right from the very beginning that he was on the autism spectrum. Although Moffa was not entirely certain how his condition would affect his workplace environment, he was met with tremendous support from his colleagues and managers from day one. “Staying true to myself has boosted my identity, confidence and self-esteem” he said.
Moffa joined JPMorgan Chase as part of the company’s Autism at Work program. The program is dedicated to hiring employees on the autism spectrum and encouraging their professional growth. It was designed to overcome employment barriers for adults with autism, including traditional interview processes and communication styles.
Since its launch in July of 2015, the Autism at Work program has spread throughout the globe in six different countries. “I would encourage anyone on the spectrum to embrace what makes them different and see it as their greatest strength. I firmly believe that companies could always benefit from having employees who see things in an unconventional way, which is something to remember any time an individual on the spectrum is seeking a job” said James Mahoney, Executive Director and Head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase.
Mahoney said that he has seen instances where employees on the autism spectrum were over 140% more productive than their peers without autism. However, this is not unique to employees at JP Morgan Chase’s Autism at Work program. Many studies show that the capabilities of individuals on the autism spectrum in certain performances exceeds their peers without autism. One study in particular, conducted between the University of Montreal and Harvard University, found that individuals on the autism spectrum were able to problem solve 40% faster than their peers. The researchers involved in the study hypothesized that these individuals benefit from more advanced perception and processing skills.
Unfortunately, very little individuals on the autism spectrum are offered job opportunities to excel in their skills and competencies. As a result, unemployment rates among these individuals is hurting labor markets that reward creativity. “Corporate America can’t afford to miss out on this talent pool full of unconventional problem-solvers” said Jill Houghton, President and CEO of Disability:IN, a nonprofit organization committed to driving performance by leveraging disability inclusion within the workplace.
Adding to the autism employer roundtable
While certain markets may be underestimating the value of individuals on the autism spectrum, companies like JP Morgan Chase and SAP are not letting this go unnoticed. In fact, SAP, a multinational software company, was one of the first companies to seek out autistic talent. “If we ship something with a bug, it’s very costly to fix. In 2013, there was a significant software-testing need in India, so we hired four people there as a pilot. Now we’re hiring people on the spectrum in 10 countries” said Jose Velasco, Vice President of Product Management and Head of the SAP Autism at Work program in the United States.
And they are not the only ones. Microsoft, Ford Motor, EY, and DXC Technology have also implemented autism hiring programs. Their recruiters are now coming up with more innovative approaches to getting individuals on the autism spectrum in the door. “Hangouts and even hackathons where individuals with autism can showcase their talents are great ways to try and recruit individuals with ASD,” says Vanessa Matsis-McCready, Assistant General Counsel and Human Resources Consultant for Engage PEO. Matsis-McCready stressed that she is motivated by the initiative that numerous companies are now taking to employ individuals on the autism spectrum. “Employees are seeing this as a real value-add, a talent pool they had not effectively tapped into before” she said.
Some companies are also inviting these individuals to spend a few days working at their offices in order to make the hiring process much easier and more comfortable for them. “For the first two days, we do team exercises to observe who helps someone else, who takes the lead, and then we try to figure out the best teams. On day three, we do practice interviews all day and give feedback. On day four and five, hiring managers do actual interviews” explained Neil Barnett, Director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility at Microsoft.
A win-win situation
In today’s digital realm, with rapidly changing technologies, the benefits of hiring individuals on the autism spectrum are obvious. Moffa’s growing success at JPMorgan Chase is merely one example of a company that is willing to make an effort to benefit from a diverse workforce with employees who perceive things in unconventional ways. “We benefit from the unique blend of talents provided by these detail-oriented, rule-bound, logical individuals” said Mahoney.
Given the opportunity, individuals on the autism spectrum can be exceptional employees. They can contribute to the workplace as a whole and thrive in their personal and professional development. “This is a new era. People with disabilities are coming into firms with the right qualifications and competing for jobs that able-bodied people are doing. And they are not here to replace able-bodied people, by no means — they want to be part of a workforce because they have the skills” said Jim Sinocchi, Head of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase. And for the companies that believe in their potential and are willing to give them a chance, it’s a win-win situation.