Companies seeking more diverse and inclusive workforces often overlook a huge untapped talent pool of hardworking, focused and dedicated employees right in their own communities.
With one in every 35 children in New Jersey diagnosed with autism, the state has the highest population of autistic individuals in the nation. Yet statistics show only 15% of autistic adults who want jobs are successful in obtaining employment.
At a recent NJBIA online seminar, “Bridging the Gap: How to Successfully Integrate Autistic Individuals into Your Workforce,” a nonprofit that works with high schools, colleges and private companies, outlined how to start scalable programs that allow autistic individuals to be a valuable part of the workforce. Executives at two New Jersey companies – Bergen Logistics and FM & Greenlight – also spoke of their successful experiences working with the nonprofit.
“Autistic individuals are really eager,” said Ann Marie Sullivan, CEO and founder of Spectrum WORKS & Spectrum BRIDGES. “They are hardworking, they’re dedicated, focused and loyal, but still only 15% are employed. Companies actually do really want diverse and inclusive workforces, but they need support to try to identify, engage and integrate individuals on the (autism) spectrum into their companies.”
Sullivan said large companies like Microsoft and Ernst & Young have already set up professional programs to hire, integrate and retain employees with autism because they recognize that they are good employees and help build a more inclusive workplace culture.
However, it is not the actions of the big corporations that will make the biggest impact, she said.
“It’s helping small and medium-sized companies, as well as the big companies, to learn how to do this and how to support them best in their workplaces … that will make the biggest impact,” Sullivan said.
Spectrum Works partners with companies to design inclusion strategies, train company managers and employees, and implement scalable on-site employment programs. It also works with high schools and universities on internship opportunities for students with autism that will provide on-the-job training and career development, and also supports both interns and employees at the partnering companies.