Conclusion: Whilst many organisations in Australia cite the lack of available IT skills to be a threat to their future growth or ability to complete digital transformation initiatives, Australia has a large often untapped pool of potential employees in candidates on the autism spectrum.
It is estimated that around 60 to 80 per cent of employable adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle to find full time or steady employment, and those that do find employment are often underemployed, that is, employed in roles below their educational or professional level1. Recently tech companies have recognised this opportunity, and programs underway in Australia are successfully identifying, recruiting and supporting individuals on the autism spectrum with the potential to excel particularly in testing, data science and cyber security roles. All are high growth areas for employment.
Observations: Tech companies and IT organisations are tapping into a large pool of potential talent which has previously been overlooked or difficult to recruit. This talent pool are the individuals in our society who are on the autism spectrum, and who are often highly intelligent and possess the ability to focus on tasks for long periods of time, paying great attention to detail.
Adults with Asperger’s or high functioning autism (HFA) typically bring a number of strengths and talents that can be important to employers and particularly within IT organisations. These can include:
- visual thinking strengths
- systematic information processing
- precise technical abilities
- attention to detail: accuracy
- honesty and loyalty
- sustained concentration
- excellent long-term memory
- recalls facts and details others forget
- tolerance of repetition and routine
- low absenteeism
- a disinterest in “office politics” or “office gossip”
- long-term and committed employees.
One of the challenges for employers and for candidates with autism is that traditional hiring processes can be difficult for these candidates to participate in, or to help highlight their abilities. For example, meeting with an interviewer, being able to relate comfortably, being able to speak positively about their own achievements or capabilities, are typically all difficult for an individual with autism.2
In 2014, HPE Services introduced a formal program to specifically identify, recruit and train candidates with ASD. With the transition of HPE Services into DXC Technology, the initiative is now run by DXC Technology. The objective of the Dandelion Program is “to build valuable information technology life and executive functioning skills to help establish careers for people on the autism spectrum”.3
Initially the Dandelion Program was established through a partnership between DXC Technology, Specialisterne, and the Australian Department of Human Services. The program has helped people on the autism spectrum get employment in the areas of cyber security, data analysis and software testing, delivering to organisations such as Department of Defence, the Australian Department of Human Services, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Specialisterne4 entered the Australian marketplace in 2015. It is an organisation dedicated to helping other organisations in recruiting and supporting people on the autism spectrum. Specialisterne is one of several businesses that offer assistance to employers wishing to specifically target potential candidates on the autism spectrum, and have developed their own recruiting processes for identifying, testing and assessing potential candidates for specific roles. For example, recently Specialisterne assisted the Australian Taxation Office in recruiting for IT roles in the areas of entry-level testing, application development and system analysts.
Specialisterne has a reengineered recruiting process specifically for candidates with ASD, which involves a multi-phase tryout. Candidates go through a four-week assessment, showcasing their skills through problem-solving challenges and programming tasks. When a candidate is considered a potential good fit for a role, they move on to a tryout with the company, which pairs the worker with a job coach to coordinate their needs and, if the candidate is hired, make onboarding as smooth as possible.
Both Microsoft and SAP have active programs recruiting employees with ASD, and acknowledging the contribution these employees make. Microsoft hosted “Autism at Work 2018” earlier this year at its headquarters in Redmond, US. One of the common themes that came out of the summit was that the inclusion of neurodiverse employees was in fact good for all employees. That some of the initiatives to recognise the needs of people with differences not only benefited the employees with autism, but in fact benefited lots of employees.
In December 2017, ANZ Bank began its Spectrum Program, specifically to recruit candidates on the spectrum5. The initial focus for ANZ has been to recruit for roles in cyber security and test analysts, again highlighting how these types of roles are very suitable for people on the spectrum.
People in management roles do need to understand how best to lead employees with autism. For example, people with autism respond better to clear communications on what the task or process is that they need to complete. They may need time to learn the process, but once learned it will not be forgotten. They like structure and routine, not surprises or changes on the run. They may not function well in noisy environments where there is a lot of activity and distractions.
Whilst each person is different, there can be some behaviours that individuals on the spectrum may have. For example, a person with Asperger’s may find it difficult to make eye contact when involved in a discussion. Or they may find it difficult to talk about their feelings. People not on the spectrum need to understand the behaviours that people with Asperger’s may have, and understand that whilst different to what they consider normal, they are in fact contributors to the strengths a person with high functioning autism can bring.
Fortunately there is a lot of knowledge around today on autism, and how best to work with someone who has autism. Organisations like Autism Spectrum Australia6 provide workplace training, professional coaching and workplace assessments for employers.
- Taking account of current vacant or future job roles, consider how the particular strengths of a candidate on the spectrum would contribute to that role.
- Seek out external assistance from organisations providing specialist services to find and assess candidates on the spectrum.
- As necessary, modify traditional recruiting processes to better accommodate the needs of candidates on the spectrum, again, accessing external assistance from experienced organisations with expertise in this space if required.
- The strengths that employees with Asperger’s bring to their job roles can bring a lot of benefits due to their high productivity levels, and strong focus on achieving results or service levels. However, it may be necessary to help provide education within an organisation, particularly at the executive level, about the potential upside of having a focus on deliberately hiring candidates on the spectrum for particular roles.
- “About Us”, Dandelion Program, DXC Technology
- "For people with autism like Nick McAllister, one of the biggest challenges is finding a job", ABC News
- “Program overview”, Dandelion Program, DXC Technology
- “Workers with autism recognised for unique skill set, ANZ recruiting nine new employees”, ABC News
- “Workplace Training”, Autism Spectrum Australia