As the economy begins to recover from the worst of the pandemic, it seems like every company is looking to hire back employees lost during the last two years, and most are also looking to expand and grow. However, everyone keeps looking in the same talent pool, and there’s a developing competition to attract the best employees. It’s strange, therefore, that employment rates for autistic adults in British Columbia remain at their historically low levels. It’s estimated that of the 40,000 individuals of working age in the province, more than 80% are unemployed or underemployed, where they are in roles that don’t make use of their skills or experience. This represents a largely untapped pool of workers that bring a lot of strengths to the workplace to give your company a competitive edge.
Strengths Of Autistic Workers
If you look hard enough, you’ll find that numerous multinational corporations are starting realize the strengths that autistic workers bring to the table. Companies such as SAP, Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase have all recently started specific hiring divisions focused on recruiting, training and retaining the best quality autistic talent, and are already reaping some of the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace. While it’s true that no two autistic individuals present with the same set of symptoms, some of the common strengths of autism include:
- Out of the box thinking – it’s widely recognized that neurodiverse individuals perceive and understand the world in a different way to their neurotypical peers. In the workplace, this means that they are able to see new and innovative solutions to existing problems, and they are able to find ways to improve and streamline existing processes and systems.
- Detailed thinking – many autistic workers have a great attention to detail. If this comes out in a more logical format, it can make for great careers in information technology, accounting and scientific research. If it comes out in a more artistic way, they can find success in graphic design or architecture. In either case, this attention to detail allows them to truly understand problems and to find unique solutions to it.
- An ability to focus – many autistic workers are blessed with an ability to focus on a particular task for extended periods of time. This helps them to excel in roles that involve repetitive tasks, or that can be formatted to work through a checklist. This ability to concentration intensely drives up their productivity, making them essential employees.
Barriers to Employment – And Their Solutions
With all these strengths, the shockingly low employment rate seems surprising. However, there are many factors that impact employment for ASD adults, but each one has a solution if the right company is willing to implement it:
- Biased hiring practices – Barrier: before an autistic person can even start a job, they face multiple hurdles in the traditional hiring format. Written applications require a high level of abstract thinking and generalization, and the face to face interview is loaded with subtle social cues and body language which are often tricky for autistic job seekers to navigate. Solution: companies should accept different application formats, including phone and in person conversations, and the interviews should be task based observations. For those looking to shortcut this, an autism talent placement agency will find the best quality individuals for you.
- Neurotypical working environments – Barrier: most office environments are set up with the neurotypical brain in mind. Many autistic workers struggle with sensory overload, from the overhead lighting to the noise in open plan office spaces. Solution: as part of the onboarding process, companies should work with their new employee to discuss accommodations and changes that will help them thrive. Again, an autism employment agency will be able to work with both parties to find common ground.
- Negative stereotypes – Barrier: despite a dramatic rise in autism awareness programs, there still exist a widely held range of negative stereotypes about autism. The fear of casual discrimination alone can put autistic job seekers off from finding work, and can make for a hostile working environment. Solution: before the autistic worker starts their new position, companies should train up all members of their staff on what autism is and what it isn’t, as well as providing strategies for working with and getting the best from their new colleague. Autism talent management agencies will often provide this training as part of the collaborative process, and having access to this external expertise will lay the groundwork for a successful employment experience.