Finding a job and launching a career is a challenge for most young people. However, for individuals with Autism, the transition to meaningful work presents even more of a struggle. An estimated 85% of college graduates affected by Autism are unemployed, yet they represent a largely untapped pool that can bring unique skills and talents to the workplace.
SpArc Philadelphia, a family of organizations that advocates with and for all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is taking a leadership role in promoting workplace diversity. In 2013, they forged a partnership with software-giant SAP to help fulfill its goal of employing 1% of its total workforce (roughly 650 people) with adults that have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
To meet this target, SpArc developed the Neurodiversity in the Workplace program, which works holistically to place individuals with Autism into high-level technology-based jobs. The program begins with a month-long hiring process that includes a series of opportunities for applicants to showcase their talents in ways that are comfortable to them. Candidates who are successful through this first step then participate in a training program aimed at strengthening interpersonal and other soft skills that may have been a barrier to achieving meaningful employment.
The next step is employment, where new hires are paired with a mentor to ensure a smooth transition to fulltime work. The program also includes in-depth training for administrators in school districts across Pennsylvania to support students with Autism in their transition from school to work.
“Our partnership with SAP has been groundbreaking,” said Laura Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia. “Through our Neurodiversity in the Workplace program, we have placed 26 individuals with Autism in the Philadelphia area, and 100% of them continue to be employed in those positions. Our collaboration with SAP has served as a springboard, allowing us to expand our reach to other companies. We’re also making our materials and training available to educators and employers across the country with the hope of empowering them to build their own neurodiversity program.”