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Employing people with autism; are we there yet?

In: Business

The autism hiring rates for British Columbia make for depressing reading. In a recent survey, almost 80% of the province’s autistic population reported being unemployed or underemployed, where they are in work that doesn’t pay them in line with their skills, qualifications or experience. This means that around 40,000 autistic individuals aren’t able to take their rightful place in society, and many companies are missing out on their next star employee.

Barriers to employment for autism

Autism in modern society is a complex issue, so it’s hard to specify one particular reason why the employment rate for autistic adults in British Columbia stays at such a perpetually low rate. However, some of the more common barriers that autistic jobseekers face include:

  • Widespread negative stereotypes – unfortunately, there exist many negative stereotypes about autism in mainstream society. This is in part due to media portrayals in shows like The Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon’s autism is used for comedic effect, and also due to deliberate misunderstanding. We’ve all heard someone say “I’m feeling a little autistic today” like it’s something that comes and goes. These negative viewpoints are present when hiring managers are looking for high quality candidates, meaning that they dismiss possible rising stars as being unable to function in the workplace.
  • Biased hiring practices – almost the entire standard hiring process, from job advert to interview, is heavily weighted towards neurotypical applicants. The job descriptions require a high level of generalization from one job skill set to another, the application process needs the ability to talk about skills that aren’t yet learned, and the interview is usually a face to face conversation which is a minefield of social cues and body language to for an autistic jobseeker to navigate.
  • A lack of confidence – finally, many autistic adults have had a lifetime of people telling them that they can’t do certain things, or that they won’t succeed. This stems from a school system that isn’t built for neurodiversity (it also fails many neurotypical individuals, but that’s beside the point), as well as messaging from society in general that judges too quickly. This leads to a lack of confidence, so many autistic adults who have dreams of entering the workforce lack the confidence to take the first steps towards employment.

Getting More Autistic People Into Employment

There are many positive reasons to make the modern workforce more neurodiverse. These include novel ways to see existing problems, and increased empathy across all staff members. Indeed, major corporations such as JP Morgan Chase and Microsoft have started up dedicated hiring teams to take advantage of the unique skills and talents that autistic workers bring to the table. To get more companies thinking about employing people on the autism spectrum, some of these changes need to be made:

  • Inclusive job adverts – the way that most job adverts are written tend to subliminally target neurotypical candidates. The idea of being able to generalize skills from one job to another, as well as being able to talk about knowledge that they don’t yet have, is a creative writing task beyond the reach of most autistic jobseekers. More inclusive job adverts will talk about concrete and specific tasks and skills required, and will often accept phone or in person applications.
  • Action oriented interviews – another way to level the playing for autistic job candidates is to change the way in which you interview. There’s been plenty of recent research showing that the traditional face to face interview is a poor predictor of successful job performance for neurotypical people, so moving towards group or task based interviews will give you a better idea of the suitability of all your candidates.
  • Autism awareness for all staff – finally, to feel like “we’re there” with employing people with autism, there has to be a society wide shift in how autistic people are viewed. You can start this in your workplace by bringing in external consultants to run autism awareness training, and provide support as to what to expect from their new colleague.

All of these changes require a lot of effort, which is when you’ll benefit from teaming up with Orbital. Our team of experts will work with your hiring department to create more inclusive job adverts and positions, and then work with our sister organization to find the highest quality autistic talent for your company. We’ll then work with your staff to get them ready for a successful onboarding transition and bring the benefits of neurodiversity to your workplace.

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