Tapping the abilities of persons with autism

Individuals with autism can be gainfully and meaningfully employed, say organisations like Avanade and Vital

(Second from left): Ms Jesselin Ong, senior associate, CRM solution developer at Avanade, says working at the tech firm has taught her how to navigate social situations as an individual with autism. SOURCE: AVANADE
Individuals with autism, like CRM solution developer Jesselin Ong, can thrive at work and be valuable assets. SOURCE: AVANADE

With the right support and tools, persons with disabilities can be integral to companies and contribute to their growth.  
“One of the biggest misconceptions about individuals on the autism spectrum is that they cannot work or are able to only do simple, repetitive tasks,” says Ms Jacelyn Lim, Executive Director at the Autism Resource Centre (ARC). 

Since 2012, ARC has worked with some 40 companies and placed close to 400 adults with autism in a variety of jobs. 

Two companies that have partnered ARC in employing persons with autism are IT services and consulting firm Avanade and Vital, Singapore’s Public Service’s Central Agency for Corporate Shared Services. Both had been accredited with the Enabling Mark by SG Enable, the focal agency for disability in Singapore.  
The Enabling Mark is a national-level accreditation framework that recognises organisations for their best practices and outcomes in disability-inclusive employment.

“We’ve learnt that we were able to achieve positive business outcomes through inclusive hiring practices - when there is good skills-to-job matching, effective engagement and purposeful work,” says Ms Yang Wen, Director of Corporate Development at Vital. 

Persons with disabilities have various strengths and can form a sizeable talent pool that should not be overlooked. They can also provide new perspectives and innovative ideas which are crucial for businesses, says Mr Tan Eng Tat, Director for Employment & Employability at SG Enable.

Creating greater awareness

It may take a little more time, but the strengths of persons with autism could be uncovered and tapped when employers have greater disability awareness. Indeed, employment support does not end after a person with autism is hired. 
“Our focus is not just about placing jobs, but having a properly supported employment process. This comprises job assessment, employability training, proper placement, as well as preparation of worksite and colleagues,” says Ms Lim. 
At Avanade, a joint venture of Accenture and Microsoft, employees with autism who are placed by ARC are assigned mentors to ease them into their roles. 

The tech firm’s recent hire is Ms Jesselin Ong, who was employed in April as a senior associate, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution developer. Ms Ong started by going through an eight-week course including a briefing by ARC explaining the role, an interview and a spatial test to gauge her aptitude for work related to software development. Thereafter, Avanade conducted a six-month programme, with weekly check-ins from ARC coaches. 
Says Ms Ong, who is settling in well: “Working at Avanade has taught me interpersonal skills like functioning in different teams, and navigating social situations as an autistic person, which is an essential workplace skill.”

To raise awareness about neurodiversity, Avanade organises bi-annual autism awareness talks led by ARC for their Southeast Asia staff. And the firm sees benefits in being diverse, understanding that this is critical to sustainable growth. 
ARC’s Ms Lim noted that individuals with autism can thrive at work and be valuable assets. “Many have held onto their jobs for more than five years and some have even excelled in their work as the most productive workers,” she said.  

A win-win situation 

Like everyone else, the profile of job-seekers with disabilities is diverse, and they have different qualifications and support needs.   

SG Enable has been building up a holistic ecosystem of support for inclusive hiring. Mr Tan says: “For employers, SG Enable has a consultancy team that works closely with them to understand their specific needs and working environment. We would then work with them to identify suitable candidates for employment, as well as support employers with the necessary training and grants.” 

He adds that for persons with disabilities who require support, they can reach out to SG Enable for assistance. 

SG Enable works with its partners - ARC, MINDS and SPD - under the Job Placement and Job Support (JPJS) programme, which provides a suite of employment and recruitment support for persons with disabilities and employers, respectively. 

The availability of JPJS services also assures employers that specialised support is available to kick-start their journey towards inclusive hiring. Since April 2014, SG Enable has placed more than 4,700 persons with disabilities in jobs.

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