Autism in the Workplace - Recruitment Strategies Panel
Autism in the Workplace - Recruitment Strategies Panel
On Tuesday, October 16th the Presidents Group and our partners hosted an ‘Autism in the Workplace’ conference at the Goodlife Fitness Family Autism Hub in Richmond. The conference ran from 8:30am – 3pm. There were sessions led by both professionals who have experience supporting individuals with ASD and organizations that have successfully implemented strategies to make their workforce more neurodiverse.
This is the panel on Recruitment Strategies.
(Elisabeth) I’m Elisabeth Walker-Young. I’m the Manager of Programs with Canucks Autism Network. We’re really excited to learn from the panelists here, from the speakers on the panel before us, on the lived perspective. Whether you’re living and breathing the recruitment and supporting people with disabilities, and diverse abilities in your environment and/or whether you have that lived perspective yourself, they’re all important for all of us, to be able to kinda take this in, and to be inclusive employers.
So with that I will pass it over, to Swami to introduce himself.
(Swami) Okay, Hi, I’m Swami. I work at ICBC. I’m a manager for testing, so we manage enterprise testing, automation performance testing, different testing types. So for me, working with the people on the spectrum, it’s been a year and a half. So we’ve worked at Focus services, I and a couple of people, in fact, I’ve gotten one of them full-time. So I would love to share my experience, how was it working with them, having interviews with them and all that.
(Carol) Okay, I’m Carol Simpson and I’m the Founder and CEO of Focus Professional Services. I started the company solely for the purpose of hiring individuals on the Autism Spectrum and getting them out into solid, middle class employment jobs. The business model that I used originated in Europe and it’s been adapted to Canada, and then locally here to BC.
I have the advantage of not only working the field that I really enjoy which is IT. If I were an accountant I’d have an accounting firm, but I’ve been in IT all of my career, and so that was just a natural place for me to go. And I also, so I have practices inside my organization about hiring people on the Spectrum. But I also work with clients, other businesses, in introducing our staff as consultants into their workspaces.
So, I also see into other organizations, and where their challenges are, and how things work and when things work. Then from a personal perspective, I have two adult sons on the spectrum
and I am a single mother, and my older son is getting his PhD in Mathematics at UBC. And my younger son is figuring out what life is all about.
(Lisa) I’m Lisa Beecroft. My husband, Patrick, and I own Gabi & Jules Handmade Pies, which is a bakery in Port Moody. We opened the bakery just about two and a half years ago. It came out of our existing business which is Caffé Divano.
We have three cafes in Coquitlam, Port Moody, and Burnaby. We opened the bakery. It was named after our two daughters, Gabriela and Juliana. Juliana is our eldest daughter who is 10 now and has autism, and so it was very intentional that we wanted the bakery to be an inclusive employer, and we wanted to create a space that would provide opportunities, and then eventually provide a space for her as she gets older. So that was where that came from.
(Elisabeth) Alright, let’s start with Swami. If we think of recruitment involving these four key components: sourcing, interviewing, selection assessment, and onboarding What did you initially find most challenging and how did you address this?
(Swami) So, with regards to the roles that we look at for my department. Not just manual testers, people with some programming skills so that those are like test level of course what we are looking at and when we started with the idea of looking at people from the spectrum, and let’s see how we can set up this model at ICBC Corporate, Information Services Department. So, we started as an experimentation first. So, we got some resumes from Carol. We provided had the skill sets that we need. And then we got them trained on those like Java, Selenium automation, and all that.
And then it was to see, okay, let’s try for first month or two see how people work out and then we can slowly transform and increase the contract. So, the first month was more of like setting up the teams. I had a sizable team. Who should work with this person? So, we had this onboarding session.
We got Carol to do a lot of training. Say, okay how to work with people of the spectrum? What is, what kind of situation would we deal with? So we had this training for people within my team and people like that admin staff, people who would be working with this person to have an idea. So, we also brought in other application areas because this person might be talking to somebody from a different development team or data base group.
So, we got a representative from each team. We had that session to layout, this is how we do it and then we got them in. And within like a month or two, he learned the key applications that we use for claims processing insurance and how to do the automation, like very much quickly and I was able to run through the automation work that was needed for our data base sustainment work. So it’s like bread and butter for him now after a couple of months.
So that was success rate, and based around what we saw is okay, why don’t we try hiring him full time? So the key challenge that I would say here is many of them this is their first job, so when you look at their resume, you wouldn’t see an experience in an IT company before. So, that’s done by their technical skills. So, I’m doing the face-to-face interview. That was one of the experiences we had to.
We did an interview for a lot of folks. So I had my test lead sitting in the room and myself. So, I did set the expectation that this is what it would be when you have an interview with a person from the spectrum. But I think seeing the panel for an interview a face-to-face interview, he got a bit scared so we had to make him comfortable and then go through our questions.
So, end of the day when he finished the interview, like he went back to Carol’s office, he was kinda frustrated. Oh I didn’t answer that question well. Maybe I should have given some more details in here? And I kind of felt that could have been the case. I gave her a call, so, and that was the case, so, then I tell her can you just let him know that he did a good job in the interview. He answered all the questions we are looking for as application aspect like can he understand a problem and apply the logic?
So, in that way, that was a good learning for me, to see okay, if I want to interview in future a person from the spectrum, I may do a written test rather than a face-to-face interview. That kind of brings down the anxiety a bit from them so they can answer the questions well. And onboarding, that’s sort of like, have some sessions, bring in a trained person to get the team on board, like how should we work with the person?
(Elisabeth) Thank you. Carol, when you first started hiring people with autism, what did you do to help prepare managers, supervisors, and other team members, or anyone else that they typically didn’t do?
(Carol) Okay, so, I’ll ask that question more the… You know, I started Focus from the very beginning with Autism in mind. So it wasn’t as if we had to change anything, instead we implemented a process. And so our process is that we do meet our applicants and we call it a meet and greet. So, because, I don’t want to interview them per-se, it’s the opportunity for them to come in, get a sense of the environment, and I want to see them as relaxed as possible because I know that when I see somebody on the spectrum in their most relaxed state, I am seeing them at their best.
And that’s what I want to see. I want to see them at their best. So it’s more like a social chat. And I was looking to see if I can carry on the conversation, where I talk, they talk, I talk again. You know, and they’re engaged. Then from there, and I’m also in that interview, or that meet and greet, I’m looking for do I get a sense that the person is coachable? You know, because that’s really important. And that’s true for anybody, whether they’re on the spectrum or not.
And, so those people who do where they’re always learning, and things are always changing, we have them come back and we put them through a battery of aptitude tests. And those aptitude tests are natural abilities in areas that are important to IT. And just because you’re on the spectrum doesn’t necessarily mean, just like Dr. Worling said, that your gonna be good in IT.
So, once we’ve established that somebody’s got the aptitude, we then put them through 90 hours of training. And it’s employment retention training. And that was what Bailey was referring to as business etiquette. And it’s very much about how to behave in the workplace. And what to expect and what is expected of you. So that when they go out into our clients’ sites, they feel very comfortable and confident that they know what is expected of them. And when things come up and go off kilter, which they will do, for all of us that’s true. They know how to handle it.
So it’s a matter of getting over those hurdles of thinking that no no, these individuals have talent and they may not have the previous experience but they’ve got the capability of doing very complex jobs and they just need that opportunity to shine. And that’s what we do, and then, yeah.
(Elisabeth) Lisa, in your experience with recruiting individuals with autism, were there any things that you were pleasantly surprised about? And then conversely any do-overs?
(Lisa) Lot’s of both, I would say. (laughs) It kind of goes back to the expectation that everyone’s going to be the same. Because that’s just not the case for anybody, and certainly not with our experience hiring individuals on the spectrum. It’s been different for each one of them, we’ve learned so much from all of it. Pleasantly surprised? I mean I think that seeing the team rally behind a lot of those individuals either like in a really positive way, like somebody that comes in… This young man, who just he is just a little ball of joy. He just comes in and it’s hard not to be like it’s so infectious. And he just brings this happiness. There’s also like another individual who’s been with us from day one and his journey has been very very challenging to navigate.
And we’ve learned so much and there’s so much that we continue to try to learn to support him and to try to make him successful, but it’s like the amount of support that he’s gotten from the team just they just want him to be successful. Despite the challenging days, so that’s been really great to see.
What I’ve learned for our organization, what has become key, is getting key strategic alliances with organizations that are supporting individuals and having that set up from the get-go. I’ve become very clear on our expectations with job coaching and on-going support because what we’ve found is kind of have this honeymoon period where everything is going well and you’re like, okay this is great, and then it’s like all of a sudden, things totally go off the rails three months later, and it’s like, okay I need, come back, circle back you can help us.
So making sure that those job coaches are with agencies that have that mentality. And that will look at our business and how they can support our business not just their client, ’cause we did have a lot of that experience, where it’s like, okay this person can be a great fit for you, check. And move on and I’m like whoa whoa, good fit for them maybe, but it’s really not working for me. And I need to be able to have that conversation, and I’m very up front and I’m very frank about that and I think that’s so important.
Like I’m not helping anybody by saying Yeah, it’s fine, and then I’m going to have to let them go. Like this is what I need to address, this is what I need your help with, and that has proven to be very successful, and we’ve made some great we’re getting actually spoiled with the job coaches we’re working with right now. ‘Cause they’re just so fantastic and they’re really they’re an extension of our team and they understand our business very well and what we need and I just go to them first.
I’m like, so I need this, do you have anybody in mind? But it’s fantastic to have that close relationships in place.
(Elisabeth) Based on your experiences, in your opinion were there any gaps? Where are the gaps? Where are the gaps and what could be done to support organizations in efforts to become more inclusive?
(Lisa) Yeah, I think there’s a lot of gaps that need to be addressed, and something that I speak a lot about like I’m with agencies. Thankfully with anybody who will listen is the fact that job coaching is fine and super-important, but kind of what you talked about as far as that etiquette, the work etiquette, and how do you like conduct yourself in a workplace effectively? That’s been a piece of the puzzle that’s not there.
And sometimes that comes back to behavioral supports, right? And those are hard to come by, and so to go back to like our one young man who presented us with a lot of challenges. He’s quite capable of doing his job. Like he will show up every week. Like attendance is not an issue. But his ability to interact with his coworkers is so problematic and to interact with He delivers for us, so he’s out in the community. So it’s like, he’s representing us, and we’re like, every time we’re like, Oh my God are you kidding?
This is just not representing us well. It’s not representing him well.
But to try to find him support. He’s of an age where he never had any support when he was a kid. So like from a parent of somebody with autism, I totally feel for him, like you just didn’t have a chance. Nobody was there to teach you this stuff. But then to try to find that within the community is very challenging.
I think it’s something that needs to be discussed more as far as how do you like these life skills that are so critical to be successful and to achieve full employment which is what our goal for this young man was ’cause he does eventually want to be independent, but it’s like there’s so much work that needs to happen in the workplace that also then translates to his success outside of work too right? So, that’s a big one that I would love to see more attention to.
(Elisabeth) Yeah, and they’re not easy conversations to have, and they’re not ones that are done quickly. So as an employer when there’s lots of other moving pieces, it’s hard. Swami, any final insight or suggestion that you’d like to pass along to the employers in the room to help them with their recruitment efforts when it comes to hiring those on the autism spectrum?
(Swami) One good thing that my team’s like I believe is successful in getting somebody on the spectrum was because we also borrow a team onboard, so I was able to get a person as a buddy for the new resource and to train this person and also hand-hold him for a time period. And this one-on-one sessions helped us a lot. Get the team onboard early before even get the resource, and then you have all the support people get to know him and have the communication established well.
So that kind of plays a very key role. And also inputs on how do we interview them? Also like setting them up for success is one key thing. They can start with repetitive kind of work but slowly once they gain the knowledge, they can move laterally and so that’s so what team can set you up very well. So something that’s established but you have to do it every day, that and learn new areas of application and IT.
And learning new technologies as well. I’ve seen ability to learn it quickly and turnaround things. So the thing is we just need to give them a bit of room. And at some point you may realize that they are like on-par with everybody and you forget that this person was in the spectrum and that’s one other thing that we have to realize.
When things happen, like what Carol said, something that has worked last month would have failed in IT this month. Because of some patch or some change that we have applied. So we just need to be mindful and get the communication up to resource so to say, school came to fail, you learn from it and then you fix it for the next time. That message, communication has to be clear.
They are pretty much honest with the way they do things, so for me, like suppose they come to my office, and give to me like, okay I’ve done this work, what do I do next? And the kind of questions they ask is like, okay, I’m running this automated application. The tool is running it, I’m watching it. What should I do when it’s running? So I to tell, okay go look at another application to learn or try to build something else.
So, these are the kind of questions I haven’t heard from the regular employee, but these are like new things for me to see. I’m kind of surprised to see okay, you’re thinking in this way. And the kind of issue they raised when they see a data. It’s different from regular eyes, so that’s what I’ve seen.
(Elisabeth) Thank you. Well, as someone who manages a team, myself at Canucks Autism Network, you run organizations and you manage teams, it sounds like what you do with a typical population. So there might be, and then there’s also different maybe barriers and different ways of coaching and working. And definitely some supports that we all need to rely on, whether it’s someone’s supporting you to get in or then once they’re in the process, so, it is people wanting to get jobs and to contribute and to have skill sets.