Industryweek 35043 Neurodiversity 1 0

Manufacturing Talent is Out There - You Just Need to Know Where to Look

June 5, 2019
Employees with autism and those who are neurodiverse have a lot of skills to offer manufacturing companies.

Manufacturing companies always figure it out. Whatever “it” is. Whether it’s new ways to produce products, new ways to lessen their environmental impact or new ways to employ talent.

Their spirit, enthusiasm and “can do” attitude has greatly impressed me over the past fifteen years as they have explained to me what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Nothing deters them. This is especially true as they seek out talent. Always willing to find ways to bring a cross-section of people into their companies, they are currently casting an even wider net.

One source of talent that is being tapped are those on the autism spectrum.

According to Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. That’s a large pool of people who have specific talents that industry craves. People who are on the autism spectrum are skilled at routinized, focused and detail-oriented work, as well as pattern recognition. They have outstanding technical and math skills.

In addition to these skills, companies are finding that this group of employees often are able to find unique solutions to problems that might have escaped the more conventional workers.  

One such company, SAP, has a program called Austism at Work and they hire people on the spectrum across their operations in software-testing. In fact SAP and Microsoft, another early-adapter of hiring those on the spectrum, have said that employees with autism show higher rates of productivity, retention and in certain areas outperform their peers.

These results have led SAP along with Ford Motor Co, DXC Technology, EY,  Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, to create an Autism at Work Employer Roundtable in Oct of 2017. This has led to companies creating their own programs. Ford created a program called Inclusive Works with the specific goal of hiring and supporting employees on the spectrum.  And other companies are now creating groups that include autism. For example, Eaton Corp. has an inclusion employee resource group, called “Enable” for employees managing disabilities and special needs, including autism.

Recruiting Autisic Talent

These programs and the Roundtable are creating both an awareness of this talent pool and are spreading the word about this source of talent. One company that is stepping in to fill the need of finding these workers is Bryan Dai.  He founded Daivergent in December 2017. His company uses an online platform to provide remote workers. Explaining the current need for these types of skills he gives the example of  GE who added a product that required data labeling that fit the skills of people who he had on his roster. “Not only do we match people we provide the training they need to be successful in their jobs,” Dai said. “If this means training in soft skills or other skills necessary we will provide that. And we work with the company closely to ensure the quality of the work.” The company sources talent from a variety of sources including universities and then trains with their own data experts. They verify the final work products with AI -powered auditing workflows.

The model has proven successful as Daivergent cites statistics that this workforce is up to 200% faster than other workers due to their unique aptitude for rigorous, detail-oriented tasks. 

The company’s goal to “unlock the unique aptitude of people on the autism spectrum,” caught the attention of SAP, who chose the company, from a field of 150 applicants, to become part of its SAP.iO Foundry NY. In this program, SAP chooses companies “solving pressing problems that will make a lasting impact on us and on the world.” Companies receive help from SAP to further scale their businesses through curated mentorship with SAP experts, external industry and VC mentors, and startup veterans.

Creating a Supportive Community

While Daivergent seeks talent to employ, there are organizations working to help parents, teachers and others find the necessary resources to help uncover the talent of this population.

One organization, Milestones Autism Resources, is creating a  community in which individuals on the autism spectrum “reach their full potential as contributing members of society, recognized for their strengths and supported in their challenges.”

“If families, educators and employers know the best way to support and interact with those on the spectrum, individuals can reach greater heights,” explains Illana Hoffer Skoff, founder and CEO of Milestones Autism Resources.  “Often people have the hard skills but lack the soft skills,” she adds.

Her organization is having a large impact on the community and in the 15 years that they held conferences to connect resources in the community they have served over 100,000 people.  Their upcoming Conference, being held June 11-12 in Cleveland, offers such sessions as the “Business Perspective of Hiring Those with Autism.”

Recognizing Spectrum Abilities in the Workforce

As awareness of the abilities of those on the spectrum grows, so too does the inclusion of other neurological conditions and the abilities associated with them. For this reason, the term neurodiverse is now coming into play.

Neurodiversity is the larger term which includes a variety of conditions including Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum and others.  Services

 “Manufacturing is one the industries that probably benefits most from hiring people who are neurodiverse,” explains Mike Civello, vice president and creator/director of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Center at Rethink. Rethink launched its Inclusion Center in October of 2018 to address the fact that many companies already employ this population without even realizing it.

"The reality is that this is a population that we don’t know that much about from a workplace perspective and we need to help companies understand, accommodate and provide for employees who present themselves in a different manner,” says Civello. The center will focus on the training of managers and colleagues of the neurodiverse community.

For example, Civello says, many adults with autism who have college degrees never make it past the job interview as they are often unable to make eye contact during the interview.  If hiring managers know what to look for instead of a one-on-one interviews, they can find other ways of determining the candidate's qualifications. 

In addition to adding this population, Civello says that currently companies have these workers on staff but might not know it. “Many companies already have employees who are on the spectrum and would benefit from identifying the particular skill sets these employees possess and create a work environment that fit these skills,” Civello said.

His company has e-learning modules that have been used to help parents of autistic children learn how to assist them in a variety of ways to expand to a workforce applicant. And manufacturing companies such as Volkswagen, offer this as a benefit to their employees who have autistic children. These same modules and clinical support system can help managers at companies learn strategies for interviewing, hiring and onboarding, as well as providing career paths and services to this neurodiverse population.

A lot of work is being done to locate, attract and retain these workers. In all of my research on this topic one of my favorite stories, which came from Fortune, is about a man who is a software engineer and wasn’t diagnosed with autism until he was 48. He had degrees in both psychology and engineering psychology and had worked in technology for 20 years before he was diagnosed. He had a hard time keeping jobs and didn’t do well in job performances until he was hired through Chase’s program, Autism at Work at Chase, in 2016.  In fact, Chase offers statistics on the success of its program telling Fortune that these employees achieve 48% to 140% more work than their colleagues. But to me, the more important results is that this man found a  home for his talent. 

Through awareness of his abilities and helping others to understand the different nature of communication, many others will also find an outlet for their talents. And my money is on the manufacturing community which has a track record of embracing new talent. 

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