An Untapped Talent Pool: People on the Autism Spectrum

An Untapped Talent Pool: People on the Autism Spectrum
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Why you should care

Because people on the autism spectrum have skills that can transform a workplace … for the better.

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Much has been said about how tough the job market is today, but imagine for a moment how much harder it would be to jump-start a career if you were on the autism spectrum.

That reality is even more disheartening when you learn that many individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) possess in-demand skills and, given the chance, can prove more productive than peers without autism. That’s because some common traits of ASD are ideal assets in the workplace, particularly in industries like tech and engineering — such as the ability to hyper-focus on tasks and a tendency to be minutely detail-oriented. Employers of people with ASD have been known to herald their above-average accuracy.

But these talents are being routinely missed. According to a report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, twentysomethings with autism are even less likely to be employed in the U.S. than contemporaries with other disabilities. Whereas 91 percent of young people with a speech impairment or emotional disturbances had jobs, as did 95 percent of those with learning disabilities, just 58 percent of young people with ASD had found a place in the workforce, the report discovered.

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JPMorgan Chase has hired more than 30 individuals with ASD, and anticipates hiring hundreds more in the coming years.

Source Courtesy JPMorgan Chase

One of the biggest barriers to these highly skilled workers as they look to develop fulfilling careers is the traditional interview process. While autism can manifest in many different forms, fundamentally it impacts individuals’ ability to interact in social situations. Melanie, a Columbus-based Chase employee whose daughter, Billie, is autistic, says her high-functioning child rocks back and forth and side-to-side, stutters, frequently says “Um” and has difficulty making eye contact. Melanie told me: “I taught her to say, ‘Hi. I’m Billie, and I have autism spectrum disorder. Just so you know, I’m not weird or quirky.’ ”

Your typical job interview, then, is probably not the fairest place to assess a candidate with autism. This is just one thing we’re working to change at JPMorgan Chase with our “Autism at Work” program. Because of our size and continued growth, we have an almost constant need for talented employees — especially in technology-related fields. And knowing that many people with autism are highly educated and highly capable, we thought this could become a new, untapped pool of talent.

But it’s a complex task. Each person’s challenges are different. As Melanie said to me once: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So it’s through partnerships with various organizations that have more experience working with ASD that we are learning to look beyond traditional recruitment practices, identify roles that would benefit from the talents of ASD adults and create the sort of inclusive work environment that will help these employees thrive.

Since rolling out the program, we’ve hired more than 30 individuals with ASD, and we anticipate hiring hundreds more — all over the world — in the coming years.

One of those people is Jon, a quality assurance analyst at Chase. His ability to assess situations and come up with solutions improves our organization and efficiency. He told me he would encourage anyone on the spectrum to embrace what makes them different and see it as their greatest strength, pointing out that companies can always benefit from “having employees who see things in an unconventional way.”

And with that, Jon has hit the nail on the head. Because if there is one thing businesses need to develop and grow, it is unconventional ideas. The unique skills and thought processes of autistic workers — the qualities that make them different — are precisely what employers need. Currently, many people on the spectrum are not given a chance to shine through conventional means. And that is exactly the problem.

Which is why, here at JPMorgan Chase, our program will continue to buck convention.

James Mahoney is the head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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