Wells Fargo, JW Marriott, Fed Ex, Shamrock Foods—these are just a few of the 18 companies that sent recruiters to a job fair last week specifically geared toward those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The job fair at Gateway Community College in Phoenix was the second organized by the Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services (DERS). The first was held in January 2017, and attracted 571 job seekers. Turnout for last week’s was a bit lower as just under 200 came through the doors. Although the numbers were lower, the enthusiasm for employment possibilities was high.
“I just want to get a job,” said one young man, a high school senior, who’s looking for an opportunity in information technology. His mother was encouraged by the support offered by many of the companies. “We didn’t realize that some offer on-site training, and have transportation available.”
Employers in attendance were offered a workshop by Arizona State University Professor James Adams, who runs the school’s autism research program. DERS Vocational Rehabilitation Employer Liaison, Tim Stump, says hiring someone on the autism spectrum requires employers be open-minded and realize the limitations of prospective employees with autism.
“One, they’re not going to have a lot of job experience, and two, they’re not going to give them [employers] a lot of visual contact, as they [individuals on the autism spectrum] don’t make eye contact well,” said Stump. Adding that because of this challenge, they may not have a successful interview.
Job seekers were offered workshops on basic interview skills, and tips on appropriate behavior on the job.
“They have a great heart,” said employer Penny Matteson, with Home Assist Health, a home health care business, who’s worked with some on the autism spectrum. She recognizes some of the challenges of these job seekers. “They have a skill set, but they need instructions in a set way. They’re great at their jobs.”
It’s unknown how many with ASD were offered employment after the first job fair as DERS isn’t able to track it, but Stump hears of regular success stories.
“I just got an email from a mother whose son worked all summer over at Chase Field for the Diamondbacks, and loves his job,” Stump said. “She said his confidence level is very high now. She’s very grateful she came [to the last job fair] and is telling friends about it.”
In addition to helping individuals with autism find employment, the job fair also helps DERS inform the public about what the DES Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) has to offer. They’ve signed up dozens for the RSA program, which offers training and job coaching.
With the increase in the number of those diagnosed with autism, Stump believes hiring those with ASD will become more common.
“I think employers are moving in that direction because they have family members and friends who have disabilities,” said Stump.
RSA oversees several programs which are designed to assist eligible individuals who have disabilities to achieve employment outcomes and enhanced independence by offering comprehensive services and supports. For more information, visit the DES website.
By Connie Weber