Getting people with autism to work: One solution.


Neil Barnett

The rate of under or unemployment in the autism community is high, and many solutions for improving opportunities for people with ASD are being tested.  One of them is called the Autism@Work Employer Roundtable.  Neil Barnett at Microsoft helped create this program for helping people with autism become employed at companies including, but not limited to, Microsoft.  This program has been featured on many news outlets and has gotten a lot of attention.  Neil was gracious to answer some questions for me about the program and what is aimed to do.

Describe the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable.  How did it get started, and what is it really?

The Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable is a growing group of employers, across industry and size, that have committed to hiring individuals with Autism, in a programmatic manner.  The goal was to bring these diverse employers together to share best practices and help each other with the goal to hire more individuals on the spectrum, given that 80% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. We came together as a resource to help other employers looking to start programs. Recently, we’ve come together and collaborated with the University of Washington Information School to develop an Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable Playbook, a resource aimed at providing programmatic guidance for organizations looking to start their inclusive hiring journey.

Who are currently members?  Are other businesses invited to attend?

You can find the most current members on the our website. The Employer Roundtable includes a diverse range of organizations, including Microsoft, Ford, EY, JP Morgan Chase, SAP, Cintas, IBM, Travelers, and Rising Tide Car Wash. This last year, the Employer Roundtable grew from 5 to 15 organizations. We also welcome any company, who has been running an organized program to hire people on the spectrum for over a year, to join the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable.

Why do these companies participate?

Each organization participates because they want to learn from other employers on their journey and share what they are experiencing in order to empower more people to be successful in the workplace. This is a space where companies do not compete. We are all looking to hire talent from this community and change the unemployment rate for people on the autism spectrum.

What can someone expect after they fill out the application?

The interview and hiring process for any candidate differs by employer. Through the Autism Hiring Programat Microsoft, we use a cohort model where we invite candidates to come to our campus and participate in a skills assessment program, gain feedback via mock interviews, and meet with hiring managers. We also offer each hire an immersive onboarding process with a comprehensive set of services to support the transition to working at Microsoft.

It is important to keep in mind that every company culture and process is slightly different. You can check out the Employer Roundtable website that gives examples of the opportunities that are available and to start the process.

What kind of background is the Roundtable looking for? In other words, who is most likely to be matched with an  opportunity?

Although we welcome all types of backgrounds, we commonly see experience in IT, testers, cybersecurity, and developers, but there is also a wide range of non-technical roles where employers are looking to hire great talent.

How does the roundtable partner with other organizations which help people with autism get jobs?

We partner with universities, non-profit organizations, and service providers to spread awareness of our programs and that we are hiring and looking for talent. We come together to see how we can help other employers start similar programs as we see disability as a strength, and we are always looking for partners to help.

Where can I find more information about the roundtable? 

The Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable websitehas all the important information and includes a job listing board for anyone interested in applying for available positions within each program.