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How SAP is hiring autistic adults for tech jobs

Sharon Florentine | Dec. 10, 2015
SAP's Autism at Work program is helping adults on the autism spectrum flourish in IT roles, bringing an untapped talent pool into the workplace and fueling further innovation.

"It's an additional four-to-six-week, scenario-based program that focuses on soft skills, communication, teamwork, meeting etiquette, e-mail etiquette and disability disclosure. When an employee on the spectrum comes into SAP, they have access to these job and life-skills programs if they need it," Velasco says.

SAP also introduced autism awareness and sensitivity training for its neurotypical workforce to help ease the integration and onboarding process for autistic employees. As well as, a network of neurotypical volunteer mentors who work one-on-one with candidates on the spectrum to help with any issues that arise, he says.

"The candidates are paired up with mentors from the start of the hiring process and, once they're hired, then their mentor becomes their job coach. Their first 90 days of work focuses on helping them make a smooth transition and a soft landing here at SAP. That includes a two- or three-day training for neurotypical workers who'll be interacting with the new hire that introduces basic concepts of autism, truths and misconceptions, empathy building exercises and other resources," according to Velasco.

Available roles

So far, SAP workers on the spectrum fulfill all kinds of roles in IT -- from software testing, data analysis, quality assurance to IT project management, graphic design, finance administration and human resources, Velasco says, and the potential for new roles is expanding rapidly.

"We don't pigeonhole our candidates on the spectrum. We aren't going to say, 'Well, you're only going to be good at certain things,' because everyone has different interests and unique talents. Our internal folks come to us when they have an open role and say, 'Let's see who we can find!' so it's growing very organically," Velasco says.

Other technology firms are following suit; in April 2015, Microsoft's corporate vice president of worldwide operations, Mary Ellen Smith, announced via a blog post that Microsoft will pilot a program, also in conjunction with Specialisterne, to hire employees on the autism spectrum. Hewlett-Packard is piloting a similar program, beginning with eleven hires in Australia.

"The Autism at Work program has been incredible, and I'm so excited about where we're going. It is changing us as a company, how we are looking at our customers and the communities we serve. We have a vision here that the more diverse the company becomes, the better, because that allows us to incorporate more perspectives into our products and our solutions. If you can tap into perspectives that haven't been brought into the light before, then you can open up a whole new, richer, deeper and broader view of the world," says Velasco.


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