Autism and STEM

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Autism and the STEM Talent Gap

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss employment prospects for people on the spectrum. At The Huffington Post, the president of the National Organization on Disability, Carol Glazer, writes:

America is already lagging when it comes to STEM-skilled workers. The U.S. will have more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM – or science, technology, engineering and math – fields by 2018. And by 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute reports there will be a shortage of 95 million skilled workers.

Microsoft and SAP are two companies that are filling this STEM talent gap by hiring individuals with autism. Why? They’ve discovered thatthese individuals possess in-demand skills in STEM fields, especially jobs that require extreme attention to detail or repetitive tasks, like quality checking software or finding anomalies in data. Remember the character made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the film, Rain Man, who had a remarkable ability to remember numerical sequences? Those same skills can be used to help companies fill critical STEM vacancies.

Smart companies competing in the ‘race for talent’ – as Baby Boomers grow older and retire – are recognizing the benefits. Microsoft recently launched a pilot program to hire people with autism. And SAP has established a goal to have one-percent of its global workforce – some 650 employees – be people with autism by 2020. SAP’s director of its “Autism at Work” program, Jose Velasco, has reported that not only has it expanded SAP’s talent pool, it also has created more innovation, team cohesion, greater productivity and better customer relations..