IT giant giving people with autism employment hope

There's a push in many Australian workplaces towards cultural diversity and gender diversity, but what about neurodiversity? A third of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed - more than six times the average. Now one of the biggest names in technology believes people with autism are an untapped resource of brains that think differently.


LAURA TINGLE, PRESENTER: There's a push in many Australian workplaces towards cultural diversity and gender diversity but what about neuro diversity?

One in three people on the autism spectrum are unemployed - more than six times the average.

One of the biggest names in technology believes people with autism are an untapped resource of brains that think differently.

Lauren Day reports IBM has started a new recruitment program to take advantage of that brain power.

SAM CASTLEMAN, NEURODIVERSITY PROGRAM CANDIDATE: I've been interested in IT and everything to do with computers since I was about five years old.

I really enjoy computers, technology, seeing what they can do and the idea of knowing that I can make them do that thing.

LAUREN DAY, REPORTER: It looks like a bit of friendly competition.

INSTRUCTOR: Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

LAUREN DAY: But these 16 candidates have spent the past four weeks vying for an opportunity to work for one of the biggest names in computing - IBM.

SAM CASTLEMAN: It's been a real growing experience. Just learning to work in a professional environment, learning to work alongside others and especially engaging with other people on the spectrum because outside this program, I don't think I know a single person who has told me they are on the spectrum.

LAUREN DAY: This is the first time IBM has run its neurodiversity program in Australia which gives people on the autism spectrum the opportunity to work for the tech giant.

It's already had success in the United States.

BELINDA SHEEHAN, IBM AUSTRALIA: For us to stay innovative and forward thinking and cutting edge, we need to have as many brains as possible and this is a great talent source of people who think differently.

Thirty per cent are unemployed. We have all these fantastic brains are out there not being used.

We need to bring them into our industry to keep us on the cutting edge.

INSTRUCTOR: So any of you guys that have got some questions regarding the Python programming that you're doing?

LAUREN DAY: The four-week program takes 16 lucky applicants through a series of tasks and tests.

At the end 10 will get jobs.

BELINDA SHEEHAN: The characteristics that are really useful and keen for us are innovative thinking, great attention to detail, very good at picking up deviations in patterns and pattern recognition, very honest which is interesting, and very loyal.

JAMES DUTTON, NEURODIVERSITY PROGRAM CANDIDATE: We're not Supermen and women. People on the spectrum do have a unique way of approached a goal and reaching different conclusions that people otherwise wouldn't think of or would take a lot longer to think of.


If we're passionate about something we'll work hard on it and we have a good work ethic. I think that's why we're really important to the work industry and we should be considered.

LAUREN DAY: But the candidates admit autism can also present challenges.

RYAN HAWKINS, NEURODIVERSITY PROGRAM CANDIDATE: There are times when I'm not able to work to my strengths due to sensory overload or just heavy distractions and that can be a bit of a weakness.

But it's good to see that some workplaces are able to put in measures to mitigate said weaknesses.

IBM EMPLOYEE: In this area we have several different operations areas.

LAUREN DAY: Today, 23-year-old Sam Castleman has the chance to shadow an IBM employee and tour the office he hopes to one day work in.

He's come a long way since he found out he was on the spectrum.

SAM CASTLEMAN: I guess I'd heard the stigma around it and it was something I perceived quite negatively but as I went on, as I researched it more and as I saw the symptoms and said, "Hey, that's me," it felt like it became part of my identity.

LAUREN DAY: Ten years on from his diagnosis, Sam's built a family with his partner, Karlie, and is studying full-time.

KARLIE MCRITCHIE, SAM'S PARTNER: Want to have some breakfast?

LAUREN DAY: Karlie says the job is the last piece of the puzzle for Sam and the family.

KARLIE MCRITCHIE: Honestly life-changing. So it would just mean that we could start actually planning for the future.

We can start looking at or have enough money to look at buying a house and look at taking the girls on little adventures.

SAM CASTLEMAN: I've got to be at IBM by...

LAUREN DAY: She says the program has already had a big impact on Sam.

KARLIE MCRITCHIE: I've only seen him thrive over the past few weeks of the program.

He'll go there, he'll have a great day and he'll come home in a great mood and I'm excited for him to be able to experience that if he gets the job.

LAUREN DAY: Three weeks after finishing the program, Sam is back at IBM.

BELINDA SHEEHAN: And we'd like to offer you a job.

SAM CASTLEMAN: I'm not sure what to say.

BELINDA SHEEHAN: That's alright. You tell us how you feel. What does that mean to you?

SAM CASTLEMAN: It means more than I can say.

It means that, I can't wait to tell my family, tell them that it's happened and we've spent the past couple of weeks really wondering if I'd get it.

Thinking about what to do if we do or don't. There's so much stress off. That's really incredible.

BELINDA SHEEHAN: Well done. Welcome to IBM. Thank you.

SAM CASTLEMAN: Very happy to be here.

BELINDA SHEEHAN: There are awesome brains out there that is good for our business and it is good for them.

LAUREN DAY: Sam will have his hands full with twin toddlers and full-time work but hopes he will make his daughters proud.


SAM CASTLEMAN: I hope it sets an example that they can achieve anything they set their mind to and that they should pursue anything they want regardless of what they may see as obstacles.

I just want them to take my mindset of if you work for a job you love, you'll never work a day in your life.

KARLIE MCRITCHIE: Bye, bye, we love you, Daddy.

from IT giant giving people with autism employment hope

IT giant giving people with autism employment hope