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Untapped Talent for High Skill Jobs
Danish company Specialisterne (the Specialists) wants to help create 1 million jobs worldwide for high functioning autistic workers by focusing on their strengths instead of their weaknesses.
Owned by the nonprofit Specialist People Foundation, Specialisterne outsources workers with autism and similar challenges once seen as unemployable to perform high-paid consulting tasks in the IT, telecom, healthcare, and financial services sectors.
While people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) can have difficulty with communication and understanding social cues, their talents often include strong focus and concentration, the ability to recall details, and the perseverance to perform repetitive tasks -- a great match for jobs like software testing, quality control, and data entry.
For some companies, highly functioning autistic workers represent an untapped talent pool to fill highly skilled jobs. For individuals diagnosed with autism, the employment offers an opportunity for self-sufficiency. Of the 15 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 64 with a disability, just 4.1 million were employed, said the U.S. Department of Labor.
Founded by entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne, whose own son is autistic, Specialisterne embraces the "dandelion philosophy" which says the plant can either be a weed or a useful herb, depending on the viewpoint.
"The value of the dandelion is very much dependent on the knowledge of the individual," said the Foundation's Web site. "We see a clear parallel between the perception of the dandelion in nature and society's perception of people with autism - or "specialist people" - in the workforce."
There is no known cause - or cure - for autism, which affects different individuals to different degrees. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in 88 American children has ASD - up 78 percent since 2007.
Specialisterne, founded in 2004, also offers education and job training and devised a five-month job assessment program - using Lego Mindstorm robots. Building the robots allows candidates to demonstrate whether they can follow directions, are willing to ask questions when they need help, and other skills needed to function in the workplace.
Now Sonne is bringing his unique business model to the U.S. The Specialisterne Foundation Inc. opened its doors in Delaware in June, and is eyeing operations in Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California and Washington. The foundation hopes to raise enough money to drive adoption of the Specialisterne model across the U.S.