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Ernst & Young Pilots Program to Tap Into Autistic Talents

Detail-oriented, task-driven and analytical employees with autism fill a crucial need for the consultancy.
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Consultancy EY’s program is identifying autistic individuals skilled in data crunching, pattern recognition and paying close attention to detail.

Autism spectrum disorders affect 1 out of every 68 people nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, limiting their ability to socialize and communicate.

However, individuals on the autism spectrum are also known to be particularly detail-oriented, task-driven and analytical, qualities that global business consultancy Ernst & Young needed in its workforce.

The company piloted the EY Neurodiversity program in its Philadelphia office over the past year to recruit and train individuals with high functioning autism in order to streamline its process of compiling and analyzing client data and reduce the workload of client-facing employees.

“We needed to divert this work to individuals who were particularly good at data crunching, pattern recognition and paying close attention to detail,” said Lori Golden, abilities strategy leader for the Americas talent team at EY, as the company is now known. “We know that individuals who are neuro-diverse tend to have a lot of the characteristics we’re looking for.”

Working alongside their “neuro-typical” colleagues over the past six months, Golden said the account support associates hired through the program have achieved higher-than-average levels of work productivity, quality and innovation.

To source this neuro-diverse talent, EY worked with Specialisterne, a global nonprofit organization that assists autistic individuals in gaining employment. In November 2015, Golden and her team sought out college graduates with high grades and experience with numbers.

Selected candidates participated in a group problem-solving activity and a set of interviews. Applicants were then invited to a four-week paid training program co-run by EY, Specialisterne and the Arc, a national organization serving individuals with disabilities. The first three weeks trained participants in the basics of working in a corporate setting.

“These individuals mostly hadn’t had professional work experience. We wanted to make sure they got the benefit of as much information as possible in a way that was easy to digest,” said Golden.

The last week was run by the team supervisor and introduced participants to the EY culture and business model.

Specialisterne also provided training for EY staff and supervisors on what autism is and how they could communicate effectively and create comfort during the interview and training process. According to Golden, this provided overarching benefits to managers at the office.

“If you can be clear, simple, straightforward and logical to people with autism, you’re generally going to be better at communicating with anyone,” she said.

Out of the approximately 20 applicants who participated, EY choose four to join the account support services team in March. The success of the program has even led other EY offices to request it in their regions. However, Golden and her team are still identifying where they can successfully implement the program.

“The first thing we’re looking for is where there’s the greatest business need,” Golden said. “We also need to find agencies with good track records that will provide us with the right talent.”

Nidhi Madhavan is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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