Auticon is a technology company with a difference, in that it exclusively employs adults who are on the autistic spectrum.
The company, described as an ‘international social enterprise’, employs talented IT experts, offering them training and workplace adjustments to ensure their employees are happy and comfortable on a day-to-day basis.
With offices in the UK, Germany, the US, France, Italy, and Switzerland, the enterprise is growing every day and only looks set to expand further with a Scottish office also planned.
So why is this such an important step forward for people on the autistic spectrum? Well, according to the National Autistic Society, just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment – a situation which hasn’t improved in almost a decade.
Enter: Auticon, a company which recognises the incredible talent and skillset of those with autism, and has decided to make a change to the landscape of employment.
UNILAD spoke to Viola Sommer, Chief Operating Officer at Auticon UK and one of the founding members, about the company and why it is so vital.
Speaking about the difficulties people with autism face with regards to employment, Viola expressed her concern that general recruitment processes simply do not take autistic people into consideration and so therefore exclude them in many ways.
Viola told UNILAD:
Unfortunately lots of autistic people face some significant stereotypes, so when they apply to mainstream companies lots of autistic people find it difficult to succeed in the general recruitment process.
Also once they’ve managed to secure a position, they often struggle to maintain it due to a lack of understanding in reasonable adjustments in typical workplaces.
Typical workplaces are often designed around neuro-typical people, whereas autistic peoples’ brains are just wired differently so we need to have a flexible working environment to work for the individual and that doesn’t apply for the usual approach.
The wellbeing of their staff is Auticon’s primary concern, and the company is constantly making adjustments to account for their employees comfort and progression.
When asked how they do this, Viola described the spectrum of adjustments as ‘endless’, but stressed that the most important thing is recognising individuality.
We just treat everyone as an individual and we spend a lot of time to get to know our employees to find out what kind of work environment they really need to thrive.
The company also employs in-house ‘jump coaches’; each one is dedicated to six or seven autistic colleagues to coach them in their personal development, and to make sure they have all the reasonable adjustments they need in their workplace.
In addition to this, the jump coaches train the company’s clients, to help create a more ‘neuro-diverse’ workforce and to build environments that work for people with varying cognitive styles.
Shockingly, 85 per cent of Auticon UK’s workforce were unemployed before working at the company – despite all but one having a degree – proving there is a huge discrepancy between the massive talent of autistic people and the low employment rates for them.
Explaining why Auticon is so important, Viola describes the reasoning behind it as two-fold as you have to take into account both the talent of autistic people and the shockingly low employment rates for them.
We have this pool of talent that are highly qualified and skilled and they have a tech shortage in the UK.
It made perfect sense for us to bring the two together and to create a company like Auticon that creates working environments that really work for autistic people.
The company has ambitious plans for growth in the upcoming year, launching a big recruitment drive for autistic tech experts in both London and Scotland in 2019.
So here’s to a successful 2019 for Auticon and their employees!
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).