AUSTIN, Texas — After a successful pilot in Massachusetts, Dell Technologies is expanding its autism hiring program to Central Texas.

The Round Rock-based tech giant, which launched the program last April, offers two weeks of training ahead of a 12-week summer internship for adults with autism spectrum disorder. In some cases, those internships turn into a full-time job, according to Lou Candiello, Dell’s military and disability recruiting program lead.

Last year, twelve adults went through the training at Dell’s Hopkinton, Mass. campus. Following the training, two summer interns were hired as full-time employees, and the company is in the process of hiring a third candidate.

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Candiello said Dell has big goals for the future of the program, with expectations to expand it globally.

“It doesn’t stop here,” Candiello said. “We don’t want this to be a secret. We want this to be another facet of how we recruit at Dell Technologies.”

Brian Reaves, Dell’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, will monitor the program in Central Texas, where the company plans to bring on roughly a dozen adults for two weeks of training at its Round Rock headquarters. Four candidates will be selected for summer internships after the training.

Reaves said the company’s push to train and hire adults with autism is part of Dell’s broader effort to focus on diversity in its workforce.

“We’ve identified people on the spectrum as folks that need to be part of our future digital economy and part of our economy as we see it now,” Reaves said.

Roughly 1 in 59 children have an autism spectrum disorder in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. The disorder refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, according to the nonprofit Autism Speaks.

However, more than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years after high school, according to Autism Speaks. And a 2015 survey by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute — the institute’s most recent report on unemployment — found that 58 percent of adults in their 20s who have autism are employed.

But don’t expect Dell to immediately grow the program. Reaves and Candiello agreed they’re trying to take it slow so that they can build a framework for the program.

“A successful program will have the approach we’re taking as well, which is to go slow” to make an effort to understand how it should grow, Reaves said.

Following the 12-week internship program, participants are evaluated and can potentially move to a full-time job at Dell. The new hires or interns can be in jobs ranging from decision science, robotic process automation, software engineer and business operations, according to the company.

The Arc of the Capital Area, an organization that works with Central Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is working with Dell to screen candidates and launch the program here. The group will continue working with those who are not selected for positions at Dell to find other employment.

Allison Abramo, director of The Arc’s supported employment program, said Dell’s program is unique in the area and among big corporations.

“I think they’re a leader in the space in Texas, at least in Austin,” Abramo said. “They’re really putting in a lot of effort into opening up their application process to people who are neurodiverse.”

The organization screens candidates to determine their skills and experience for the two-week training program, which includes meeting with job coaches, hiring managers and working on real-world projects.

Abramo said the training period is also a skills assessment, which is helpful to candidates who need a more dynamic interview process to show off their skills to hiring managers.

About 15 candidates have applied so far, Abramo said. The training will start on April 29.

Abramo said she hopes the program will continue on a yearly basis with Dell and eventually expand to other companies.

“We want to be on the forefront of changing corporate culture,” Abramo said. “We really want to spread that program to as many as possible because if these companies aren’t looking at all the candidates they’re missing out on a huge talent pool.”

And as part of its effort, Dell recently donated 80 Alienware units to Dallas-based nonPareil Institute, a postsecondary education institute that focuses on delivering digital technology training to adults with autism.

The nonPareil Institute will open its first Austin branch this summer and Dell said the Alienware units will be used to train local students before they enter the workforce.

Dell is the largest public employer in the Austin metro area, with about 13,000 workers in Central Texas. The company returned to the public market in December after five years as a private company.

© 2019 Austin American-Statesman
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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