COLUMBUS, Ohio — An information technology consulting company is betting that the push to diversify the workplace extends to an applicant’s brain.

Auticon, a Berlin, Germany-based company that exclusively employs adults on the autism spectrum as IT consultants, has begun hiring workers in Columbus as part of its move to set up its regional headquarters here.

“There’s a skills shortage in this area,” said David Aspinall, Auticon’s CEO in the U.S. “We can bring to bear talent that does have a performance advantage and, at the same time, help people.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Auticon received approval for state tax incentives in 2019 to hire 50 people. The company’s launch in Columbus has been slowed by the coronavirus.

The company has 15 offices around the world, including in Europe, Canada and the United States, employing more than 220 IT consultants on the autism spectrum.

Its remote workers in Columbus partner with Ohio-based employers that need services in areas such as business analytics, artificial intelligence and software development and migration.

Many adults with autism struggle with employment despite having skill sets that can excel in the workplace, the company said.

Various studies peg the unemployment and underemployment rate for those with autism at 80% or even 90%, said Kerry Magro, who is on the board of directors of the National Autism Association and has autism. At the same time, about a third of those with autism have a college degree.

“It is quite shocking,” he said of the high unemployment.

Magro, whose full-time job is public speaking, said many companies believe that hiring people along the autism spectrum is too costly.

Magro views his job as educating companies and their human resources departments about the value of hiring people with autism. Workers with autism are less likely to take time off and more likely to stay at a company longer, he said. He also mentors young adults on the autism spectrum.

Research shows “so many families and so many in their community are more likely to buy products and back and support organizations in the disability community,” Magro said.

Applicants with autism often don’t disclose they have autism during the interview process, he said. Many also find the interview process taxing.

What often works better is for applicants to have a daylong tryout to show what they are capable of doing, Magro said. Like other new workers, coaches and mentors can help them adapt.

There aren’t many companies or organizations that do what Auticon does, and those that do focus more broadly on people with disabilities in general.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., central Ohio’s largest private employer, has a program called Autism at Work. In Columbus, Chase has hired about 30 workers along the autism spectrum through the program, most of whom hold technology positions with the bank.

Auticon considers itself a for-profit operation that uses the principles of business to help overcome society’s challenges, Aspinall said.

“We basically exist to effect positive change on that underemployment rate,” he said.

The company wants to hire workers at various levels of experience.

Even software developers with 15 or 20 years of experience may feel underemployed if they work in an environment where their skills aren’t being fully utilized, he said. Switching to a company such as Auticon helps them feel more connected to the people they work with, he said.

“It’s an organization has that has an appreciation for inclusion,” he said.

One of Auticon’s Columbus clients is health care technology company CoverMyMeds, which placed one worker, with a second to join shortly.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded in our culture,” said Veronica Knuth, the company’s vice president of talent.

Such a focus has been vital to CoverMyMeds’ growth, she said.

“We have a track record of bringing in remarkable people with different backgrounds and abilities,” Knuth said. “We have employees on the spectrum in our business. With Auticon, it felt like such a natural match. It was so fun to be part of that partnership.”

© 2021 The Columbus Dispatch
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.