I attended a roundtable dialogue earlier this week to discuss how we can encourage IT organizations in Singapore to employ autistic workers.
Last year, we featured a Danish computer company Specialisterne which hires and trains people with autism, specifically those diagnosed with high-functioning autism, so these individuals can serve as IT consultants and be a useful member of the general workforce.
Its CEO Steen Thygesen was in town to announce the company's plans to open an office in Singapore and have the local outlet serve as a stepping board to extending its efforts to Asia. Specialisterne's program is available in 10 countries including Austria, Scotland and the United States.
Its goal is to enable 1 million jobs worldwide. People with autism share certain characteristics which are valuable in taking on tasks typical in an IT environment, such as attention to detail so they can spot deviances in data and IT systems, zero tolerance for error, and ability to persevere until a job is completed.
Specialisterne-trained consultants can perform a variety of tasks including hardware function testing, quality control, platform-specific testing and software development. Its specialists have been employed by well-known IT brands such as Microsoft, Nokia, Deloitte and Oracle.
Noting that these skills are equally valuable compared to others in the industry, Thygesen said Specialisterne insists its consultants be paid market rates as they are able to deliver the same results and have skills on equal level as any other IT professional without autism.
But, this ignited much discussion among the roundtable participants, most of whom were from the local IT industry. Some noted the extra care needed to manage employees with autism as these individuals were prone to sudden outbursts and would not be able to work for long stretches of time. This might discourage companies here from hiring such individuals, even if they possessed the required skillsets.
Most in the roundtable, though, agreed making these consultants' skills available at below market rate would be unfair and also create an incorrect perception their skills were of a lower value simply because they had ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
It's a Catch-22 situation I think companies like Speicalisterne will inevitably face in this harsh business reality.
It's easy to understand the values of meritocracy in the workplace but it's harder to put it in practice. As someone in the roundtable pointed out, it is not uncommon for some organizations to offer different salary schemes between employees with different nationalities. So, a employee from Indonesia could be on a lower pay package compared to another from the Philippines, even if both have similar job scopes.
I think the solution for companies like Specialisterne is to first determine their primary objective. If the main goal is to ensure gainful employment for the individual, then it may be necessary to consider the total cost a business would have to absorb to hire this special individual, including additional resources needed to mentor him and time he may need to take during normal office hours to chill out so sudden outbursts can be avoided.
This may mean the employee will get an average market rate for his skills. But, IT vendors that hire such individuals can be encouraged to revise salaries upward when they've seen the results and overcome any initial concerns they may have from employing these individuals.
If you're an IT company in Singapore or other Asian markets and are keen to find out more about Specialisterne's program, do e-mail me or leave a Talkback comment in this blog.