This content is produced by The Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with DXC Technology. It was first published on AFR.com on 28 January 2019.
My epiphany on talent happened at a dinner party when a friend’s son kept throwing pebbles into a Japanese urn. I kept my eye on what he was doing, as initially it frustrated me. But eventually after timing him, I realised he was throwing the stones at exact intervals.
He kept this up for more than two hours and watching him provided me with a lightbulb moment.
Andrew has severe and non-verbal autism and some would have considered him to be unsuitable for future employment because of it. Yet it was evident that he had unique skills. How could his talent be harnessed?
Observing him that evening provided the impetus for the DXC Dandelion Program, an initiative we introduced in 2014 that aims to help people on the autism spectrum develop careers in IT. In Australia it is estimated only 40 per cent of adults on the autism spectrum are employed. DXC now has almost 80 participants in the three-year structured program and by April 2019 that number is set to grow to at least 110.
We have been working with a number of key academic partners including La Trobe University, Cornell University, the University of Haifa and Ono Academic College in Israel. We have also been fortunate to be able to collaborate with the Roim Rachok program in Israel from which some key learnings have been identified.
After becoming aware of the lack of research relevant to autism and work, we implemented a longitudinal study alongside the program to ensure we understood the challenges, benefits and impact of what we were undertaking.
All of the candidates are employed by DXC but they work with a group of our clients from federal government departments, including Defence, Human Services and Home Affairs, as well as banks like ANZ and NAB.
The program has two activity streams. The first is focused on individual technical, executive functioning and life skills development to improve independence and self-advocacy. The second drives organisational change to help build a safe and inclusive work environment to enable individuals to thrive.
Through our learnings over the past five years, we have started to assist organisations such as Google, JP Morgan Chase and Intel with organisational strategy looking at how to attract, recruit, on-board and sustain neurodiverse talent.
In addition to providing individuals on the spectrum with employment opportunities, the program helps plug the digital skills gap and helps us create the diversity of thinking that is critical to our organisation’s success.
Attention to detail, out-of-the-box thinking, pattern recognition and the ability to do repetitive tasks accurately are a few of the unique and highly valuable skills that people on the spectrum can bring to the IT workforce.
The DXC Dandelion Program has been particularly effective in helping young people take on jobs in cyber security, data analytics and software testing and our current retention rate is 92 per cent.
We have found that the key challenge to this sort of career sustainability with the DXC Dandelion Program is mental health. The curriculum comprises streams of technical capability, executive functioning skills and adaptive life skills. When we started out I would never have envisaged us running sessions on financial awareness or nutrition or travel planning, but we do because along the way it became apparent that these skills are vital.
We have also discovered having the right partnerships is critical – from universities to the clients embedding DXC’s Dandelion candidates in their businesses. In a bid to amplify the potential positive impact of Dandelion we have also published the program through open source online and the material has been downloaded by more than 240 organisations in 71 countries.
Overall, there isn’t a point when you stop learning and think there’s nothing more to tweak. Each year we go through a co-design process with the people in the program, including academics, managers, co-workers and support staff, looking at how we can improve. And we will keep on learning as we now explore expanding the program into other realms of diversity and inclusion.