This content is produced by The Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with DXC Technology. It was first published on AFR.com on 31 January 2019.
Since finishing high school in 2013 Richard Murray had completed diplomas in gaming and programming but was still having trouble finding the right job.
That was until he applied for the DXC Dandelion Program which was looking to recruit people on the autism spectrum, like himself, into technology roles and help them develop their careers in IT.
“I thought it was a very good idea,” Murray says today after securing a role at DXC working for their customer ANZ bank in a program focusing on cyber security. “A guided program into jobs for people like me would be very practical.”
The Dandelion Program has hired more than 80 people across Australia to take on a variety of jobs in the IT services industry and provides leading research on autism in the workplace. The program has been developed over five years with the goal of assisting people on the autism spectrum to build the skills needed to sustain careers in the IT industry. The program not only focuses on building their technical skills, but also their executive functioning and life skills, which are key elements for sustainable employment.
Rather than facing a traditional interview upon application, Murray and the other DXC Dandelion Program candidates were instead invited to a one-day workshop to program NAO robots and were assessed on their technical aptitude and motivation.
“People with autism might not go well in a formal interview but the robots took the focus away from that to: ‘Here’s a problem, can you solve it?'” Murray says of the experience.
The next round was a four-week assessment actually building a complex robotic project. Afterwards, Murray was one of nine of the participants offered a position by DXC working in partnership with ANZ bank where he has been for almost a year. Other Dandelion participants have been placed in positions within other DXC clients, from federal government departments, including Defence, Human Services and Home Affairs, as well as private sector clients.
Meredith Ward is DXC’s Autism Spectrum Consultant working to support the DXC Dandelion team members at ANZ bank. Ward has two adult children on the spectrum herself and says the technical results of the program have been “stunning”.
“Everyone is achieving terrific things across their personal and professional lives,” she says. “It’s wonderful that this program exists. It gives hope to parents with young people struggling to find employment.”
“At its heart it’s about tapping into the pool of autistic talent and giving them an opportunity to excel.”
DXC Technology Australia and New Zealand managing director Seelan Nayagam says his passion for offering opportunities to a wide variety of candidates comes from his own life experience.
Nayagam was born in Sri Lanka and lived there until he reached high school, when his family moved to the UK as refugees.
“That gave me the personal experience of both the challenges of building a career and the opportunities a career represents for individuals of different backgrounds and ethnicities,” he says. “Since then as I have progressed in my work a focus of mine has always been around bringing together different people.”
Aside from wanting to extend career opportunities to an array of individuals, Nayagam says having a mix of gender, ethnicity, age, cultural backgrounds and even neurodiversity is a key business imperative.
“For us to be successful we need diversity of thought,” he says. “The communities our customers serve are diverse and we need to be able to represent those communities. Bringing different thinking has to be part of our normal way of delivering services.”
“We have had to provide a workplace environment where we can bring these candidates in and create supportive structures in the organisation that will allow them to be successful.”
The success of the Dandelion Program has recently prompted DXC to launch a Social Impact Practice to help its clients and the community develop and run programs that benefit individuals and society. The initial areas of focus include neurodiversity, veterans, disability, indigenous employment and climate change.
“Organisations are now recognising the importance of integrating people with autism into the workforce and the advantages that a neurodiverse workforce brings,” Nayagam says. “Now is the right time to expand the program for broader social responsibility, help those with other support requirements and make a real difference to our community.”
DXC’s Social Impact Practice works with community and academic organisations locally and internationally. A key aim is to facilitate a social challenge each year to look at ways technology can be used to develop scalable and sustainable solutions.
“As corporates, we have a responsibility to address social issues and challenges using our business knowledge and scale,” Nayagam says. “We are excited about DXC’s Social Impact Practice, which reflects our broader commitment to communities in Australia and New Zealand.”
DXC is also involved in a number of programs providing scholarships and other assistance supporting STEM careers for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and under-represented groups in the industry such as indigenous and female learners.