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Autism Inclusive-Hiring Spotlight: German Software Company SAP

What is the Autism at Work Program? 

Finding the perfect job is a daunting task for anyone, but autistic people often face greater obstacles than their non-autistic peers. Fortunately, more and more companies are piloting programs that specifically aim to recruit neurodivergent employees and help level the playing field. And since many major tech companies often hire people with a bachelor’s degree or more, a college education could be a great way to explore your interests, hone your skills, and build your resume.

One major company with a hiring initiative is German software corporation SAP, which launched their inclusive hiring program “Autism at Work” in May 2013. This program is designed to create equal opportunities for people on the autism spectrum through a modified interview and hiring process. The hiring managers, who receive training about the autism spectrum, scout out talented autistic individuals who are interested in working for SAP. On their “Diversity and Inclusion” page, SAP describes their goal of fostering a bias-free culture that allows all employees to be accepted for who they are. Read on to learn if SAP could have an opportunity for you!

How is the hiring process changed?

Similar to Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program, Autism at Work recognizes that the typical hiring process doesn’t always allow autistic people to fairly demonstrate their skills. Because of this, the program strives to make the interview process more relaxed with less stress on social and communication skills. In a 2015 article published by IT magazine CIO, the head of the Autism at Work program José Velasco describes how the interviews are stretched out to one month and are tailored to each individual based on their preferences. He explains that some candidates enjoy one-on-one interviews, while other feel more at ease in a group. There are also multiple ways to showcase one’s skills. For example, some candidates may be asked to build a LEGO robot based on a set of instructions. Each new candidate is paired with a mentor, who would then become their job coach after they are hired so they receive consistent support. Overall, the program aims to take pressure off of the typical interview process and encourage the candidates to convey their abilities in whatever way feels most comfortable to them.

What types of jobs are available?

The Autism at Work program encourages autistic employees to pursue any position they are interested in. While other programs may steer people on the spectrum towards specific roles, SAP gives the chance to explore all aspects of the company. Since the beginning, the hiring managers on the team found that applicants on the spectrum had very diverse backgrounds in terms of their skills, interests, and fields of study.

On their website, SAP features a video which profiles multiple employees at SAP who were recruited through the Autism at Work program. Successful job matches include quality associate, developer, support engineer, human resources service associate, data quality analyst, graphic designer, finance administrator, and technical quality engineer. The company also encourages their autistic employees to take on leadership roles and have the opportunity to represent themselves. One such employee, an IT project associate named Patrick Viesti, was invited to represent the program at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day.

Has the program been successful so far?

When the program began, SAP announced their plan to employ at least 650 people on the autism spectrum by 2020. A 2018 CBS News article reported that the Autism at Work program had hired 128 employees on the spectrum and continues to scout out new potential hires. In 2015, a disabilities organization called The Arc awarded SAP the National Employer of the Year award for their inclusive hiring initiative. The organization praised SAP for their dedication to integrating their autistic employees into the company, as well as their promotion of inclusivity and acceptance.

SAP has reported the positive impacts of Autism at Work, including an evolving company culture and new perspectives on innovation. In the program’s promotional video, several employees describe how working for SAP has impacted their life. Many feel that their job at the company has opened new doors for them in the working world and may give them a chance at long-term employment. Other employees have credited SAP with giving them financial independence and a sense of stability. Some also gained new friends through their job and feel a new sense of community and belonging. Although the company still has more work to do in order to reach their goal, the Autism at Work program seems to be a promising pathway for autistic people interested in working for SAP.

What are your thoughts on the Autism at Work Program? Does SAP’s interview process sound like a better fit for you? How might a college degree lead to a STEM career at a company like SAP? Please add your thoughts to the comments below!

Sources: 

“About SAP: Diversity & Inclusion.” SAP,    www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/diversity.html. 

 CBS News. “The Growing Acceptance of Autism in the Workplace.” CBS News, 11 Feb. 2018,  

www.cbsnews.com/news/the-growing-acceptance-of-autism-in-the-workplace/. 

“Differently Abled People: Diversity & Inclusion.” SAP,  

www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/diversity/differently-abled.html. 

Florentine, Sharon. “How SAP Is Hiring Autistic Adults for Tech Jobs.” CIO, 9 Dec. 2015,  

www.cio.com/article/3013221/careers-staffing/how-sap-is-hiring-autistic-adults-for-tech-jobs.html. 

Hess, Abigail. “Here’s How Much Education You Need to Work at Companies like Facebook,  

Google and Amazon.” Careers, CNBC, 26 July 2017,  

www.cnbc.com/2017/07/26/how-long-youll-need-to-go-to-school-to-work-at-top-tech-companies.html. 

“The Arc’s Catalyst Awards: 2015 Honorees.” The Arc: For People with Intellectual and  Developmental Disabilities, 2015, 

www.thearc.org/national-convention/catalyst-awards-2015-honorees. 

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Olivia Tyson

Olivia Tyson is an educational coach who works for the ICE (Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment) Program at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts. She helps students in the classroom, as well as with homework assignments, social connections, and immersion into campus life. She also has a younger brother named Nick who has autism and attends a residential program. Olivia enjoys teaching, studying and creating art, and spending time with her family.

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