Autism still seems to have a stigma surrounding it, despite the advocacy work of many parents, but Ford is looking to at least make a bit of a difference in individuals suffering from the disorder.
The company has introduced a pilot program called FordInclusiveWorks (starting in June 2016) to provide autistic individuals with an opportunity to gain hands-on work experience in product development. The program is created in partnership with Autism Alliance of Michigan
“We are committed to making people’s lives better, and this pilot program has the potential to not only make the participants’ lives better, but also help Ford be an even more diverse and inclusive workforce,” says Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president of product development, and chief technical officer. “Autism affects many people in our communities, and I’m proud we’re taking on this important initiative.”
Ford is creating five new positions in product development, designed to suit the skills and capabilities of people with autism. Part of the pilot involves Ford evaluating participants for future employment, as well as the program in general. If there is a potential fit, the individual will enter into Ford’s standard recruiting process.
“We are truly excited to be collaborating with Ford on this pilot program. For so many individuals with autism spectrum disorder, getting and keeping a job is a challenge,” says Colleen Allen, president and CEO, Autism Alliance of Michigan. “Often, companies lack understanding of the unique characteristics associated with autism, which can be challenging, and unfortunately this can lead to perceptions of a poor fit for the individual and coworkers. I applaud Ford for taking these critical steps to understand autism, and for giving those who have struggled to find competitive employment real career opportunities that could be life changing for them.”
Besides being beneficial for the autistic individual who gains work experience that uses his or her unique skill sets, it will also contribute to Ford’s product development efforts. For example, in the vehicle evaluation and verification test lab, a FordInclusiveWorks participant will log and prep tires for test vehicles used by engineers for product assessment.
The work is highly structured, requires a great deal of focus, and calls for a high level of attention to detail and organization. The skills required to complete this task safely and with a high level of quality lend themselves to strengths typically associated with individuals with autism.
“Individuals with autism bring a unique set of talents to our business,” concludes Felicia Fields, Ford group vice president, human resources and corporate services. “We recognize that having a diverse and inclusive workforce allows us to leverage a wider range of innovative ideas to make our customers’ lives better.”