Imagine having one of the coolest jobs in the world: working in Vehicle Test Prep at Ford, verifying the readiness of test vehicles. Or you’re preparing model parts for test engineers. There was a time when those with autism may indeed have been only able to imagine, but thanks to Ford, they are now being given an opportunity to gain on-the-job work experience and training, as well as contribute to Ford product development with their unique skills and capabilities.
“We’ve gotten feedback that told us that parents of autistic children often wonder, ‘What’s going to happen with my child in the future?’” explained Kirstin Queen, Manager, Diversity and Inclusion, Ford North America.
Ford worked with the Product Development Vehicle Evaluation and Verification supervisors and the Human Resources department to review jobs. After that, we teamed up with the Autism Alliance of Michigan. They sent staff to Ford to shadow jobs and determine which would be suitable for the particular strengths of those with autism, and to help address the issues related to both getting and keeping a job.
Understanding the unique characteristics of those with autism was why Ford then moved forward and launched a pilot program in 2016 with the Autism Alliance of Michigan called FordInclusiveWorks. “When companies like Ford implement programs like this and it becomes the norm, we have heard that it gives people with autism and their families real hope,” Kirstin said. For example, five new positions were created within product development for the pilot program, including logging and prepping tires for test vehicles. FordInclusiveWorks has also expanded diversity in the workforce. This aligns with the company’s mission to contribute to a better world by supporting the community. In addition, it honors the special talents of people with autism, such as their keen attention to detail.
“Autism Alliance of Michigan helped us understand the unique skills and capabilities this population has, and the high levels of under- and unemployment of individuals with autism experience – up to 90 percent.” In fact, “All participants completed the program successfully and were invited to apply for a position with Ford, and now we have four great new employees,” Kirstin added.
The next step is the creation of a “playbook” of learnings to facilitate a smooth expansion effort of Ford work-experience programs – around the world and for all different types of disabilities.