The challenges of finding a job in Okanagan for those on autism spectrum | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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The challenges of finding a job in Okanagan for those on autism spectrum

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Finding a job is challenging, especially for individuals on the autism spectrum. Programs like Ready, Willing and Able are here to help autistic individuals in the Okanagan find jobs and educate employers.

The autism spectrum combines people with low support needs to high support needs, but with a few simple accommodations, they can often be the best employees in the workplace. Yet biases work against them and opportunities aren’t always readily available.

“Approximately 80% of individuals on the autism spectrum are unemployed and, obviously, we want to improve that,” Susan Noble from Ready, Willing and Able says. “Biases we have towards people who are neurodivergent are really based on our own experience; from our upbringing to who we’ve encountered in the community, and that shapes our understanding which can get in the way of people on the spectrum being fully recognized for their abilities.”

The Okanagan has very few programs to help people on the autism spectrum get employment, the main one is Ready, Willing and Able, a federally-funded program. The Canucks Autism Network, a not-for-profit operates this program and, together they provide employment resources for people on the spectrum.

Noble explains how these programs and organizations work to help individuals on the spectrum find employment.

“Neil, from the Canucks Autism Network, will sit down with them, find out more about them: what are they interested in doing, do they have experience, education and from there he’ll give them options and point them toward the right employment agencies,” Noble says. “Once we connect them to employment agencies, those agencies help them connect to employment opportunities, helping with pre-employment coaching and job coaching if they get employed.”

Noble’s side of the job relates more to employers. She’ll meet with them and explain why they should consider hiring individuals on the spectrum as well as educate them on inclusive employment. In other words, she works to deconstruct these unconscious biases that work against autistic people.

“When I talk to employers a lot of the conversations I am having are beginning conversations explaining what inclusive employment is and explaining the support we offer. That kind of support includes providing whatever education an employer might find valuable and sharing information on autism and how people with autism present in the workplace, providing strategies for them to use,” Noble says.

“It’s really important because we want to make employers feel comfortable and supported so that they’re willing to consider taking on somebody with autism.”

A lot of Noble’s job is spent raising awareness that accommodations are worth putting in place for people on the spectrum because they can be easy to implement and individuals on the spectrum can produce amazing work once accommodations are in place.

“Employers often think that the word accommodation means expensive, time-consuming and they don’t really want to go there, but accommodations are already put in place for employees. Think of any time someone needs to take their kid to an appointment or if you need to work from home one day to take care of a child. The accommodations we talk about here can be as simple as finding a quiet place for someone to work or letting them wear earplugs,” Noble says.

“Individuals on the spectrum have many many strengths such as really good focus and attention to detail, being very productive, very intelligent and they have sometimes very different ways of thinking which are very valuable and needed in this world and the workplace. Individuals on the spectrum are also very honest which is refreshing. 89% of employers have rated employees they got through Ready, Willing and Able just as good or better than their other employees.”

Rachel Copping the Human Resources manager for the Coast Capri Hotel says it's simple to accommodate them in the workplace.

“Working with people who come on to our team who are on the spectrum, it’s no different really than working with anyone else who is employed here. The process is the same and adjustments are put in place at their request,” she says.

“Accommodations we’ve had to put in place are far from having been cumbersome, our goal is that any employee regardless of if they are on the spectrum or not, is comfortable in their workplace and if they require something more we would do that.”

Copping says having employees who are on the spectrum doesn’t change much to the business and she encourages other employers to take part in inclusive employment.

“We’ve had success in employing people on the spectrum our experience has been really great and having people from different walks of life has been wonderful to have in the hotel,” she says.

“I really encourage other employers to be open-minded and consider small things that they can do in their hiring practices like noting on their recruitment postings that they are an open and non-discriminatory employer, being able to be flexible with interviews they do and just being open to working with programs like Ready, Willing and Able.”

Evan Noble is a 26-year-old GIS technician from Kelowna on the spectrum who has been working for 11 years. He exemplifies how having autism has not stopped him from doing excellent work although it might have made getting a job harder.

“I definitely spent a while looking for jobs and I’d say that being on the spectrum might have added a little time to my search. I have this feeling in mind that there might always be an unconscious bias but there’s no way for me to tell if there is one and to tell if that is the reason I spent a lot of time looking for jobs,” Noble says.

“Now I have a fairly good job where my role simply involves looking at data and looking for abnormalities which requires attention to detail which is what I am best at.”

He works from home and because of this hasn’t faced many challenges in his current job. In the past, other accommodations facilitated his work.

“In another job I had, they would give me lists of tasks to do in a written email format and that is the way I communicate best and having a visual indicator of what to do was the best way for me to do my job.”

He wishes people didn’t see autism as a disability but rather saw people on the spectrum for who they really are.

“One thing people might not know about autism is that there are strengths associated with it and it’s not a negative thing," Noble says. "People should know that people with autism are just as able to contribute, and even though they might have challenges in social relationships and communication, there are always ways that things can be adapted for people with autism.”

Ready, Willing and Able is a federally-funded program that helps and educates employers through the process of inclusive employment. For more information on inclusive employment as well as the program and their partner's, the Canucks Autism Network, role check out their website here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Gabrielle Adams or call (438) 830-1211 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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