David Aspinall advocates for people on the autism spectrum to explore the full range of their natural talents, while making sure not to clump the entire community into a stereotype. David is the CEO of Auticon US, which is a technology company focused on creating jobs for people with autism by tapping into their natural skills and abilities. As the company developed, they found a great model for those on the spectrum to overcome barriers to employment and thrive in better suited positions. Among a few common skills that seem to flourish in the technology field, David says the people who usually find their way to the initiative tend to show phenomenal attention to detail, ability to spot patterns, and launch amounts of data, sheer cognitive strength.
Auticon has an expansive view of the stakeholders they hope to help into better suited positions. David shares Auticon’s open-minded outlook:
“… we employ people that are really at every stage of their career, from individuals that are just starting on their technology career to mid-level tenure individuals up to 15-year kind of principal architect type roles. In our mission to employ as many people as possible, we do try to employ people that are junior, mid and senior.”David Aspinall, CEO, Auticon US
Identifying the level or range of a person’s capabilities can help avoid the person from being underemployed. Underemployment where the a person is fulfilling a role that is below their capacity to naturally perform. Someone could have a higher skill capacity or have a wider range of ability than a position calls for. If left in that position, the person’s valuable contributions will be misplaced, and their skill level may possibly decline. David explained that people on the spectrum frequently experience underemployment, and he expressed his thoughts on addressing the concern through Auticon.
David explains how Auticon approaches another close concern in proper employment: an autism friendly work environment. He delves through the process the initiative uses to screen candidates, and how the process matches with the needs of their stakeholders. Reflecting the needs of the stakeholders can be found in how the initiative families their interview, or in the coaching done with the companies hiring people on the spectrum beforehand. In this social enterprise model, Auticon is assisting companies in developing an autism friendly environment so that people in the company can see the process, and it can grow from there.
Auticon operates the initiative globally. David discusses how the global team communicates, and what topics come up in meetings. He also gives his perspective of what it is like to discuss initiative frameworks with a global team while having the freedom to keep the autonomy of the local US portion. David expresses his satisfaction with working within the US, particularly in Columbus, OH. He talks about how support from the community helps the initiative, and he touches on why the awareness of social enterprise makes Columbus, OH an easier community for building connections.
If your would like to learn more, you can visit auticon.us or find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked-in.
Also, please check out Auticon’s in-person event Tuesday, September 14th, at the Fawcett Center in Columbus, Ohio to learn more.
Adam: [00:00:00] Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast to inspire greater social change and give you ideas on how to take action. I'm your host, Adam Morris. Today, our guest is David Aspinall, CEO of Auticon a technology company focused on creating jobs for people with autism. They found a great model for those on the spectrum to overcome barriers to employment so that they can thrive in position suited to their natural talents and abilities. So to speak about this company, David, welcome on the podcast.
David: [00:00:28] Thanks, Adam. It's great to be here.
Adam: [00:00:30] Can we start off, can you tell us a little bit about Auticon.
David: [00:00:33] Yeah, absolutely. We're a technology company. We are a for-profit in fact that's really important to us. We believe that the principles of business are needed to help solve some of society's challenge. It's not just the efforts of philanthropy. It's not just legislative efforts. It's not efforts of individuals.
We believe that business is going to have to be behind the drive of change. And we have a very specific social mission. Our mission is to employ as many people as possible as many technologists as possible that are on the autism spectrum.
Adam: [00:01:13] And why technology?
David: [00:01:16] It's an interesting question. When the company was first getting started the founder of the company, saw a connectivity between the talents of the individuals that he knew on the spectrum versus the openings and performance advantage that certain traits brought to technology roles.
Adam: [00:01:41] Got it.
David: [00:01:42] And it's, it's interesting because, there's a famous saying that once, you know, one person on the spectrum, you know, one person on the spectrum and that is absolutely accurate.
We stand by that. However, the people that are attracted to work at Otter con bring. Strengths to technology roles. So where as the traits of Autism are sometimes seen as barriers in the employment world, a lot of the people that are attracted to work with us, they use their autism as a performance advantage in the technology space.
Adam: [00:02:22] How does that come into play for the technology roles?
David: [00:02:27] Yeah. Some of the traits of individuals that are attracted to work at Auticon that represent a performance advantage are things like just really phenomenal attention to detail ability to spot patterns and launch amounts of data, sheer cognitive strength. The. The ability for the data to be the data and not have that preconceived notion of what you want the data to be.
So there's an element of accuracy and then also an incredible kind of factual mindset that when applied in the technology space just represents enormous performance advantage. And again, I'll be really careful to say, This, we don't want to stereotype. We're not describing the community here. We're describing the people that are attracted to work at Auticon..
Adam: [00:03:20] Yeah, that makes sense. And one of the reasons they call it a spectrum is that, it's a wide range of individuals.
David: [00:03:27] That's entirely correct. One of the statistics that we follow very closely and the reason for the mission is that this community suffers from an 85% under employment rate. And that's the reason the mission exists. There is no good reason why this community of people should be subject to an underemployment rate of up to 85%.
What are some of the things that feed that unemployment rate.
.It's so it's under employment. And so it's really important. It's a really important question.
Adam: [00:04:02] So what do you mean by underemployed?
David: [00:04:04] Yeah. let me explain. There's really two major scenarios in what we term underemployment. The first one is that an individual might have the cognitive strengths, technical ability or aptitude, because remember that we employ people that are really at every stage of their career from individuals that are just starting on their technology career to mid-level tenure individuals up to 15 year kind of principal architect type roles. And so in our mission to employ as many people as possible, we do try to employ people that are junior, mid and senior.
Yeah. And so we see all kinds of backgrounds and underemployment for us might mean that the individual has been doing a role that might be hourly in nature. Oftentimes we see people that work in fast food restaurants. And that's not to belittle people that work in fast food restaurants, it's a vocation, but these are individuals that have either that technical ability, that aptittude, or that cognitive strength to be a force in technology.
And so that's under employment. There's also another interpretation of underemployment, which actually isn't reflected in the statistic, but for us is really important. And that is that the individual may not have been in an autism friendly work environment. And we see a lot of mid or senior level people come to us who have bounced around from, really well-paying job to well-paying job.
But it wasn't in an autism friendly environment and therefore they didn't feel at home and they couldn't properly flourish.
Adam: [00:05:48] Can we dive into that a little bit? I'm curious, like what is an autism friendly environment?
David: [00:05:54] So it's really interesting. It's not cookie cutter. It's not formulaic at all. And this is really important. let me start here. One of the sources of anxiety to a lot of the community is the traditional recruiting process. And the traditional recruiting process, where there were three interviews and fast questions, questions coming out and you thick and fast.
Many of our constituents are just not comfortable in that environment and don't perform well in a traditional recruiting scenario. And that's one of the drivers, in my personal opinion to that underemployment rate that we mentioned previously. So what we do is we take that time. That would have been the traditional recruiting process and replace it with an autism friendly recruiting process.
So we've got a degree of game-ification. Which allows us to understand the technical skills that an individual technologist has. But then we also have a series of chats. We have an initial chat, we have a job coaching chat, and we have a technical chat. And so at the end of this process, we've got a really good picture of who this individual is, both from the hard technology skills, but also from the, soft skills, the human skills, the communication skills. And that's really important. Because the hard skills allow us to match that individual with a job opening or a project opening with one of our clients and then the soft skills inform us, how we need to support the individual going forward. And so at the end of that process, we've got a really good picture of the individual and how to support that individual.
The support comes from our job coaching program. And so in addition to technical mentorship, as an employee of Auticon there is also a job coaching program that can help with communication preferences. Can help with environmental preferences can help with just work place efficiency and workplace effectiveness, any stimulus issues that may exist.
And so the job coach is more of the kind of facilitator from an autism at work perspective. Whereas the technical mentor is more the guide on the learning and development path of the individual's career.
Adam: [00:08:32] Now that sounds like something that continues beyond the interview.
David: [00:08:36] Oh, yes, absolutely. To be abundantly clear. Yes. That job coaching is forever. The interview process allows us to understand where to start the job coaching, but those job coaches also work really closely with the client organization. And so let's say for example, we have a consultant and placed in Cover My Meds in Columbus, Ohio, fantastic organization, partner, organization to us really our anchor client in Columbus.
So let's say for example, and this is a hypothetical part from the Cover My Meds, but we have a consultant place to cover my meds and we learn. On the first few days, the first few weeks, the first couple of months of that project that the individual has additional needs that we didn't know about through the recruitment process, the autism friendly recruitment process, the job coach pivots, the job coach will pivot to provide the support that is needed.
What is also really interesting about job coaching is it's not just for the consultant. It's not just for the Auticon employee, and this is where it gets really powerful. It's also for the client organization. And so ahead of time, there's some training before our consultant even walks through the door, whether that be physical or virtual in this world.
And so there's some training about autism in the workplace generally, but then also some training about the specific individual that's joining that team. And so the team that has the individual joining can feel prepared. And what we find is this was a beautiful thing within this program. We designed it so the job coach could support the autistic technologists. But what we found is that the job coach is supporting that whole kind of environment that our technologist is in. And so the pockets of culture build that start to appear within organizations. It's super powerful. So instead of having a top down training about autism in the workplace, and what is it we that have the opportunity to create these pockets of experiential learning, which is a lot more effective in an organization, because what happens is.
People look across the team where a technologist is and saying, I want somebody. And so it naturally helps us grow the business, but then it also helps the organization understand neurodiversity in the workplace. And we've had a number of examples where the organization has had people declare that have already been in that company that they're on the spectrum.
And they would also like some of that job coaching.
Adam: [00:11:41] Oh, fantastic.
David: [00:11:42] Honestly, that's our celebration day. Of course we love it when we start a project, of course we'd love it when a client says they want more projects, more consultants to join them. But the biggest high five is when we hear that a client organization has had someone that has raised their hand and say that they're on the spectrum and they need support.
Adam: [00:12:07] Sounds like a very great way to basically help a company develop their culture to be supportive of those who are on the spectrum.
David: [00:12:16] Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's a very active way to do it because companies try to do this and absolutely no disrespect. I know that compliance is needed, but companies try to do this through clump compliance and training. And I don't know about you, but I see younger people joining the workforce and compliance and training is not something that excites them experiential, and seeing it in action is typically how we're affecting an outcome with culture.
Adam: [00:12:46] That's fascinating. We've explored this topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Whether that is cultural diversity or gender equality, And quite often what I've heard is that, it's not about finding somebody and just placing them in the workplace.
Because if the workplace isn't already ready for them, then they won't fit and it will cause problems and people will just blame the person. Whereas if you can change the culture of the company to be supportive, then you naturally attract more of that talent because you're already ready for it.
So it sounds like in this model, what you're doing is you're allowing somebody to come in and you're developing that experience in the company so that people in the company can see it and it can grow from there.
David: [00:13:32] That's really spot on. And in fact, we've actually got a couple of examples. Obviously the fact that this company has placed hundreds of technologists in big companies. You just in Columbus, some of a client companies and some of our kind of reference client companies include Cover My Meds, Nationwide Insurance.
So we're working with large recognized brands. And what we've noticed is that we've done this now, worldwide a couple of hundred times. And we've exercised the muscle of doing it. So we've exercised that muscle of what it takes to really from an experiential basis have a neuro diversity at work program and autism at work program. And so companies sometimes come to us because we've developed as a, almost as a result of that that intellectual property of how to do it. So it almost comes like it becomes like an advisory role that we'll play in really interesting is that companies will come to us and ask us how to recruit neuro diverse talent.
And we just stopped the meeting and say, that's the last step? Like the first step is how do you become an environment in which somebody can disclose. Right. How are you an environment where there's that culture build? How do you understand what you, what your people need? How do you listen? How do you then take action?
And so we move them along really to retention and start with retention. And it's only really when you nail retention that you can work backwards to recruit.
Adam: [00:15:23] Sounds like a great process and a strength to be able to teach companies. Hey here's what you can do to adapt in order to be a good workplace and tap into people who are naturally talented at this.
David: [00:15:35] Yeah, it's super interesting because the motion actually acts as discovery. If you think about the way that consulting works, the front end of any consulting engagement is that process of discovery where there's interviews and surveys and ride alongs and data crunching. And what we find is by companies taking an Auticon consultant to do their technical project, whether that be like a Salesforce project to SQL project, a software development project, data project, Ruby on rails, whatever it is because we literally do everything. In fact, we believe that there is an autistic technologist for every tech opening in America. So by virtue of. Placing and supporting and having a project going with one of our consultants within our client's environment.
We can get the discovery that's needed for an overall transformation project, because as we work with that individual, we understand what it's like to be an artistic technologist in that team. And that's not a viewpoint that employer had. And so for transformation, it actually forms part of the discovery process.
Adam: [00:17:00] That's really neat. So you're able to bring that knowledge back in house of what that experience is like in order to refine and, adapt for that company.
David: [00:17:09] That's correct. Yeah.
Adam: [00:17:10] Now Auticon started in, in Germany and then it's spread throughout Europe and through other parts of the world. I'm curious, like what have you learned just from working in different parts of the world?
Has there been a different approach to the model.
David: [00:17:26] I think broadly speaking, the approach is somewhat similar. However, Auticon has taken the decision that for cultural reasons, the seven different operating companies in those seven different countries, we'll take the best practices from each other and apply them. Within their own marketplace because of cultural differences.
And we collaborate very closely. So I have a weekly conversation, a call with all six of my counterparts and the global CEO where we talk about what's working, what isn't. And so there's oftentimes some really good learnings. And I think we've struck a really good balance of having a global brand.
Global best practice playbook, but then applying it and having the freedom as a business, again, back to that really important notion of, the principles of business being behind social change. We know, we have the freedom within the us to apply those best practices as we see and read the market.
And so for me, it's I, it's interesting, I've never been asked this question, but for me it's actually the, it's the perfect balance of having, almost like a board of directors. To help form the playbook and the best practices and what we're seeing around the world, but then also having the autonomy to best place it in the U S.
Adam: [00:19:01] And when did you come to the U S market?
David: [00:19:03] We actually acquired an organization in the U S in 2018. And what's really interesting about that is obviously with the U S being such a large marketplace and to enter the U S market place, it was just a really good option to acquire an organization that already wasn't going concern. That organization brings us a, just a phenomenal capability. So the organization that was acquired traditionally had more of a project services type motion whereby the project team would ingest work from clients and then deliver against milestones. Rather than the consulting motion of putting somebody in the client's four walls.
And because of this, we actually have both those capabilities now in the U S so we have a project services team for people's kind of QA projects, a manual QA, or test automation, their Salesforce, admin projects, or their data projects. But then we also have the consulting motion. If you want a super specialized skill.
Adam: [00:20:15] Great. And what's the model are people placed in companies?
David: [00:20:19] The best way to describe it is that everybody remains a W2 employee of Auticon.
So everybody remains an employee. And the reason for that is twofold. And I'll say this, and I'll do aan asterix on what is aspirational versus what is reality, but we want people to have access to healthcare regardless of our client's policies.
So we're not a placement agency. We don't place people in walk away and give them a phone call 30 days later and say, how's it going? Because we've got that job coaching and we've got the technical mentorship and it's, but we're very deliberate about that. We want individuals to have healthcare with us regardless of the client policies.
And also we want individuals to have retirement savings. And currently today they have retirement savings if they're in the right part of the country. But we will be doing that across the country this year. The best way to describe it is that the technologist joins Auticon, and then that technologist is placed in client organizations as part of a client team.
So they'll have a supervisor in the agile environment within an organization. And we just, we cut an invoice to that client for the services rendered and ideally it's in perpetuity. So we have engagements where it's absolutely the intention that, that individual is functioning, almost like a employee of our clients, but they're an Auticon employee.
And they benefit from everything, all the additional support that comes with that.
Adam: [00:21:57] Now on the podcast, we have a ton of listeners here in Columbus, Ohio. It's a market we've explored a lot. What brought you to Columbus, Ohio?
David: [00:22:05] It was really the support. I'm not surprised you have such an active following and listeners in Columbus. I was blown away by the reception that we received, both from clients and kind of support agencies from community partners, advocacy groups. It didn't take a lot of connecting.
For the community to basically rally around us. And it was just, it became a decision that was just a no brainer because of that support. Just really phenomenal forward thinking employers and then advocacy groups and, state support groups that have really come together and share the mission.
Adam: [00:22:47] Personally, it feels like a great fit here. One, because we have a lot of technology companies here from Chase and IBM to the insurance companies, like Nationwide. And then Cover My Meds and Cardinal Health. So there's a lot of great kind of technology services here, but we also have a really strong social entrepreneurship community here. So partly driven by Social Ventures really connecting different companies in different missions. So I think there's a lot of awareness which helps.
David: [00:23:14] Yeah, absolutely. we, we sensed it straightaway. When we talked to the stakeholders in Columbus, There wasn't that much explanation needed. It was like this, like they had already seen the possibilities. So to the extent that the people listening to this have a part to play in that, I just want to say thanks because it's really made us very welcome.
Adam: [00:23:41] How do people in Columbus find out about Auticon?
David: [00:23:44] So the best way is the website. The website is www dot Auticon .us which is A U T I C O N.us. There is also A info email address that we monitor, somebody's monitoring it on a normal constant basis and that's firstname.lastname@example.org. And really what I find super interesting is when we connect with the advocacy groups and the community groups and like the.
The community at large it's amazing to us how many candidates that we get. So when we first started this kind of outreach, you've, we've got a revenue plan. And so I thought that we'd be contacted more by potential clients. We weren't, and that was okay because we're contacted a lot by potential candidates and potential employees, which is even better.
Because right now we have exclusive openings. We've got jobs on file. Employers have said, Hey, Auticon, I'm going to give you as much time as I can stand for you to have exclusive on this job. We want someone from Auticon to fill this role. And as we grow that process gets easier because you have more openings, you have more candidates, it's a lot easier to see the connections.
So I love the fact that I love the fact that we get outreach from candidates by talking to like awesome audiences, like yours.
Adam: [00:25:37] And what about on the company spectrum? Are there certain companies which are great to come and work with you?
David: [00:25:42] Yeah it's really companies that understand that D you have to take DEI diversity equity inclusion, and you have to look at it in a multifaceted way. There were some companies that will say that they've got an autism at work program, so we don't need to work with Auticon and that's fine. That's their decision.
But I believe that an organization is really only going to truly embrace our community when it's not just the program in house. It's also part of the fabric of that. Kind of vendor ecosystem. It's also part of the fabric of that kind of channel partner ecosystem and that they are using their influence to pull up smaller companies around them.
As that also share their DEI philosophy. And so companies like that, companies that have that mentality and that the best two examples in Columbus for us right now is definitely Nationwide and Cover My Meds.
Adam: [00:26:46] How big is Auticon globally?
David: [00:26:48] Globally, we have over 200 consultants. I think the number actually is more like 250 now. In the us we have 40 consultants currently we have plans very clear plans that we think we can execute against the exiting Q3 we'll have 50. And so that's the kind of growth that we're seeing.
We actually, June of 2021, the last couple of days of which I am here, talking with you, we've hired more people in a single month than any month and record.
Adam: [00:27:21] Wow.
David: [00:27:22] Yeah. We hired six people this month and it looks like July. You might be a little down on that, just given the holiday, but it actually could be the same as well.
So that's the kind of growth. That we're experiencing that it's just really phenomenal that the community groups and the advocacy groups and the individuals of finding these really rewarding jobs because the jobs are off the charts. These are. These aren't altruistic jobs, it's not, it's not oh, let's find something for these people to do.
These are jobs that are at the center of the businesses that we work with. We have one client where we have four people basically running their go to market segmentation database. That's.
Adam: [00:28:09] That's here.
David: [00:28:11] Autistics technologists in the center of their revenue machine. They're not doing that through altruism.
They're doing that because they need the performance advantage.
Adam: [00:28:22] And I love what you mentioned at the beginning that, some of the places where people on the spectrum excel is this kind of objective. Detailed oriented mindset so that, they can approach things in through a huge amount of data and that analytics without getting caught up in it or biased as much as somebody else might.
David: [00:28:40] We had a client who had a, an algorithm that they had an entire mathematical team strapped to this algorithm trying to find an outcome. And one of our consultants basically, whole heartedly disagreed with that stearing kind of research team and was right.
Adam: [00:29:04] Wow.
David: [00:29:04] Yeah, that was correct.
Adam: [00:29:11] That's a great success. So if you know, Companies are here in Columbus I hear there's an event coming up in September.
David: [00:29:18] We have a, an event coming up in September, which is a, an in-person event. It's we think we've timed it appropriately. Details will be forthcoming and I'd love to share that with your community. And it's going to be an in-person recruitment event, but also an in-person client event as well.
So we're gonna. Basically all of the stakeholders together and celebrate the process so far than the progress so far, but then also with the stakeholders and we welcome as many people to participate as possible. Really chart the course for the next year as well.
Adam: [00:29:58] I love that. And if you're listening, we'll keep that information up to date on the show notes so that you can find those there.
David: [00:30:04] Yeah, that would be fantastic.
Adam: [00:30:07] Wonderful. So just bringing it all together. I feel like we've covered a lot, just, talking about one, some of the barriers that, that people on the spectrum have to finding employment, to areas where they excel to, what Auticon has been doing to actually really help,
this population Excel in, in the right positions. And for me, I really love this concept of underemployment. Where, if they have difficulty in the interview process that, that they're not in the roles that are maximizing their potential so that they can really excel.
David: [00:30:38] You're absolutely correct. And I was guilty of this. So I was, I w it's in big companies and I've had, a career where I've gone from job to job and promoted and stuff like that. Yeah and I've interviewed probably hundreds of people I've been guilty of it and I'll readily admit it.
Now that I have been guilty of that human bias in an interview process where you connect socially with someone or you connect on a level. And you think, okay, this is an individual that I want on my team and you rationalize it by things like when the chips are down, I know that we'll be able to work together and it's just complete fooey.
Yeah. That notion is a human bias is a human bias based on a social connection and has zero bearing on the ability of that candidate to do the job or otherwise.
Adam: [00:31:34] I've heard of the beer bias of if you're hiring somebody, you tend to hire somebody who you would naturally go out for a drink with that you would socialize with. You just understand each other better if you have that similar cultural background. And so sometimes, a lack of diversity, isn't intentional.
It's just that ability to connect with other people. And so there's a lot that you have to do in order to overcome that.
David: [00:31:58] That's entirely accurate. And then oftentimes it's the invisible, which is the most difficult bias to overcome.
And so that's why we've tried to turn it around a little bit.
Adam: [00:32:11] Fantastic. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today and sharing the story of what you're doing.
David: [00:32:17] Yeah, this was great. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. And I look forward to connecting to as many of the community members as possible. And Thank you for the opportunity. It's been really great. Thanks Adam.
Adam: [00:32:28] Fantastic. And if you're listening, go and visit Auticon.us that's A U T I C O N. Dot us. For more information. And you can also get more resources on the show notes at peoplehelpingpeople.world. I thank you so much for listening and David, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
David: [00:32:46] Thank you, Adam.