The untapped employment pool

“Autistic people can be an invaluable resource for companies – if bosses are open to the special nature of their contribution and are willing to think in unconventional ways,” says Sonne founder of the Specialist People Foundation. “With a shrinking employment pool, many companies are struggling to fill the available roles with suitably qualified people. We therefore need to look beyond the usual sources of recruits to find the right people.”

Sonne, whose son Lars was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, says autistic people tend to excel at jobs which require close attention to detail for long periods of time; they tend to like repetitive, structured, number-crunching taks which demand a good memory – making them well suited for roles in IT and quality control.

Sonne left his job of 15 years at the Danish communications company TDC in 2004 to set up the Specialist People Foundation – finding employment for adults with autism and Asperger’s as software and systems testers.

It’s a fantastic organisation that deserves more recognition. But it isn’t the only organisation to spot the potential of untapped parts of the employment pool.

Take Mirakle Couriers, for exmaple. The company, established by Dhruv Lakra in Mumbai, employs only deaf employees.

“India has one of the highest rates of deafness in the world – and most are unemployed. But they are keen to work,” explains Lakra.

And it was Mirakle Couriers that inspired young Chinese entrepreneur Lydia Mei Leng Lei, currently studying for an MBA at Oxford, to consider employing disabled workers at her family’s textile company.

Dihao Home Textiles faces a severe labour shortage in Guangdong, where its manufacturing is based.

“My family firm is constrained by labour shortages,” explains Mei Leng Lei. “When I read about Mirakle Couriers, I decided to see if the same idea would work for us.”

China has a large disabled populatio, 60 per cent of which is unemployed.

“Disabled workers offer a readily available workforce in Guangdong, as indeed throughout China,” she says. “We can easily modify the workflows in the factory, if necessary, to suit their needs and I’m confident that sufficient numbers of disabled workers will be able to cope with the work without difficulty. As many Chinese manufacturers are suffering the same difficulties in recruiting workers, I think this is an opportunity to establish a venture that trains the disabled and supplies this under-used workforce to manufacturing businesses.” A pilot programme will begin at Dihao Home Textiles in the spring.

Sonne says he challenges organisations in developed and developing economies to consider this under used workforce. “Many organisations will find that they need to make very few changes to their systems and practices to accommodate workers with some form of disability,” he says. “This is a win-win situation: companies find the labour they require; disabled people are empowered; social costs are reduced; and the economy is boosted.”

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