Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals
For industries such as utilities that are facing a shrinking well of talented, skilled workers, adults with autism could offer sought-after skills in a grossly untapped talent pool, explains Kristie Maciolek Small, director—inclusion, diversity, and talent management at PPL.
“Individuals with autism bring unique characteristics to a team,” Maciolek Small explains.
“They may look at life through a different lens, bringing a fresh perspective, or excel at finding new algorithms to solve complex issues. They can exceed performance expectations in many roles, but they need to know what opportunities are out there and employers need to know how to support them.”
This year, PPL launched a day-in-the-life career initiative that provides an opportunity for college students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to learn about jobs and interact with employees in a safe environment.
“We partnered with local universities and colleges that already provide enhanced support services to students on the autism spectrum,” Maciolek Small says.
Employees in REACH, PPL’s employee-led business resource group, helped execute the event. REACH focuses on identifying the needs of differently abled employees, and providing resources to improve the effectiveness and well-being of those employees, their friends, families, and the communities.
The first event was held in March. PPL hosted 12 Kutztown University students with ASD and five faculty members to show them “life at PPL beyond the poles and wires.”
The day-in-the-life event included a panel discussion with PPL employees, a drone overview, a virtual reality substation demonstration, and a tour of the distribution and transmission control centers. The students engaged with PPL employees during the panel discussion, asking questions about the company and the REACH business resource group.
“PPL is using the event as a model for future engagements to help recruit people who identify as having a disability,” explains Brian Case, PPL’s manager—corporate talent management, who is a member of the NACE Inclusion Committee.
“While not a formal program, our vision is to work alongside the ASD community to identify ways to support people with autism so they can thrive in their careers and gain meaningful employment.”
He says that, while PPL knew it wanted to take steps in this direction with candidates with ASD, knowing where to start was the biggest challenge. Tapping into already established disability recruiting resources—including working with colleges and universities that have existing autism support groups for students—was an ideal launch pad.
“Another challenge we identified was being prepared to host a group with ASD,” Case points out.
“People with ASD may have different sensitivities than others. We had to consider things like lighting and foot traffic in and out of the locations we were visiting.”
To prepare and ensure that the event was beneficial for the students, PPL consulted with VIA of the Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit agency that provides services for children and adults with disabilities, including ASD.
“Working with their clinical director for autism, we developed a better understanding of how best to interact with individuals with ASD,” Case notes.
PPL is “culturally ready” for this next step, Maciolek Small says. The company has been recognized as a Forbes “Best Place to Work for Diversity and Inclusion,” a Disability Equality Index “Best Place to Work,” and a Human Rights “Best Place to Work for LGBT.”
This information is noted on PPL’s career website and is shared with audiences at university events and with prospects interested in employment. However, she notes that the best way to share this news is through networking and talking one on one with potential candidates during various networking and recruiting events.
“We have a robust and active disability employee business resource group, and we have senior leaders who self-identify as having disabilities,” she explains.
“In addition, both the business resource group and senior leaders support this initiative. No one in the company has questioned the need to do this. PPL has been intentional regarding efforts on inclusion and diversity for all. It is woven into the fabric of the company and one of our core values.”
Case adds: “The company goal is to empower others to celebrate differences and raise understanding. We are committed to promoting an inclusive culture through volunteerism and partnerships with nonprofit organizations devoted to furthering diverse, accepting communities.”
For others looking to boost their organizations’ efforts to recruit and retain employees with ASD, Maciolek Small and Case recommend establishing partnerships on campus and in the community.
For example, these organizations should leverage existing partnerships with colleges and universities that have support programs for students with disabilities, including ASD. They can work with community partners as PPL did with Via of the Lehigh Valley, and explore other resources, such as an Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“Research estimates that more than 3.5 million Americans are living with ASD, an often-misunderstood disability,” Maciolek Small says.
“While research suggests that 60 percent of people with autism have average or higher cognitive abilities, it can be harder for these individuals to find, and keep, meaningful employment. A staggering 80 percent of college-educated adults with autism remain underemployed or unemployed. Working together and sharing best practices, we can employ this talented pool with meaningful work.”