Autism forum explores future tech workforce opportunities

September 18, 2012

MHTA – One out of 88 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention revised its estimates saying it is 25 percent more common and may now impact than a million children.

“One thing the data tells us with certainty – there are many children and families who need help,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. “We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children.”

Researchers are looking farther down the road too and considering the impact as these children become adults and enter the workforce in larger numbers. Despite deficits in social interactions, workers on the autism spectrum excel in many areas employers desire in their top employees – singular focus, loyalty, high productivity and innovative thinking.

Early in October, parents, researchers and representatives from Minnesota’s technology companies will come together to discuss opportunities at the Autism & Employment Forum 2012. It will be held October 9 at 3M’s corporate headquarters in Maplewood. MHTA President & CEO Margaret Anderson Kelliher will help moderate the day-long event.

More than 1,600 people attended last year’s forum and organizers expect the year’s gathering to be just as successful. Representatives from 3M, Best Buy, Medtronic, Target, and Wells Fargo will be in attendance and some will share personal experiences of hiring and retaining those living with Autism Spectrum Disorders and the benefits these individuals have brought to their corporations. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in Minnesota, making it more important now than ever to reach out and work together to foster education, change, acceptance and investment.

This year’s forum will include a keynote address from Randy Lewis, Senior Vice President for Supply Chain and Logistics at Walgreens. Lewis is responsible for the design and operation of the Walgreens supply chain network including operations, engineering, IT systems, and inventory management. He was instrumental in introducing a new concept to Walgreens that would transform the company’s distribution centers and employment opportunities. Walgreens’s two newest distribution centers employ an inclusive and integrated workforce composed 40 percent of persons with disabilities who are held to the same work standards and earn the same pay as “typically-abled” fellow workers. As a result of this success of serving both shareholders and the community, all distribution centers now include people with disabilities. Lewis’s division recently achieved the milestone of having people with disabilities as 10 percent of its workforce.

Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor at Adelphi University, will also share research on matching best practice to the needs of people with autism. Individuals with ASD who have achieved post secondary education or have highly developed skill areas often have difficulty selling themselves in job interviews and maintaining working relationships on the job. Drawing on his personal and professional experiences as an adult living with autism, Shore will share the strategies he has used successfully to find and secure employment and to meet the expectations of employers for people throughout the autism spectrum.

The forum will begin with an appearance by Governor Mark Dayton and include leaders from top Minnesota corporations and state agencies. The afternoon session will be repeated in the evening to faciliate others unable to during the day. You can find out more information about the program and registration at the forum website.


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