The preliminary findings of a La Trobe University study into a specialised autism employment initiative, the DXC Dandelion Program, have been released.
In this first study of its kind, La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) analysed the mental health and wellbeing of 35 Dandelion participants. The program aims to increase employment opportunities for people with autism and capitalise on their innate skills.
Within Australia, people with autism have a 34 per cent employment participation rate and over 50 per cent are unemployed. Worldwide, 80 per cent of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed.
OTARC Director, Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, said the results of the first year of the three-year pilot program are very encouraging.
“Job retention is at 89 per cent and job satisfaction is at 75 per cent overall for the employees surveyed,” Professor Dissanayake said.
“This result is important because we know how difficult it can be for many individuals with autism to face finding and maintaining employment.
“The benefit of the program is that they are being matched with jobs that meet their skills and are supported in building meaningful, long-term careers.”
The findings also showed the mental health and wellbeing of Dandelion employees remained stable.
“This ground breaking research supported by our partners, the Australian Government Department of Human Services and Department of Defence, is critical to understanding the challenges and enablers to ensure successful and sustainable employment for people on the autism spectrum,” said Michael Fieldhouse, DXC Dandelion Program Executive.
“We hope this research filters into human resource management education to improve inclusiveness of workforces and allows for other autism at work programs and employment models to be developed.”
Dandelion employees currently work in cyber security, data analytics, software testing and systems monitoring and automation at the Department of Defence, Department of Human Services, Department of Home Affairs and ANZ bank across four states in Australia, with access to an autism consultant at each work site.
The DXC Dandelion Program also provides successful transition into open and competitive employment once an employee has completed the program. At this stage, at least three of seven individuals who have formally left the program have been able to secure independent employment.
All Dandelion employees are initially placed with these organisations, who provide funding for the program, before being supported to find long-term work, independent of the program.
Prior to the Dandelion Program, Paul had been struggling to find work for over a year.
“I was being under-utilised in previous jobs and I could never land anything that really challenged me,” he said.
“I now work in software testing with the Department of Human Services (DHS) – something I’m quite good at. It was a relief to be able to get into a line of work I could not have got into any other way.
“I’ve been able to independently secure an 18-month contract with DHS since finishing the Dandelion Program. It means I have to get used to the idea of being an employee in the general job market, but the Dandelion Program has prepared me for that.”
Paul’s three-year employment through the Dandelion Program, and guaranteed work with DHS, have allowed him afford his own home and remain independent.
Prior to the program, Jack said he found writing resumes and attending job interviews difficult.
“It was nerve-wracking trying to sell myself over the phone or in person to potential employers. I have a degree in science, but it was so difficult to find a job that would make use of my skills because people didn’t want to give me a chance,” he said.
“After a year working under the DXC Dandelion Program, my autism consultant helped me apply for a DHS opportunity with a more science focus.
“It feels really good to finally feel independent at work, to feel like I’m capable of working just like anybody else and talking with anyone in the workplace. I’m really thankful to the Dandelion Program for helping me build those skills.”
Timothy, who is still working as a Dandelion employee with DXC Technology, said the program has helped him understand where he’d like to take his career.
“I’m currently working in information technology, but I’m really interested in pursuing a career in cyber security,” Timothy said.
“I have expressed that to DXC Technology and they’ve supported me in growing my skills within that field, so I can eventually transition into that pathway now I’ve completed my three years with the Dandelion Program.”
OTARC Dandelion Program recommendations, based on 12-month analysis:
- OTARC recommend the development and implementation of a cost effective education and training program to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees with autism within the workforce.
- OTARC suggest implementing a general positive wellbeing program that targets positive and healthy living
- Given the weight of support is often placed on the autism consultants and supervisors, OTARC suggest developing a mental health and autism training program for staff who may be required to manage a mental health crisis in the workplace
- It will be beneficial to identify region specific professional support networks that can be accessed for referral purposes
- OTARC support the implementation of broader workforce training and awareness concerning mental health and wellbeing programs
- OTARC continue to encourage integration of Dandelion Program employees into the broader workforce to increase their access to social networks and development of professional relationships