Opportunities for all
The Record-Eagle - 7/15/2018
July 15--TRAVERSE CITY -- Traverse City business owner Jennifer Stoll said she prepared her kids for the workforce at home, but she also wanted to help other people with disabilities obtain jobs.
The Traverse Bay Area Neurodiversity Employment Program aims to connect individuals with disabilities to employers in northern Michigan. Autism Alliance of Michigan, a statewide nonprofit, started the pilot in early 2018.
Stoll, the local organizer for the program, said it will "help them get placed and help them stay there." Employers list their job opportunities and Autism Alliance finds individuals who can fill those spaces.
She said the program is needed, as employers are interested in diversity hiring.
"There's a growing acceptance of autism," Stoll said. "People are looking for people with autism to work today."
Plus, there are many potential employees out there. Stoll said 80-95 percent of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed -- not working in their career track or working less than they are available.
A variety of factors contribute to this.
"If they don't interview well, they don't get a space in the workplace," she said. "Sometimes there are incredible people but you don't connect with them right away. The goal is to get them a job where they can use their capabilities."
Autism Alliance of Michigan needs more job seekers to register. Chief Program Officer Tammy Morris said people with any education level and skill sets -- from accounting to engineering -- are welcome to apply.
"We want to build up," she said. "We did have a small talent pool in the Traverse area. There are talents and skills in the disabled community. This is a talent pool that is often overlooked."
Morris said they also accept people of all disabilities, including the neurodiverse.
"Neurodiversity refers to invisible disabilities," she said, meaning mental health and learning disorders. "We want everybody to find us."
Though the program is geared toward adults, Morris said they plan to help high school students prepare for future careers and teach them about resources like the employment program.
"There is support available," she said. "A job is life changing for these folks. And they're so happy . . . they want a company where they can stay. So there's less turnover."
Carol Danly, of Traverse City, co-founded the NW Michigan NT Support group a couple years ago to aid parents and spouses of people with Asperger's syndrome -- a milder form of autism in which people often have narrow, obsessive interests and lack social skills.
These traits, Danly said, can make job interviews and employment harder. Many people come to the support group with concerns that their children have not worked, could not keep a job or were underemployed.
The Traverse Bay Area Neurodiversity Employment Program can help change that, Danly said. The employer is informed of the employee's mental health condition and both receive diversity training.
"The beauty of the program is the ongoing support for both the employer and employee," Danly said. "The initiative recognizes and is addressing the need for support in the area of employment, whether the condition has been diagnosed or not."
Start-up funds came from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, which provided a grant to Grand Traverse Industries. The company partners with Autism Alliance of Michigan to implement the Traverse Bay Area Neurodiversity Employment Program.
Job candidates can add their name to the database at autismallianceofmichigan.org/employee-pre-assessment. Call 877-463-2266 with questions.
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