Ford to Launch Pilot Program to Employ Adults with Autism

Dustin Walsh/Crain’s Detroit Business-Detroit, MI

Ford Motor Co. is launching a pilot program on June 1 to hire adults with autism.

Ford will create five positions in product development suited to the skills and capabilities of workers with autism for the program, called FordInclusiveWorks, the automaker said in a statement Wednesday.

The program was developed with Autism Alliance of Michigan — a nonprofit founded by Dave Meador, chief administrative officer at DTE Energy Co. in Detroit. The alliance is funding the training program tied to the jobs.

Ford’s vehicle evaluation and verification test lab will participate in the program. There, workers will log and prep tires for test vehicles, the automaker said in the release.

“The work is highly structured, requires a great deal of focus, and calls for a high level of attention to detail and organization,” the release said. “Skills required to complete this task safely and with a high level of quality lend themselves to strengths typically associated with individuals with autism.”

The program is aimed at reducing the unemployment rate among the population of adults with autism, which ranges from 75 percent to 90 percent unemployed nationally.

“Individuals with autism bring a unique set of talents to our business,” Felicia Fields, Ford group vice president of human resources and corporate services, said in the statement. “We recognize that having a diverse and inclusive workforce allows us to leverage a wider range of innovative ideas to make our customers’ lives better.”

Ford will evaluate the performance of the five new employees after an undetermined time and potentially offer permanent full-time employment, it said.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that more than 3.5 million people and one in 68 children (one in 42 for boys) being born have autism spectrum disorder — a complex brain condition associated with poor communication skills — according to a 2014 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Autism already represents a staggering economic toll — estimated at $268 billion annually in the U.S. on treatment and loss of productivity in 2015, rising to $461 billion, or 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, by 2025, according to a 2015 study by researchers at the University of California-Davis and the University of Denver.

Diabetes and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the only diseases that cost more than autism, and neither generally prevents people who have them from working.

The spectrum

It’s called a spectrum because the symptoms can range from not understanding nonverbal communication, to lack of empathy, to obsessive-compulsive behavior, to never speaking. Less-severe cases are often called Asperger’s syndrome, but many experts no longer use that term.

More than 50 percent of those diagnosed with autism have average to above-average intelligence, according to a 2014 study.

“Often, companies lack understanding of the unique characteristics associated with autism, which can be challenging, and unfortunately this can lead to perceptions of a poor fit for the individual and coworkers,” Colleen Allen, CEO of the Autism Alliance, said in the statement.

 

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