Embracing a lesser-known option

In 2019, it's high time employers seek out neurodivergent workers
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/26/2019

Autism has been in the news of late in Ontario with the Doug Ford government announcing funding changes to autism services. Currently, there are 23,000 children in the province on a wait list, waiting for support. That’s a whole lot of potential employees who are set to rise through the ranks in Ontario alone.

And as of 2012, 83 per cent of all Canadian adults with autism reported no employment income, while just 14 per cent were employed, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.

These stats are cited in Marcel Vander Wier’s story on pg. 3 of this issue looking at job fairs held in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The events make a lot of sense for employers like Scotiabank, IBM and Loblaws which are tailoring recruitment efforts to reach this valuable candidate pool.

“We’re in 2019. This is high time we start building programs to help inclusion within your organizations,” said Xavier Pinto, organizer of the job fairs and co-owner of Substance Cares in Toronto. “At the end of the day, it will only add to your organization.”

And it’s not like they’re not skilled — 58 per cent graduated from high school, while 28 per cent had a post-secondary degree, according to a 2013 study of 480 individuals in Ontario with ASD by the University of Toronto and the Redpath Centre.

Most commonly, these people had a diploma or certificate (12 per cent), followed by a bachelor’s degree (12 per cent), and master’s degree (three per cent).

And their employment opportunities are impressively varied, with 30 per cent working in sales and service occupations, while 15 per cent had jobs in business, finance and administration. Fourteen per cent worked in arts, culture, recreation and sport, while nine per cent were employed in education, law, social, community and government service.

Sadly, just one in 10 HR professionals focus on the concept of “neurodiversity” — the natural range of differences in human brain function — in their staffing efforts, according to a 2018 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in London, U.K. It released an employer’s guide about tapping into the benefits of hiring workers who are neurodivergent, which includes people with autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Trying something new

In the same vein, a recent study in Scientific Reports found 30 per cent of 188 patients in Israel with ASD who participated in a study saw “significant improvement” through the use of medical cannabis, while 54 per cent found “moderate” improvement.

There’s even a grassroots group based in Texas called MAMMA or Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism looking to “empower parents to advocate for their child with autism.”

More than three million individuals in the United States have autism, they say, but only a handful have legal access to medical cannabis, so it’s about changing state laws so children “have safe and legal access to this healing plant under a doctor’s guidance.”   

The one big challenge? The science in this area is still very new and limited. So, should employers offer an add-on medical cannabis plan in their benefits coverage? We hear from Aurora Cannabis on pg. 21 to get their take.

“It is the right thing to do,” says CHRO Debra Wilson. “Cannabis use for medicinal purposes is changing people’s lives and creating better days… It’s no different than other prescription drugs.”

Looking ahead to the June issue of Canadian HR Reporter, be sure to watch for exclusive features covering HR tech, recognition and background screening — along with our usual in-depth analysis of the latest HR-related issues and trends.

Changes afoot

By the way, exciting times are ahead for Canadian HR Reporter readers and partners. This publication and its website and sister publications were recently acquired by HAB Press, part of the global Key Media group that has HR websites, events and magazines in Canada and the United States as well as Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific.

So, stay tuned for a fresh, modern, global approach to covering the world of HR.

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