Listening to business owner Michael Fieldhouse talk about opening up working practices so that people on the autism spectrum are able to find fulfilling jobs, you wonder why the concept had ever been controversial. He talks with a reassuring clarity that makes you realise that helping everyone get work: makes business sense; is a moral imperative; and should be done in a way that empowers others to do the same.
Which is a rare and admirable quality, given regular working practices don’t reflect this. While about 1% of the world has autism, over 80% of these people are either unemployed or under-employed. Some people with autism have a highly-trained ability to remain focused in certain situations, and excellent visual perception, which DXC says makes them “excellent candidates for certain businesses and roles.”
Fieldhouse is Social Impact Practice Leader at ICT services company DXC. In 2014, the company piloted its Dandelion programme, which aimed to build IT skills and careers for people on the autism spectrum. To date, DXC says it has helped 100 autistic people into careers in cybersecurity, software testing and data analytics.
“Dandelion is broken up into two elements,” Fieldhouse says in a video on the DXC website. “One is for us to still build our competitive advantage by accessing this talent, and number two is allowing the learning we’ve created through this programme to be open sourced and allowing other organisations to take that an obviously build other programmes for them.”
His latest initiative has been to expand the success of this programme and create the first-ever centre to train people with autism to get jobs in the hospitality, IT and agriculture sectors. Taking the form of an enterprise centre — similar to one run by the National Autistic Society in the UK — the initiative will be rolled out in partnership with Autism New Zealand.
Fieldhouse trained in Computer Technology at Curtin University, before completing further education at the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Harvard Business School. His career has taken him through various positions in tech companies, including three years as CEO of Yarris, a privately-owned cloud computing company; various senior roles as Hewlett Packard; before becoming an Adjunct Professor in Cybersecurity at La Trobe University and a Cybersecurity Advisor for the Wall Street Journal.Tags: Autism, Diversity and Inclusion, New Zealand