SAS sees opportunity for autistic employees
Analytics giant keen to attract candidates who think differently
As organisations struggle to find employees with the necessary skills to meet the growing demand for big data skills SAS, the world's leading analytics provider, has stepped up efforts to attract candidates on the autism spectrum. SAS research with The Tech Partnership, the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology, anticipates that by 2020 there will be approximately 56,000 job opportunities a year in the UK for big data professionals.
SAS UK & Ireland has explored how to tap into the vast number of autistic people who are keen to work, but who struggle to get employers to recognise their potential. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others, and many people on the autism spectrum have found it very difficult to find and remain in employment. However, autistic people can have strengths which really benefit employers, such as accuracy, a good eye for detail, tenacity, and the ability to see things in a different light, which can be great for problem solving.
A disability internship programme run from SAS' UK headquarters in Marlow last year, offered work experience to interns on the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society's Employment Training and Consultancy Service worked with SAS to provide training and suggested changes that could help autistic employees, such as adapting the interview process and providing written instructions.
“We as employers need to do a much better job in this area”, according to Sue Warman, HR Director for SAS UK & Ireland. “For example, in our market which is analytics, there is a real talent shortage which is becoming more acute with a rapidly increasing demand for skills. In the selection process, businesses tend to be overly focused on candidates having strong communication skills, who make good eye contact, present themselves confidently and so on. .
“In actual fact, for many roles these attributes should be considered a ‘nice to have’, and in recognising this, we open up our potential talent pool and opportunities for candidates with different profiles, including those on the autism spectrum. In the analytics arena, we need to place greater importance on other skills such as mathematical competence, attention to detail, problem solving and the ability to look at challenges from different angles.”
In the Autumn SAS plans to host a session in partnership with the National Autistic Society, inviting other employers who are interested in learning more about how to attract and support autistic candidates and employees. The aim is to learn from the experiences of other companies, share SAS’ experience so far and encourage other companies to explore the benefits of being an ‘autism friendly’ employer.
SAS recently took part in a roundtable discussion at the National Autistic Society’s head office with Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, along with a group of autistic people who shared their experiences about the challenges of finding and staying in work. They included student Kalim Momen, who took part in the SAS internship programme.
“I applied to the SAS internship programme with the support of my university’s disability and careers services. The internship programme was important for me to gain work experience and I felt appreciated at SAS,” said Kalim, a final-year BA (Hons) Animation and Visual Effects student at Buckinghamshire New University. “It’s essential that the people you work for understand what disabilities you have, are aware of how you learn and make changes so that it is easier to carry out the work. Sometimes, I might need to take a few minutes’ break, for example. SAS was really understanding of this and the internship has really helped boost my confidence.”
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: "More and more businesses, like SAS, are starting to recognise the potential of autistic people.
“Autistic people can have strengths which benefit a range of businesses and industries, such as accuracy, tenacity, and the ability to see things in a different light which can be great for problem solving. But unemployment remains a huge problem for autistic people, often because of a lack of support in the workplace and misunderstanding about what autism is.
“We were delighted to be involved in SAS' internship disability programme. Its success shows how making small changes can open up the workplace to autistic people - simple things like improving staff understanding of autism and making minor adjustments to working practice. We hope other companies follow SAS' lead.
SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative software and services, SAS empowers and inspires customers around the world to transform data into intelligence. SAS gives you THE POWER TO KNOW®.
About The National Autistic Society
- The National Autistic Society is the UK's leading charity for people on the autism spectrum and their families. Founded in 1962, it provides information, support and pioneering services, and campaigns for a better world for people on the autism spectrum.
- To find out more about autism and employment or get in touch with the Employment Training and Consultancy Service, please visit: www.autism.org.uk/employment
About Buckinghamshire New University
Buckinghamshire New University has enjoyed a long and successful history since it was founded in 1891. Today, it offers industry-focused degree programmes and professional qualifications across the creative and cultural industries, management and information management sectors, and the public sector. It is also one of the leading providers of nursing students in north-west London and won the Education Provider of the Year (post-registration) award at the 2015 Student Nursing Times Awards and the Teaching Excellence award at the Guardian University Awards 2016.