Nish Parikh, the co-founder and CEO of Rangam Consultants and the chief innovation officer of SourceAbled, has learned three universal truths in his more than two-decade effort to create job opportunities and placements for those on the autism spectrum:
- Everyone knows someone on the spectrum;
- Employers want to help those on the spectrum;
- Very few companies or executives know how to do it.
That’s where SourceAbled and Rangam come in, Parikh said.
“Our mission is to promote employment for everyone, including people on the autism spectrum and those with other visible or invisible disabilities,” he said. “Rangam is a staffing company that has been developing innovative workforce solutions through partnerships with organizations.
“In last five years, we’ve been focusing on meaningful employment for people on the spectrum. Our goal is to tap into existing opportunities. There are 4-5 million hirings every year in the U.S. People on the spectrum are not able to tap into those jobs.”
Parikh is out to change that.
“As a workforce solution company, we are truly influencing companies to create autism hiring programs,” he said. “We are helping them seamlessly integrate this with their existing hiring practices. We are helping them optimize those processes so they can accommodate persons on the spectrum.”
The good news: More companies — many of which are Fortune 500 global companies —are coming to SourceAbled for help, Parikh said.
And interest always spikes in April, during Autism Awareness Month, Parikh said.
“We have 2-3 times more interest,” he said.
SourceAbled is hoping to build on that with two LinkedIn presentation this week that will detail company experiences.
- At 3 p.m. Thursday, there will be a discussion with officials from JPMorgan Chase;
- At 11 a.m. Friday, there will be a discussion with leaders from Merck and Accenture.
Of course, Autism Awareness Month ends this week. The challenge for Parikh and SourceAbled is to keep the momentum going all year long.
Parikh recently spoke with ROI-NJ about various hiring programs. Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.
ROI-NJ: The interest in companies to ensure that their diverse workforce includes ASD workers has grown in recent years. Talk about the growth — and why you think it’s happening.
Nish Parikh: One of the things which we have seen the last few years is that C-suite level executives are taking an interest in sponsoring some of these programs, which is leading to companies really building scalable and sustainable autism hiring programs. These are executives from Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, so that’s a big change.
We’ve found that, when senior leadership takes the initiative, things start moving rapidly. Conversation with the leadership is the key to moving the needle.
ROI: A willingness to have a program and having a program that is beneficial to both employers and employees are two different things. What have you been doing to ensure these programs lead to meaningful employment?
NP: It’s a lot of things. In the past few years — in partnership with Rutgers, UCLA, Stanford and others — we are doing various research projects to help to build the framework, so that we can build scalable and sustainable employment models for people on the spectrum.
We want to be a workforce solution provider, so we have built technology — an AI and machine learning-based tool which helps us identify autism-friendly jobs. That’s the first step.
The next step is, ‘How do we customize the job description?’ And then the third step is building awareness within the organization. This is a big key.
ROI: How so?
NP: We believe that every one of us is connected to someone on the spectrum. So, we all have good intentions to help them (find) a meaningful job. But companies don’t know how to do it. Our HR systems are built on practices that — from the interview process to the onboarding process — create a lot of challenges for people on the spectrum.
So, we identify the jobs where we have seen nexuses with our clients. We start building pilot programs and demonstrate the success and share those success stories within the organization. And, once that word is out within the organization, we see the people who are connected to someone on the spectrum start raising their hands to participate. That is how we open up jobs.
ROI: Meaningful jobs, we hope?
NP: Absolutely. That’s the goal on both sides and it comes with understanding.
We asked 200 neurodiverse individual job seekers: ‘What is the one thing you would like to see in the employer when you apply for a job?’
They said, ‘We want to work for a company where we are not misunderstood.’ That’s a core message. That’s why we work very closely with companies throughout the process, so they gain that awareness.
We have a very formal framework, which we implement with companies, to build this type of scalable program.
ROI: Let’s talk about workforce of the future. Is a move to more remote work a plus or minus for the ASD community?
NP: We have seen mixed experiences in the past year. Some individuals really thrived working from home. But some individuals faced some serious mental health-related challenges, just like neurotypical employees. So, of course, we all worked together, and because they got the external help, they’re doing great now. The majority of the year was positive.
ROI: Give us some success stories.
NP: You can see for yourself this week. On Friday, we have a LinkedIn live interview with our partners, Accenture and Merck, where they are sharing their success story and an amazing experience working with neurodiverse talent.
On Thursday, we are doing a program with another autism at work partner, JPMorgan Chase, which hired 45 neurodiverse people last year, during the pandemic. We did a video of all this neurodiverse talent during Christmastime last year. It was just amazing.
ROI: Last question: If readers out there want to participate in these hiring programs, what should they do?
NP: Reach out to us at SourceAbled.com. We would love to come visit them. Often, we start with an employee resource group, who often are the champions. They want to bring in diversity; they want to bring in people on the spectrum. So, we start there and created some events that bring awareness.
It’s all about creating awareness.