Businesses are currently in a fierce global war for talent, however statistics show that most autistic adults remain unemployed today regardless of their skill level. Sean Hoffman (a KPMG Partner based in Virginia, US) and his team from KPMG saw an opportunity to make a difference by creating a unique KPMG program that would help fill existing job openings with skilled neurodiverse (individuals with autism) people who were eager to connect with employers seeking to broaden their talent pool.  

To better connect with the untapped and highly talented individuals of the autistic community, Hoffman turned to not-for-profit organization, Melwood, for help. With more than 1,600 employees – nearly 1,000 of them disabled – Melwood is one of the largest US employers of people with disabilities and is a leading advocate in its space.

KPMG and Melwood jumped straight into this new opportunity and started actively collaborating with one another to produce an innovative pilot program that is already attracting interest. For example, a KPMG framework was recently chosen by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help create employment opportunities for people with disabilities and KPMG is focusing on the estimated 5.5 million autistic adults living in the US today.1

“We were thrilled to be chosen for such an important initiative. We submitted a proposal to create opportunities for neurodiverse individuals by scaling up the program we started with Melwood at KPMG and making it replicable among companies that today are in critical need of new skills and talent,” says Hoffman. “As a result of our HHS engagement, an industry council has also been established to inform and promote our model and it includes CIOs, CHROs and other leaders from major global organizations.”

1Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/features/adults-living-with-autism-spectrum-disorder.html

‘Amazing strengths to offer’

The experts at Melwood helped KPMG develop a solution based on Melwood’s 14-week abilIT program of technical IT instruction, soft-skills training, job search assistance, placement, and on-the-job coaching. The program provides participants with the confidence, credentials, and skills to land entry-level technology jobs.

“Like so many businesses today, we’ve faced significant challenges in the current war for talent and the need for people in critical areas such as IT, as well as the ongoing need to support diversity in the workplace,” explains Hoffman. “The reality is that people with autism have amazing strengths to offer and we wanted to find a way to apply those strengths to today’s workplace needs.”

Melwood worked closely with KPMG to develop a program that can position participants to “hit the ground running” in exciting job opportunities, says Hoffman. He stresses that a key insight at the outset was the pressing need to address the hiring challenge as a crucial business issue, rather than merely a corporate responsibility initiative.

“We are approaching this as a business problem first and that meant changing the way we tackle the situation.”

Tapping into critical skills and talent

It is estimated that more than 350,000 positions2 in cyber security alone are going unfilled today. According to the Autism Institute, two-thirds of young people with autism are currently unemployed. 

Marni Puente, a Senior Director who leads marketing for KPMG Commercial Advisory business in the U.S. works with Hoffman’s team on this initiative. She notes that an estimated 80 percent of the global adult population3 with autism is either unemployed or underemployed today. 

“It’s a staggering number and the reality is that people with autism can be delivering incredible capabilities and skills in IT, cyber security, data and analytics, blockchain and beyond,” says Puente. “Their talents are being underutilized to such a large degree.”

Brian Callahan, a graduate of Melwood’s training program, attests to the difference that KPMG is making to close today’s autistic employment gap and open new opportunities for talented neurodiverse people like himself. Callahan taught himself several programming languages while working jobs that included stocking shelves. Even with his newly self-taught skills, he struggled to find an appropriate position that aligned with his expertise and experience. 

Today he is a KPMG quality assurance associate working on a large initiative within the KPMG Federal Consulting Practice in Virginia, which will see the roll out of a modern government cloud capability. 

2 https://melwood.org/abilit/for-employers

3 https://www.un.org/development/desa/newsletter/dialogue/2015/04/14212.html

‘Seeing a light at the end of the tunnel’

“When I received the job offer from KPMG, it was like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and I am very grateful both for this chance to apply my skills and for all of the support that I have received along the way at KPMG,” Callahan says.  

“Brian has truly earned his position and everyone’s trust through his hard work, technical skills and communications capabilities,” says Mark Patterson, Director, Federal Consulting, KPMG in the US. “He is a valuable team member who will have continued success in the future.”    

Hoffman and Puente agree that their work to bring skilled talent into the workforce has been immensely rewarding and they are excited for what the future holds.

“As someone with a son on the autism spectrum, it’s incredibly gratifying to be making a difference for his future and the future of others,” says Puente. “This innovative initiative is perhaps the most rewarding that I have ever participated in. We are having a real impact in meeting business needs, addressing socio-economic issues and promoting workplace diversity and inclusion. Organizations have so much to gain by employing people with neurodiverse backgrounds who can contribute unique perspectives.”

Adds Hoffman: “And as a father of someone with autism, I am so proud of what we are doing to make a real difference. I’m extremely grateful to be part of this amazing initiative and I know we can certainly do more in the future. We’ve developed a model that’s replicable, and that will be key as we look at how to scale this to go beyond KPMG and ideally involve employers and employees worldwide.”  

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