The fact that someone is diagnosed with a so-called autism spectrum disorder, specifically Asperger’s syndrome, does not have to mean that this person cannot carry out qualified work. This is what the people at SAP Services realised and they decided to launch a completely unique programme called Autism at Work. This programme is based on a revolutionary approach to recruitment, education and employment of people with this diagnosis and the results are very inspiring. The SAP Services Company currently provides job opportunities to people who would otherwise be dependent on their families or the state, while revealing a talent pool, which would otherwise have not been recognised.
Let us begin with the story of Lenka Havrdová, who now works for SAP Services in Prague in the Data Management Department, where her task is to support the SAP employee recruitment process in South America. It was not easy for her to find a job: “I didn’t have much experience in looking for a job, because I become very anxious when I have to communicate, which made it difficult for me to apply for a job. I always stood in front of the door and tried to gather the courage to knock on it,” she says. And this is crucial for this project, which concerns employees who have no difficulty working, but find it extremely difficult to apply for a job and communicate with the personnel officer. For example, they frequently avoid eye contact and their behaviour seems quite unconvincing to someone who is not familiar with their problem.
Specially adapted interview process
This is why we at SAP Services decided to modify the interview process so that people with the aforementioned diagnosis could manage it, while clearly demonstrating whether they would be suitable for a specific job or not. We developed a game-based interview process in cooperation with the Danish Specialisterne Company. Applicants were provided with a children’s Lego set and were assigned a specific task – for example to build a robot for helping older people. The project encountered problems from its launch; the entire interview process initially lasted several months, which was very stressful for candidates with an autism spectrum disorder. This is why it was modified in cooperation with the National Institute for Autism (Nautis) and it now works as flexibly as the interview process for normal candidates.
I work with others
Employees with this handicap are employed in the same positions for which normal candidates would also be chosen. They share offices with other colleagues, with whom they can carry out various work tasks and with whom they can also share a life outside work, and do not receive, nor do they require, any advantages, apart from regular support from Nautis. Lenka Havrdová cannot praise the team enough, “My colleagues are lovely and support me. Employment at SAP Services means that I am a member of a great team.”
One per cent of employees
The idea, which originated in 2013 at the German SAP headquarters, was applied for the first time to employees in other than IT positions in the Czech Republic. In other countries in which this programme has been implemented, e.g. in the United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Ireland and Germany, it chiefly focused on IT. Eight people are currently employed within the terms of this programme at SAP Services in Prague. However, the Company would like to continue recruiting employees with autism spectrum disorders and employ one per cent of its people with this diagnosis by 2020. This percentage corresponds to their overall percentage of people with this disorder in the population.
Inspiration for the business services sector
“There is currently a significant shortage of talented people on the job market today. Companies, who wish to maintain their leading position, must therefore also seek talents from relatively new areas and sources. Our Autism at Work programme makes such a source available and results in benefits and a positive effect not only in relation to our organisation, but also in relation to all the people working for it. I believe that our innovative approach to recruitment and education of handicapped people can be very inspirational for other companies in the business services sector,” Andrea Hepnerová, Director of SAP Services, concluded.