Are people with autism the answer to some employers facing labor shortages?

One Omaha nonprofit works to find jobs for people on the spectrum
One Omaha nonprofit is bridging the gap with young job seekers who are on the autism spectrum.
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 4:49 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Orlando Gonzalez monitors manufacturing facilities for Security Equipment, Inc. in Omaha. He goes through still images and ensures that everything is safe and up to code.

“I basically be on a computer all day. And do a very simple but important job for customers,” said Gonzalez.

For some, it can be repetitive and tedious: clicking through hundreds of pictures of buildings a day, looking for anything wrong. For Orlando, it’s calming. The opposite of his previous work experiences.

“My first job was as store clerk at a thrift store. I worked there for several months, but I decided I wanted to switch over to something else because it was proven to be too stressful for me.”

Orlando was diagnosed with autism before he was five years old. The constant communication with customers was difficult for him to manage.

“My childhood has been pretty tough. I just couldn’t relate to other kids that well…It was a communication barrier in a sense. An emotional barrier too,” he said.

At 22, he’s found a job that fits. He’s been working at SEI since July. It was with the help of one Omaha nonprofit’s workforce development program called Prosper Workforce Services.

The organization, Autism Action Partnership, works with 20 employers across the metro area to match job seekers on the spectrum with job openings. Some of the companies they work with are Blue Cross Blue Shield, Werner Enterprises, Hy-Vee, Streck, Oriental Trading Company, and SEI.

The security company was having a hard time filling the role that Orlando now does. That was when they reached out to Autism Action Partnership.

“We had reached out to AAP to see if they had anyone within their workforce development that was looking for a slower-paced job but consistent. Because we had the need for that,” said Ashley Stargel, vice president of HR at SEI.

The nonprofit assesses the needs of a company and the strengths of its clients on the spectrum.

“Individuals with autism typically prefer a routine. So some jobs that has the same kind of behavior, same expectations. Low sensory. Less curveballs,” said Justin Dougherty, president of Autism Action Partnership. “A lot of employers struggle with finding reliable, dependable individuals who will do high-quality work consistently...And that’s becoming somewhat of a sweet spot for our organization and our program.”

Each year the workforce development program helps employ 50-75 people on the spectrum. Their services are free. Right now, they have twelve job seekers eager to work.

And according to data from the CDC, there are expected to be more than 700,000 people on the autism spectrum entering adulthood over the next decade in the US.

As numbers increase and labor needs persist, this program and others like it help bridge the gap.