April is World Autism Awareness Month and 2015’s theme is ‘Autism: the employment advantage’. This month also marks the start of new careers in Software Testing for four participants of the 2014/15 Software Testers’ Academy who are on the Autistic Spectrum, and who recently celebrated their success in securing job roles with leading IT Sector employers at the Software Tester Academy graduation hosted by Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry at parliament Buildings.
This year’s Software Testers’ Academy was unique in that Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) engaged the services of Specialisterne NI, to recruit four participants for the Academy from the Autistic population in N Ireland.
Specialisterne NI is an innovative social enterprise that identifies talented people on the Autistic Spectrum and matches them to IT Sector roles. It is part of the Specialist People group that began in Denmark in 2004 when founder Thorkil Sonne, an IT Manager at TDK Telecom, noted that his son Lars, who is on the Autistic Spectrum, was able to reproduce complex maps from memory. Thorkil started a company based on the premise that certain skills may exist at a more advanced level among the autistic population due to a different world experience.
The Software Testers’ Academy allows job seekers from a non-IT background to receive training at Belfast Metropolitan College or South Eastern Regional College for an intensive 10 week period, during which participants achieving the ISTQB Foundation Certificate, which is followed by a six week placement period in an IT company. At the end of the Academy participants are interviewed for a Software Tester role within their placement company. All of the Specialisterne participants have secured paid Software Tester roles.
Sharon Didrichsen, Manager of Specialisterne NI, comments: “It has been amazing to work with the DEL Assured Skills team, the Specialisterne participants, lecturing staff at the colleges and managers and teams in the host companies. We are delighted all four participants are now in Software Tester roles on graduate salaries. The NI Executive Innovation Strategy speaks of the importance of co-design of social solutions, government, corporates, and micro social enterprises working together to create solutions that start with the needs of people in N Ireland. We are excited to have been part of a pilot that has co-designed the needs of a talented group of people who have traditionally faced social and communication barriers to employment. By communicating Autistic culture, and providing repeated guided experiences to help overcome any communication barriers, companies are able to access the technical talent of the people that Specialisterne represents, and people on the spectrum are able to start their career well.”
Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, said. “Through the Assured Skills initiative, a joint DEL and Invest Northern Ireland programme, the Department had successfully completed three Software Testers’ Academies since 2011. However, after learning about Specialisterne’s work, I wanted to ensure that four places on the fourth cohort of the Software Testers’ Academy, which started in October 2014, should be dedicated to candidates identified by Specialisterne.
“All four candidates have now been offered a permanent role with local IT companies which is a fantastic outcome and is testimony to the dedication the team at Specialisterne, the further education colleges and companies involved in the Academy.
“Through the Autism Strategy, my Department is committed to increasing awareness and promoting opportunities to access and gain employment, training and life-long learning for people with autism and, through our partnership with Specialisterne this will contribute to the growth of our local economy. I wish the four graduates the very best with their future careers.”
In 2014 Chris Hyman, CBE commented at a Responsible Business conference in Belfast: ‘Innovation does not come from think tanks, innovation comes from diversity,..that is, diversity of thought.’ We believe that the different perspectives and thinking styles of talented people on the spectrum can enhance the creative and technical knowledge within a company and so it has been great to see that all Specialisterne participants have been offered job roles.’’