The Final Flagship Event of DCAL Creativity Month considers the talents of people on the Autistic Spectrum for Digital Content and Film/Video Production roles

Keynote Speaker: Channel 4’s Adam Gee: Multi Platform Specialist, speaking on ‘Born Risky’: how Channel 4 sets about being risky and pushing the diversity envelope and how its worked for Channel 4 changing people’s perception of diversity.

NOTE: April is World Autism Awareness Month and this year’s theme is Employment the Autism Advantage

Arts Council of Northern Ireland and DCAL commissioned Specialisterne NI to host the final, flagship event of Creativity Month in N Ireland.

Specialisterne NI is an innovative social enterprise that identifies talented people on the Autistic Spectrum and matches them to IT roles. As part of the Specialist People Foundation, Specialisterne NI contributes locally to the global aim of securing one million jobs for people on the Autistic Spectrum. Specialisterne acts as a recruitment consultancy that identifies and assesses talent for certain job roles. What makes Specialisterne different is the time invested in assessment and support, with Lego Mindstorms building workshops providing insight into skills and areas benefiting from support in relation to task, team and self-management prior to securing a job, and support provided to the new employee and company representatives for a mutually agreed period in the new role.

Since its launch in April 2014, Specialisterne NI have identified 120 people who are on the Autistic Spectrum and who have the skills and talent for IT and creative roles. Traditionally Specialisterne has been associated with IT jobs such as Software Testing and Software Development. Specialisterne NI has recently completed a government pilot supporting 4 participants on the DEL Software Test Academy who are on the Autistic Spectrum. All 4 participants have secured job roles.

A significant number of people on the Autistic Spectrum approaching Specialisterne NI have expressed an interest in Creative roles. Specialisterne has noted that the specialist qualities of advanced memory, pattern recognition and a mathematical or systemising approach to detail, can often see expression across in creative fields, and not just IT. It is not unusual for a candidate to have skills in art, web development, and languages. When consulting with representatives of the Digital Content and Film Production Sectors, many roles within the sector require creativity and attention to detail, a skills combination which is common among Specialisterne candidates, with the systemizing qualities identified as strong among people on the Autistic Spectrum by Simon Baron Cohen, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, adding considerable value to creative sector roles.

DCAL and the Arts Council commissioned Specialisterne to hold an event: ‘Perspectives’ at the Skainos building where Specialisterne NI is based. The event was aimed at starting a dialogue between companies in Digital Content and Film/Production Sectors and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum who have an interest in and talent for certain roles in the sectors.

Over 200 guests attended, including representatives from digital content and film production companies, as well as University staff and young people and adults on the Autistic Spectrum from all over N Ireland.

On the day, the audience gained insight into the systemizing abilities of people with Autism by attempting to order slide puzzles of artwork by local Artist Elvin Simpson, who is on the Autistic Spectrum.

A video of Specialisterne’s Lego Mindstorms Assessment was shown. Lego bricks are used by the company in the initial stages of working with autism spectrum individuals – they are used as a tool to observe the person’s ability to be analytical, to complete a job and to work with others.

Keynote speaker Channel 4’s Adam Gee spoke on ‘Born Risky’, discussing Channel 4’s constructive questioning of the status quo, which is about asking the difficult questions and being the grit in the oyster. Adam referred to the recent launch of its 360 degree Diversity Charter which is about mainstreaming diversity within Channel 4. He commented ‘Diversity is integrated into the programmes it is not kind of stuck on and similarly it is integrated into the organisation it is not stuck on. In short diversity is a real competitive advantage. The conclusion of figures from McKinsey Management Consultants s if you have a proper gender mix you are 15% more likely to perform better financially and then when it comes to ethnicity you are 35% better to outperform financially. So it’s not a woolly thing this at all, it’s a hard edge business thing.’

Nigel Newbutt of Bath Spa University discussed the business case for the industries that creative industries have been booming for some time, bucking the trend of the recent recession and that rather than having peaks and troughs it has been increasing for a long time with 1.68 million jobs in the Creative industries in the UK in 2012. More recently it was reported that 1 in 18 jobs in the UK are related to the creative industries. Nigel commented that the routes into the sector tends to be through Apprenticeship schemes, a degree, GCSE/A level or through connections/ networking. 60% of employees in the creative sector holds a degree, which may have been acquired post entry. Degree subjects may be English, History or one of the increasing number of related degrees. ‘This is an evolving and developing and changing sector and in 3-4 years of a degree things can change a lot so I think having the ability to be agile to be able to spot trends and see where things are moving and plan as you work through the degree process or a training process of any type that you start to specialise towards the end of that process so you are well positioned to move into industry’

Consultant Psychologist Jo Douglas commented on how the developmental pathway of Autism may lend itself to greater creativity and diversity within the Autistic Spectrum.

Sharon Didrichsen, Manager of Specialisterne NI commented on videos of Alex Plank, a successful filmmaker and founder of website www.wrongplanet.net who is on the Autistic Spectrum, and introduced profiles of talented people on the Autistic Spectrum in NI with skills for Digital Content and Film Production roles. ‘Sharon commented ‘Autism is a social communication difference, it is seen in moments of interaction. That is why talented people on the Spectrum across N Ireland may face barriers to securing work as that difference may be seen in interview. When assessed by interviewers who are not aware of that difference, the person on the Autistic Spectrum may be assessed incorrectly. An individual with Autism may look away to consider a question, and therefore not looking can indicate interest, whereas in N Ireland, a different conclusion such as lack of interest or engagement can be made. It is our privilege to work with individuals on the spectrum and potential employers, to inform regarding Autistic Culture and then support for the initial period, which for many of our candidates is all that is needed to start their career well.’’

Lorraine McDowell, Director of Operations, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said; “The Arts Council is pleased to support this innovative event, by Specialisterne NI, through the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.  The creative industries are vital to the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and this event celebrates the role that people on the autism spectrum can offer to the sector through their unique talents and abilities.”

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