May 19, 2024

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Annual autism job fair aims to help seekers, employers connect

3 min read
Annual autism job fair aims to help seekers, employers connect

Over a thousand people will log on for what’s dubbed the country’s largest autism job fair on Monday — and while one organizer is happy at the turnout, his ultimate goal is to get run out of business.

The Spectrum Works virtual job fair , which is in its 8th year, has helped bridge the gap between employers with questions and autistic people looking for work, co-organizer Neil Forester says.

Forester says the fair has helped hundreds of people across Canada get employed and help fill in labour shortages in Ontario. But he wants to see more employers get on board.

“We want to help people create careers,” he said. “I will say though, my hope one day is I don’t have to do this event, right. That’s the ultimate goal.” 

According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, the most recent for which autism-specific data is available, at least one per cent of Canadians 15 years and older are on the autism spectrum disorder, and only 33 per cent of them report being employed.

Nadira Badri, 35, got her first full-time job at the Spectrum Works virtual job fair in 2021.

Three years later, the Torontonian still works at CIBC as a verification officer. She credits the support of her mentors, family and friends who encouraged her to attend and land the job — and she hopes autistic job seekers get the same opportunity.

“A job fair is always good, but it’s also good when you have people who support you,” she said. “I’m grateful to have this job every single day.”

WATCH | Consider neurodiverse talent, autism job fair founders say to employers:

Job fair for Canadians with autism aims to help solve labour shortage

Amid a labour shortage across Canada, the founders of a job fair for people with autism are hoping more employers consider hiring from the neurodiverse talent pool.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair was hosted in-person, said Forester, the co-owner of Substance Cares, the Toronto-based charitable foundation that organizes the job fair.

But switching to a virtual format has actually helped to reach more employers outside of the major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, give autistic people in rural areas the chance to participate and prevent participants from getting overstimulated at in-person events, he said. 

“We have a community of almost over half a million people in Canada where, with given the right opportunity, the right education, the right skills and the right training, a good majority of those people can help fill some of those labour shortages,” said Forester.

“At the end of the day if we can’t get somebody employed, at least we can give them experience and, you know, hope.”

Fair gives mentorship opportunities, employer says

This year, there’s over 40 employers and nearly 1,500 job seekers registered to attend to learn more about jobs in government departments, IT or programming, hospitality and banks. Along with introductory roles, many of the jobs are also mid-career or managerial level, said Forester.

Many people are standing or sitting inside a conference room. Some are facing a screen at the end of the room.
Hundreds lined up to speak to employers at Spectrum Works’s third annual Autism Job Fair in 2019. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

EY Canada is one of the employers participating in Monday’s fair, and has done so for several years.

Tammy Morris, the accessibility and neuroinclusion leader at EY Canada, said they’ve hired two employees directly from the fair and many others through referrals from participating agencies. Her role includes developing workplace plans that include and accommodate the differences in how people’s brains work. 

Throughout the company, they’ve retained 95 per cent of all people hired through neuroinclusion initiatives, she said. 

“The numbers around the large number of job seekers with non-visible, visible disabilities and autism included is staggering,” she said, adding the fair also gives employers the chance to network with other like-minded organizations, and mentorship opportunities for job seekers. 

“We’re looking for talent.”

Meanwhile, Badri hopes all employers keep an open mind when it comes to hiring autistic job seekers.

And to people thinking about participating, she says: “Don’t shortchange yourself. Be open to what you can do.”

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