Employers Seeking STEM Students with Special Needs — STEM Careers
STEM careers

Employers Seeking STEM Students with Special Needs — STEM Careers

People with disabilities who want to pursue careers in STEM fields find themselves at an opportune time. 

Four years ago, the Federal Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the National Council on Disability (NCD) hosted a dialogue entitled Encouraging People with Disabilities to Pursue Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). It projected that the number of STEM jobs in the nation would increase 20 percent by 2018. However, it also found that individuals with disabilities still faced challenges in pursuing careers, and degrees in STEM, and were underrepresented in the STEM fields.

The three primary obstacles facing the special education problem concerning employment have been stereotypes, a lack of mentors, and the lack of comprehensive knowledge about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Despite this, STEM has enabled growth within the special education population through employment. There has been an increase in STEM companies hiring special needs employees. Among many STEM/Technology companies, individuals diagnosed with ASD have become a hiring priority. How did we get here?

Participants in the aforementioned dialogue offered some suggestions that likely paved the way. One such idea was to take advantage of high school and community college programs that recruit underrepresented groups into STEM courses, such as ones that included promising students with disabilities. Those same students were encouraged to pursue funding that more aggressively supports STEM studies and research.

Each year, STEM educators have placed more and more power in the hands of the students, fostering student-directed learning. They have created peer mentors to help people with disabilities in their studies and in their careers. It was discovered that some middle and high schools were channeling students with disabilities into remedial programs, despite showing promise in STEM studies. Tracking practices at those schools were carefully addressed.

STEM schools have been creating job-shadowing, internship and work experience opportunities for students. Now that major tech companies are making ASD hiring a priority, this will undoubtedly serve as a bridge between schools and employers. On their end, employers have created an alternative to the traditional interview process, where new programs use month-long workshops and mentorships to prepare candidates who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

In April 2015, Microsoft introduced an “interview academy,” otherwise known as The Microsoft Autism Hiring Program. Its goal is to hire people with autism for full-time positions. After partnering with two firms that assist with job training and support for people with an autism spectrum disorder, the company received thousands of e-mails, more than 700 resumes, and countless phone calls. Some messages simply thanked the company for creating such an initiative. Instead of a sink-or-swim phone or in-person interview, their approach is more like an interview “academy.” Potential hires are given a chance to demonstrate their skills in what is essentially part interview and part workshop.

The initiative has spread to the competition like wildfire, with a spirit of collaboration. When it comes to inclusiveness, competitors have been collaborative. When Microsoft set up its own autism hiring program, rival corporation SAP chose to share the experience and insights gained from its own Autism at Work campaign. For STEM educators, it is starting to feel as if a revolution is afoot.

The Gateway School an private special education school in New Jersey

Our Mission at The Gateway School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.

We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.541.4400, or request a tour of The Gateway School located in Carteret New Jersey, just minutes off of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ