Looking for a job in the middle of a global pandemic is hard enough. For job seekers with autism, it can be even more challenging.
Just ask Jake Bennett, who graduated from UMass Amherst last year with a degree in mathematics. The Cohasset resident, diagnosed at a young age with mild Asperger’s, was struggling to find employment in the midst of the pandemic. Then his stepmother alerted him to a “60 Minutes” segment that highlighted a special hiring program at accounting and consulting giant Ernst & Young, tailored specifically for people like him.
As luck would have it, EY’s Boston office would soon host one of the firm’s “Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence,” or an “NCoE.” These programs at EY are designed to hire talented candidates whose cognitive differences — dyslexia, autism, or ADHD, for example — might hamper them in traditional one-on-one job interviews that rely on good social skills. EY also provides support to those hired through the program.
Bennett apparently made a good impression during a tryout week in November, and was hired in January. EY on Monday is announcing this new NCoE in Boston, which is being opened with a founding team of Bennett and nine colleagues.
“Everyone has been helpful and kind since day one,” Bennett said. “It’s not easy to start a new job, especially when it’s your first job and it’s in the middle of a pandemic. EY has done their best to accommodate me.”
Jane Steinmetz, the head of EY’s 2,300-person Boston office, said she’s excited about hiring more people like Bennett. EY started this NCoE concept five years ago, and Steinmetz said she has long wanted it to expand to Boston.
“It pains me to know that they struggle to find employment, because what they bring to the table is a differentiator for EY, for our clients, for our business community,” Steinmetz said. “I’m thrilled that we’re standing up one of these centers.”
When EY fully returns to the office, the NCoE participants will sit together and share a manager. But they’ll be integrated with other teams of EY staffers working on specific projects. Steinmetz said these individuals offer a different way of thinking, such as being able to quickly identify patterns — as well as breaks from patterns. “They’re able to take a client’s problem and come up with solutions that are nothing shy of amazing,” Steinmetz said.
Hiren Shukla leads the NCoE program for EY and launched it in Philadelphia in 2016. At the time, he was trying to think of new ways to drive innovation at EY and heard about an unrelated conversation within the firm regarding neurodiversity and became intrigued.
“I was listening to how these individuals are hard-wired to think differently, that they can often see things in patterns in ways that most of the population cannot,” he said.
Shukla said EY tries to avoid stigmatizing individuals by focusing on their underlying talent, and “calling out neurodiversity as a strength.”
EY is steadily rolling this NCoE concept out, with six of these centers so far in the United States, one in Canada, and two in India. More than 150 people have joined EY through these centers. The firm is seeking candidates to support EY teams in key functional areas such as analytics, process automation, and cyber risk identification.
EY also participates in regular discussions about best practices with three other major companies that have their own autism-at-work programs: Microsoft, SAP, and JPMorgan Chase. They launched the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, to broaden the scope of their efforts. Among the other Boston-area employers in the roundtable: Dell Technologies, Deloitte, Fidelity Investments, IBM, Salesforce, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Steinmetz hopes these efforts don’t stop with the roundtable companies. She said she is going to encourage EY clients to consider adopting the model as well.
As for Bennett, he’s already on to his first project, figuring out how to make a COVID-19 vaccine rollout more efficient for a county agency. (EY doesn’t typically disclose client names.)
“I feel really grateful that I was able to land such an amazing opportunity, and be at the forefront of this in the Boston area,” Bennett said.