Youth with autism looking to find employment can enroll in a free program offered by Humber College that provides them with the skills they need to succeed in the digital workforce.
Humber’s Autism CanTech! (ACT!) program works to help youth with autism gain long-term employment while assisting employers who want to create inclusive workplaces. During the six-month program, participants will learn how to perform data processing for various businesses including those in the education, finance, government, software, and health -care sectors.
The program is free and available to those between the ages of 18 and 30.
Jonas van Walraven is enrolled in the program and is enjoying his experience. The mix of technical and employability skills he’s learned along with the career coaching have him feeling good about his prospects of finding a job once the program ends.
He’s looking forward to the work placement and says he’s learned quite a bit about Microsoft Excel. He added he was glad that he enrolled in the program and that he’s found it quite helpful.
“My skills with Excel have improved a lot,” said van Walraven, who lives in Ottawa and has been taking the program online.
Van Walraven said he wants to start working for a variety of reasons. It provides a sense of belonging and it will allow him to earn money which means, when he’s ready, he will be able to move out on his own and enjoy the independence that comes with it.
Lynn vanLieshout, manager of community projects, Community Outreach and Workforce Development at Humber, said students on the autism spectrum are underrepresented in the workforce and many just need the opportunity for skills training along with support to find employment.
Many of the students are brimming with untapped potential and have talents that aren’t being utilized in the workforce when they could be, said vanLieshout.
The first part of the program focuses on job-specific skills such as data processing, employability and communication skills as well as computer literacy. The program also provides a career coach to work with the students through weekly sessions to prepare them for their paid, two-month work placement and to find further employment at the end of the program.
“We’ve had students that just haven't been able to find jobs prior to attending the program,” said vanLieshout. “For these students, a big part of the program is helping them find an employer that's willing to give them some job experience and perhaps hire them on longer term.”
During their roughly 200-hour work placement, participants will develop their skills and increase their confidence while experiencing a professional work setting. It will help students build their network, add experience to their resume, and it can lead to a reference for further employment.
During the employability sessions, students will learn skills such as developing a resume and cover letter, how to prepare for job interviews, business communication, teamwork and collaboration as well as giving and receiving feedback, among other topics.
“The students who participate in this program get that first work experience that is so hard to obtain and then have something to put on a resume where they can say ‘I've actually been out there. I've had a job, I've performed well,’” said vanLieshout.
She added that another strength of the program is that it provides training for employers that want to learn how to employ and support those on the autism spectrum in their workplace.
The program is offered both in-person and virtually. The students are in the program five days a week for about three hours a day.
One of the nice things about the program, said vanLieshout, is that participants can come to campus and enjoy a post-secondary school experience if they want.
“Some of the students have commented that it's exciting for them to actually be on a post-secondary campus for the first time,” said vanLieshout.
ACT! is a Canada-wide project funded through the federal government’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. The program, which was designed by NorQuest College in Edmonton, is offered by Humber College, NorQuest and Douglas College in British Columbia.
For more information on the program, including how to apply, visit the Autism CanTech! website.