How To Increase Neurodiversity in Your IT Graduate Program

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Graduate programs are a mainstay of early career talent strategies for most larger organisations. However there is a growing shortage of skilled graduates entering the market every year.

In Australia alone the demand for Information & Communications Technology roles could result in a deficit of 65,000 candidates by 2023 according to the Group Executive of People for Telstra, Alexandra Badenoch.

Ms Bandenoch expects a national need for 100,000 graduates across areas such as software-defined networking, cyber security, automation and AI. Yet the projected number of graduates available for the Australian market is expected to be closer to 35,000.

It’s unlikely any single approach can solve this demand and supply mismatch. However, by building greater inclusion into your graduate hiring approach, you could shift the dial more in your favour.

Why Be More Neurodiverse Inclusive?

As we’ve already discussed, there is a current and future expected shortage of quality candidates at the graduate level across many technology disciplines.

By opening your graduate program up to a wider range of potential candidates, you have the opportunity to recruit from a larger pool of graduates. When some of those applicants come with specific capabilities that are often highly suited to a career in technology, your potential for truly impactful hires increases.  

I believe that the current shortage of capable and committed graduate talent largely excludes neurodiverse students who are inadvertently being excluded or eliminated early from many graduate programs. 

By adjusting the way you promote and run your graduate program, you can actively support a larger pool of candidates to apply and to be successful. When you consider that approximately 15% of the population could be neurodiverse, then that’s a large potential increase in your talent pool.

Companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Google have already seen the benefit of being neurodiverse inclusive and are leveraging the skills neurodiverse people bring to their businesses. There is, for a number of neurodiverse people, an affinity for the types of skills that can be highly useful in technology. 

How Can Neurodiversity Benefit Your Business?

Apart from the opportunity to increase your pool of potential talent, there are a number of quite specific benefits that many technology based organisations or organisation that have hired neurodiverse people into technology focused roles have been able to realise. 

A common characteristic of many neurodiverse people, is the ability to maintain their level of focus on a task for extended periods of time. This heightened focus is relative to the majority of neurotypical people. When you couple that with a preference for routine, structure and attention to detail there are a number of areas that commonly see great benefit from neurodiverse talent. 

Fields such as testing, coding and analytics benefit greatly from people who are able to stay focused on detailed tasks for extended periods of time. The attention to detail can also allow people to complete work with a very high degree of accuracy.  

Embracing neurodiversity could be especially lucrative in the technology industry, as many people with neurological differences such as autism possess special skills including pattern recognition, memory and mathematics. 

Dr Lawrence Fung of Stanford University noted that, "The big incentive that we have seen is that a lot of the time, these individuals think very differently, in this way, they really increase the level of innovation in companies.” 

How Can You Make Your Graduate Program Neurodiverse Inclusive? 

Unfortunately, many existing graduate programs don’t necessarily cater well for the needs of specific types of applicants. However, the good news is that making changes to be more inclusive do not need to be complex, costly or time consuming. 

Attraction

At the beginning of any recruitment journey is the promotion of the opportunity. This is no different for graduation recruitment programs.

The question though, is how do you distinguish yourself as an inclusive employer at this early stage of your graduate program? Consider the promotional materials that you’ll be using. Do they include the range of people that you would be looking to bring into your program?

This can work well for visible differences. What though, do you do when it comes to the invisible differences? Making clear statements about the way in which you offer adjustments to selection processes and how you support and value difference in the organisation can help. Stating clearly that you value neurodiversity and strive to be an inclusive employer can help with positioning with students.

Also consider how you could leverage existing staff or recent graduates who may represent those invisible differences. Having testimonials from these employees or having them present at on campus events for example can be a powerful indicator of your inclusiveness.

Finding a more direct path into particular cohorts via community groups (campus and non campus based), social media and the specialist support functions on campus can be another way to get your message in front of your target candidates.

Screening

How easily can your initial application form be completed? Are you asking for information that is not strictly required to assist in selection at this stage of the process?

Do you provide a clear and unambiguous opportunity for people to identify as having a disability, or requiring any form of adjustments or accommodations?

Do you outline where that information goes, who will have access it and how it will be used? This is often an area of concern for many people.

What initial screening processes do you rely on to select potential candidates?

Do you understand how particular groups may perform in cognitive tests or video interviews?

How accessible are the screening processes that you offer?

Do you provide guidance to candidates on how to access or request adjustments to these processes?

How readily can any third party providers supporting your process respond and accommodate these requests?

Do you have sufficient flexibility to cater for any specific candidates needs?

Selection

A common practice in graduate recruitment is the use of assessment centres. For a number of candidates you may be seeking to recruit, such as those who are autistic or have ADHD for example, you may be effectively excluding them with this approach.

Having an appreciation of the level of stress and anxiety these sessions can induce (in any candidate) and the impact that can have on their performance is important when it comes to being inclusive.

Having said that, there are a number of adjustments you could look to make to reduce the anxiety for these candidates. Providing details of the assessment activities, including the materials to be covered along with a detailed outline of the session are simple changes to your approach.

Ensuring assessors understand how various people may perform in an assessment centre situation and are able to calibrate their ratings accordingly will ensuring you’re getting closer to an apples to apples comparison.

I say closer, as the ability for assessors to effectively put aside their natural biases and to avoid a direct comparison to other candidates is challenging to say the least.

Following the same theme, group interviews or panel interviews could be compared to assessment centres in terms of the challenges and tweaks you may make for a range of potential candidates.

Be clear on what you are looking to assess and how the format of the assessment reflects a true evaluation of the capability in a real workplace setting. Limiting assessment activities to focus on the core capabilities that are required for success and designing those activities around the needs and learning styles of your candidates will give you greater insight into their abilities.

In Conclusion: incorporating inclusion of neurodiverse candidates in your graduate program will provide a positive ROI.

The value that can be derived from being more inclusive in your graduate program will outweigh any incremental effort required to adjust your approach.

The benefits

Increasing your access to a wider talent pool in a supply constrained environment and increasing the opportunities for improved innovation, creativity and productivity in your business.

The costs

Understanding how your current graduate program processes may be excluding these candidates. Making the incremental changes to improve your inclusion of autistic and dyslexic candidates and those with attention deficit disorder and other neurological differences.

The opportunities for growth, staff engagement and innovation far outweigh the effort required. The question remains though, when will you begin?


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