BUSINESSES GET SCHOOLED: Businesses across the state are teaming up with local schools and teachers to give students a glimpse into potential careers and provide opportunities to neurodiverse populations.

 
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The round table was hosted by Credit Suisse and sponsored by Credit Suisse and Lenovo. The transcript was edited for brevity and clarity.

WHAT'S GOING ON AT NORTH CAROLINA BUSINESS COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATION?

SULLIVAN The committee for the last three years has been focusing on work-based learning. Our oldest program is Students@Work. It started in 2009. It is a middle school career awareness program where young people go to businesses across the state in March and learn what those businesses do. This year, we had 48,000 students participate in Students@Work. We also have Teachers@ Work, which is our teacher externship program where teachers spend either three days or a week in a local business learning what they're teaching and the opportunities for their students outside of school. We also have Ready, Set, Appl, which is our brand-new statewide app challenge sponsored by Lenovo. That is launching this school year.

And the last thing I'll talk about is LiNC-IT. That stands for "Linking Inclusion for Innovative Talent." It is an internship program for individuals on the autism spectrum, and we targeted information technology at first, but engineering and some other sectors wanted to join in. It gives individuals who have hard skills in computer science or engineering the ability to have an internship with support in a business where they can practice their social skills, get accustomed to working in a dynamic situation. It allows employers to work with a new source of talent.

Only 14% of individuals on the spectrum are employed, and half of these individuals have an average or above average IQ. It's a huge source of talent for businesses looking to tap into neurodiversity--folks that are thinking differently--and bring really strong skills to the workplace. It also is a great opportunity for individuals who are on the spectrum to get rewarding jobs.

SPEAKING OF NEURODIVERS1TY, RO, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PROGRAM YOU'RE WORKING ON?

LISSENDEN We met Caroline in the middle of 2018, and together with my HR business partner, we thought this sounded interesting. We have a large workforce here, and half of that is IT. So we have a lot of different IT roles, and like everybody else, we retire and sometimes struggle.

We hired one person through Caroline's organization. It turned out to be awesome. They were so productive and fit in really well and converted to permanent. And then we did a second hiring day earlier this year and took on another six. They have been named through the apprenticeship program, and we've converted two more of those. And then yesterday, we did another hiring day and interviewed another eight for another couple of roles. We're learning there are things to do to set up [the LiNC-IT program at our company] well and set interns up for success, but we're very, very happy with the results.

SULLIVAN Great things can come from people who have a disability. The benefits that their different way of thinking can bring to your organization are enormous. Harvard Business Review did a robust study of SAP, Microsoft and HP on the West Coast and the productivity of their neurodiverse employees--not just in the productivity of the individual, but also...

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