ACT! Blog

 

All About Autism CanTech

Where did the idea for Autism CanTech! come from?


The original impetus for Autism CanTech! came from Technology North’s CEO Ling Huang, whose 21-year-old son Brian has Autism, and for whom he developed the RoboCoach technology that facilitates communication between employers and Autistic employees. NorQuest College partnered with Technology North to launch Autism CanTech! because we share the vision of increasing opportunities for Autistic youth in the workplace.

Autism CanTech! is a federally-funded, national project created through NorQuest College in cooperation with Technology North, and funded by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy program. 

At its core, this project aims to understand the barriers to employment that exist for Autistic individuals between the ages of 18-30, as well as the barriers that exist for employers to diversify their workforce to include those with autism. To do so, the Autism CanTech! project was created which offers a 6-month 
program which consists of two months of employability training, two months of technical skills training towards a particular job category in the technology industry, and two months of paid work experience, with access to an Employment Transition Coordinator, should those work experiences not lead to full-time employment. 

 

What makes Autism CanTech! an exciting opportunity?


First and foremost, Autism CanTech! participants are gaining the skills and receiving the supports they need to become employed, all at no additional costs to them. 

But the unique perspective and supports that we offer makes this project standout. Some of these include:
  • Lived experience with Autism: There are a number of people on our team with lived experiences with Autism, so all of our curriculum and the supports we offer are created through that lens.
  • Training for Employers: Using the Social Model of Disability to inform the project, we look to change the environment that our participants are working in, not the participants themselves. To that end, every employer-partner we work with undergoes 5 hours of training (through a specific training module we created that gives them an overview of autism), the Assistive Technology we use, and some best practices when formulating tasks and task management for Autistic employees.
  • RoboCoach: An assistive technology created by Technology North, which is made available to Employer-Partners and our participants, and is designed to help with communication and task management. Not only are the participant and Career Coaches able to be involved, but also the participant’s parent or guardian if they wish. This team approach can help address any potential issues before they arise.
  • Career Coaches: In addition to the aforementioned employability and technology training, our program also offers Career Coach support. Coaches work in the classroom every Friday with our participants to develop the job search skills and tools they need, including resumes, cover letters, and interview skills, while also acting in a mentorship capacity, through monthly one-on-one meetings. When the work experience portion of the program occurs, Career Coaches also arrange “coffee chats” with the employer and participant to ensure the match is a good fit, and they help to facilitate and work through any issues either the employer or participant may have while the work experience is underway. After the work experience is completed, they also continue to be available to participants for any follow-up information, and to help them transition over to our Employment Transition Coordinator to help participants find full-time employment, should their work-experience not translate into a full-time position. 

How has Autism CanTech! impacted the people it's helped so far?


Both our employer-partners and our participants have been thrilled with the results to-date, with our employer-partners commenting to us that the support they receive from the project has helped them to become a more inclusive employer.

As for our participants, we can best show you the impact that it has had on their lives, by showcasing testimonial videos that were created in cooperation with two of the participants from our first cohort (who are both now working in full-time positions). This program has given them confidence and hope for their futures. 
 

Why is this project important for not only you, but for people with autism as well?


Less than 14% of those with autism are able to obtain employment, so we see this program as a crucial piece in the training and support needed to help develop and promote what we see as an undervalued pool of exceptional talent. We believe our program will not only prepare participants to fill gaps seen in the technical needs of employers across the country, and within the technology industry as a whole, but also prepare employers to gain a greater understanding of Autism, diversify their operations, and become more inclusive employers. 

Ultimately, we believe this work will support our participants to gain the type of employment that best fits their skill sets and needs, while at the same time opening up possibilities for all individuals with Autism to gain employment with employers who are more in tune with their needs and the gifts they bring.

 

What type of skill and employability training do the participants get? What kind of jobs open up for them?


Autism CanTech! participants learn office culture best practices, productivity tools, how to work as a member of a team, common protocols for meetings, email, and presentations, communication skills that include active listening, public speaking, and business communication, as well as other common practices that neurotypical individuals take for granted, but which need to be illuminated for those who are neurodivergent. 

Within our Tech Curriculum for the Data Analytics role, (one of three job categories for which curriculum has been developed), our participants learn data processing and records management, while also learning how to create and clean data sets, and create relational databases using the standard tools in the tech industry. 

 

What do you hope to see from Autism CanTech! in the future?


We are always looking for ways to enhance Autism CanTech! and make its offering resonate with participants and employers alike. Our goal is to continue providing this opportunity, while also expanding our role in making jobs within the digital economy more accessible for Autistic individuals. 

 

Is there anything else about Autism CanTech! you'd like to mention?


Autism CanTech! is a unique program, designed with the needs and experiences of autistic individuals always at top of mind. Not only are we building their skill sets, we’re also building their confidence to know that they have gifts and skills to bring into the world of employment. 
 

NorQuest College
Edmonton Campus

10230 108 St NW
Edmonton, AB T5J 4Z7
contact@autismcantech.ca
1.833.405.9919

Douglas College
New Westminster campus

700 Royal Avenue 
New Westminster, BC V3M 5Z5 
778.628.5823 

Humber College
North Campus

205 Humber College Blvd,
Toronto, ON  M9W 5L7
416.795.5561

Program information


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Treaty Acknowledgement

Amiskwac√ģw√Ęskahikan

The ACT! Program is honoured to teach and learn across many traditional and treaty lands including the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples of the QayQayt (KuhKite) and Kwikwetlem First Nations to the West; through the treatied lands and traditional territories of the Nehiyawak, Dene, Stoney Nakoda, Nakota Sioux, Tsuutina, Annishnabe, Metis, and Inuit; all the way to the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit in the Place of the Alders along the Humber River Watershed in the East. The Autism CanTech! Team is dedicated to ensuring that Indigenous voice is centered, honoured and respected. In this spirit, we invite you to reflect on your relationship to the lands on which you are currently located, and take action for positive change in your community in this time of reconciliation.