March 31, 2021

Inclusive workplaces the focus of new workforce-ready program for Autistic youth

EDMONTON – Autistic youth, government dignitaries, industry, and post-secondary officials from across Canada were on-hand Wednesday to celebrate the launch of Autism CanTech!

The program is a three-year, Canada-wide program aimed at empowering Autistic youth to gain long-term, meaningful roles in the digital workforce and helping employers create inclusive workplaces. Autism CanTech! was launched ahead of World Autism Awareness day on April 2, 2021.

Attendees at the event learned about the program and had the opportunity to view the central facility located on NorQuest College’s downtown Edmonton campus. The centre will host cohorts of up to 30 program participants per term in an autism friendly space designed in consultation with Autistic adults. The space is a program resource that comes complete with assistive technology and physical spaces custom-built to support the program and its participants in workshops, skill development opportunities, employment connections, mentorship programming, and larger community connections.

“Every young person deserves a chance to succeed and move forward in their career,” says Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.” By taking bold action and thinking outside of the box, our government is ensuring that Canada’s recovery is inclusive and sets up young Canadians, especially Canadians on the autism spectrum, for success. NorQuest College is a fantastic example of how a community organization can work with the Government of Canada to create long-lasting change in the lives of young people on the autism spectrum. When we make the tools and opportunities available to young Canadians, we not only help them build long and fulfilling careers but also strengthen our economy.”

Developing skills for tomorrow’s economy

Autism CanTech! helps Autistic youth learn entry-level employability and technical skills for the digital economy in fields such as education, finance, government, software, or healthcare. This unique program takes a holistic approach to making employment in Canada more accessible and inclusive by working with both Autistic youth and employers to offer learners an education tailored to their individual needs. By working in small class environments to develop practical and job-transferable skills, Autistic youth develop the employability and technical skills that they need to succeed in the workforce.

“Autistic youth have much to contribute to the digital economy,” says Carolyn Campbell, President and CEO, NorQuest College. “But, despite their interest and abilities, they are often excluded from full participation. We’re so proud to work with partners from across Canada to develop and launch the Autism CanTech! program and help create pathways for graduates to contribute to the workforce, on their own terms.”

The three-year pilot project funded by the Government of Canada’s Economic and Social Development Canada Youth Employment Skills Strategy (ESDC-YESS) will take place at sites in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario. Participants graduate after four months of coursework and two months of work experience in which they are supported by innovative assistive technology and one-to-one career coaching.

While many businesses want to build diversity and accommodation into their workforce, they often lack the support and know-how to incorporate the unique skills of Autistic youth. Employers participating as work experience providers will receive tailored training and support in the use of assistive technology, employment practices, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), and gain motivated entry-level employees with technical skills, employability skills, and unique perspectives to contribute to the workplace. This effort represents a two-fold approach to addressing the underemployment of Autistic youth by focusing on program participants and employers.

"Technology North is very excited to be a leading partner on the ACT! project,” says Ling Huang, President and CEO of Technology North Corporation.  “The outcome will create a successful example of quality, sustainable employment in the digital economy for youth on the autism spectrum, improving quality of life, independence, and raising the happiness of Canadian families.”

The program is full for its Spring 2021 cohort, but applicants, employers interested in participating, and other stakeholders are encouraged to visit NorQuest.ca/autismcantech or contact autismcantech@norquest.ca for future opportunities, including Fall 2021 program delivery.

The Autism CanTech! partners gratefully acknowledge program funders ESDC-YESS and their support in addressing barriers faced by youth in the labour market.

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