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Collaboration matches unique candidates with jobs on Wright-Patt

During April, Air Force Materiel Command partnered with Wright State University to launch the Autism at Work Initiative for recent college graduates who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

This initiative is a year-long internship program that is fully funded by the Department of Defense. It has opened up hiring opportunities on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for 20 candidates from Wright State.

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“Wright State is one of the largest universities in the country to host students with disabilities,” said Molly Fore, AFMC human resources specialist. “What we’re doing in our partnership with Wright State is giving these individuals an opportunity for a career that they wouldn’t normally have in the private sector.”

Individuals on the autism spectrum often face difficulty navigating social situations, such as the interview process during a job search.

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According to Fore, often autistic individuals are not given the chance to perform in any job capacity because they cannot get past the interview process. To overcome this obstacle, AFMC and Wright State developed a specialized interview method.

During the past two months, AFMC management met with potential candidates to interview them for positions on base. The interviews were structured differently from typical government interviews.

The interviews were held in the Wright State office of disability services – an environment that the graduates were familiar with. The interviews were organized as an open dialogue between the candidate and the interviewer, instead of a structured question-and-answer format. These adaptations helped make the candidates feel comfortable in the situation.

“This group of individuals have a lot to overcome with social cues,” said Fore. “They might not be comfortable shaking someone’s hand or looking them directly in the eye the whole time like in a normal interview. So what we wanted to do was break down some of those barriers.”

The interview process was successful with 14 out of the 20 applicants already hired across Wright-Patterson AFB, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, National Air and Space Intelligence Center and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

Many of these graduates received degrees in engineering and finance, with one in mass communication.

The candidates possess unique skillsets that will benefit their workplaces, explained Fore. As they begin their work, they will have mentors come alongside them to assist with any challenges they might face.

The mentors, who are volunteers from Wright-Patterson AFB, and the supervisors who will be working with these candidates attended training sessions in June. These sessions helped educate them on how to communicate and what to expect from the new employees.

The candidates themselves attended a training session in July to ensure they are familiar with installation protocol.

According to Fore, the initiative has proven to be a success so far. AFMC hopes to expand the program to include other local universities or installations under AFMC in the future.

If interested in becoming a mentor or in learning more about the Autism at Work initiative, contact Fore at molly.fore@us.af.mil.

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