How the autistic population could solve the tech industry’s biggest challenge


The neurodiverse population might not only help fill the skills gap, but bring a raft of unprecedented benefits – and big names like SAP and IBM are already taking note

While technology is transforming the way we work at what feels like an ever increasing pace, there’s one seemingly intractable problem holding it back: the tech talent crisis.

According to a recent study by Harvey Nash and KPMG, the tech talent shortage is at the highest level now than it has been since 2008. Skills in data analytics, cyber security, artificial intelligence and transformation are particularly scarce – and these shortages act as a bottleneck to growth.
Many businesses are already beginning to feel the pain from this. 65% of respondents to the Harvey Nash and KPMG survey said that hiring challenges are hurting the industry. Left without action, the issue will only amplify; according to research carried out by Korn Ferry in 2018, there will be a global shortage of 4.3 million tech workers by 2030. The United States, currently the world’s leading technology market, can expect to lose out on $162.25 billion (£130.6 billion)as a result. China, meanwhile, could miss out on $44.45 billion (£35.78 billion), and the UK will fail to realise almost 9% of the sector’s potential revenue.

Despite this burgeoning problem, there’s a large group of individuals that have the skills to fill these jobs, but that have been largely overlooked by the industry to date: the neurodiverse population, specifically those with autism.

An untapped talent pool
Autism affects more than one in 100 people in the UK, according to Autism UK, and it is estimated that around one in seven people (more than 15% of the population) are neurodivergent – a broad term that refers to people who have autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurodevelopmental conditions. “Unfortunately, unemployment and underemployment for these individuals can run as high as 80%,” explains Thorkil Sonne, the founder and chair of Specialisterne Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that is working across the world to help neurodiverse people achieve core functions in the labour market.

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