Germany's job market needs IT specialists. People with Asperger's syndrome are often very skilled in this field, but companies shy away from hiring them. A consulting company wants to change that.
They often possess excellent expertise. Their strong point is logical and analytical thinking. And they are good at concentrating even when a task needs to be repeated time and time again. They are precise and care a lot about details. Companies should desperately be looking for this kind of employee. But most of them aren't - at least when these qualities are due to Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism.
There are some 250,000 Germans with Asperger's syndrome. They have the qualities companies are looking for, but the public job centres classify most of them as unfit for work.
Only 15 percent of people with autism have a steady job, mainly because they often have problems with social interaction.
"Nothing wrong with my school grades"
Tobias Altrock, who is 26 years old, has Asperger's syndrome. He had to quit school after the twelfth grade. Until November of this year, he was looking for a vocational training scheme.
"I kept on applying, but was never hired - even though they said there was nothing wrong with my grades," Altrock says. "My psychiatrist that in a job interview people notice that I am different and that I don't fit the mold of what is expected in the professional world."
Finally, in early November, Altrock was hired by Auticon, a consulting company in Berlin.
Auticon places people with Asperger syndrome as IT consultants with companies. Dirk Müller-Remus founded Auticon about a year ago. Prior to that he was a the director of a medical technology company. Müller-Remus' son has Asperger's syndrome.
Logic as a strong point
Many people with Asperger syndrome are good at quality management because of their structural, analytical and logical thinking, says Müller-Remus. As there is great demand for software testers, his consulting company specialized in training people with Asperger in this field.
Many applicants have already taught themselves a lot about IT. "Ever since I was about eight years old, I've spent a lot of time solving computer problems, like programming, hardware and software", Altrock says. "I am really good at everything that has to do with logic and algorithm."
Auticon also helps their IT consultants adjust to normal working conditions by offering them professional mentors. Elke Seng is one of them. In the beginning, she tries to find out what specific environment an employee needs, how the light should be adjusted, where to put the desk and what office temperature is best.
She then makes sure the workplace is perfect to make the employee feel comfortable. She also talks to colleagues and bosses about the exact nature of autism.
"A lot of them are afraid of people with autism," she says. "They're afraid of doing something wrong and harming them."
"We have to explain to the companies that the new employee is different," says Müller-Remus. "We have to tell them how he is different and what is the best way to communicate with him."
From IT to music
Similar companies like Auticon exist in other countries. In Germany, Auticon is the first of its kind. But surveys show that only 15 percent of all persons with Asperger’s syndrome are interested in IT, Müller-Remus says. That's why he's considering broadening Auticon's portfolio and hiring people with an interest in languages or music.
In any case, the autistic people thrive at Auticon, Seng says. "A while ago one of the new employees said to me 'I do not have to see my psychiatrist any more. I'm feeling great!"