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The commercial case for workplace diversity is compelling. At BHP, our experience shows that our most inclusive and gender diverse teams perform better than the company average in areas such as safety, production, cost efficiency, employee engagement and mental health. While gender diversity is our top priority we are also investing time and money into other areas of diversity like neurodiversity.

A recent Curtin University study1 found that employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) outperformed their peers without ASD in terms of work ethic, attention to detail and overall quality of work.

These traits, combined with the ability to apply single focus for a large amount of time, make people living with ASD ideal candidates for roles within the technology sector, such as software developers and data analysts.

However, the stigma surrounding autism often prevents them from entering the labour market.

Over the past twelve months, BHP’s Perth Technology Hub has been collaborating with the Autism Academy of Software Quality Assurance (AASQA), the Australian Computer Society Foundation (ASC), Autism West and AIM Employment on a number of different programs designed to help integrate people with ASD into our workforce.

In January, seven students with ASD and a passion for technology began internships in different teams across our Perth operations – giving them a career development pathway and an opportunity to apply their university studies in a real-world context.

One intern is testing the software for an automated crew rostering tool that will soon be rolled out across our rail operations, another is designing and building an interactive version of our five-year plan, and another is helping the cybernetics team transform our wireless communications infrastructure.

In fact, the initial round of internships have been so successful that we have requests from across Technology for interns in other teams and we will be expanding the next round of the program.

We’re also sponsoring several high school students to study for their International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) certificates, which are internationally recognised by the technology and software testing sectors. Two so far have passed their exams with flying colours, with five others due to take their exams – read Song Yi Loo’s story here.
And in July last year, we began holding site visits at our Integrated Remote Operations (IROC) and Technology Remote Operations Centres (TROC) in Perth for younger students with ASD to give them early exposure to high-profile and accessible roles within the technology and resources sectors.

When children and young adults are first identified as being on the spectrum, it’s common for them to feel anxious, often scared, that they won’t have access to the same education, experience the same levels of independence, or enjoy the same career opportunities as their peers without a disability.

It’s not hard to see why.

Australia’s record of integrating people with a disability into the workforce has been poor – ranking 21st out of 29 OECD countries2 – and the participation rates for adults with ASD (aged 15-64) are as low as 42 per cent, compared to a rate of 83 per cent for those without a disability3.

More than 164,000 Australians (about one in every 150) are living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), representing a large, talented, willing and able section of the workforce

More than 164,000 Australians (about one in every 150) are living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), representing a large, talented, willing and able section of the workforce – 83 per cent of whom are below the age of 254 – which Australian businesses haven’t figured out how to tap in to.

Our collaboration with organisations and institutions within the autism sector is essential for the expansion of our inclusion and diversity program into areas of neurodiversity. This exposes us to diversity of thought, skills, experience and perspective that must endure if we are to become a successful digital organisation of the future.

1Autism in the Workplace
2OECD, Sickness, Disability and Work, Breaking the Barriers, page 51
3Australian Bureau of Statistics, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015
4Australian Bureau of Statistics, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2015

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