Initiative hopes to find jobs for 50 autism sufferers
A new social enterprise has been launched in east Belfast to help create job opportunities in the IT sector for people with autism.
Specialisterne's aim in Northern Ireland is to help 50 people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) get professional jobs in the IT sector over the next five years.
It will provide assessment, recruitment consultancy and in-job support services from its base at the Skainos Centre.
Around 16,500 people work across 700 companies in Northern Ireland's IT sector.
According to a statement from Specialisterne, there will be an additional 2,300 new jobs each year in the ICT sector in Northern Ireland until 2019.
However, many companies are struggling to recruit suitable individuals.
Employment Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, attended the launch of the enterprise yesterday, which had the theme of uncovering talent for Northern Ireland's IT sector.
Dr Farry said: "As Minister for Employment and Learning, I am committed to helping employers create working environments that are inclusive and dynamic, reflecting the increasingly diverse society that exists in Northern Ireland today.
"This includes ensuring that people with disabilities and health conditions, such as those with autism, are provided with the opportunities to succeed in their chosen career."
He congratulated Specialisterne on its success after setting up in Dublin, and more recently in Belfast.
Specialisterne was founded in Denmark and has grown into an international movement to create 1m jobs for people with Asperger's Syndrome and high-functioning autism.
The name Specialisterne translates into The Specialists – which the organisation said represents the skills which people with autism can bring to IT companies.
According to Specialisterne, the skills range from pattern recognition to "focus and passion for detail, which are required in areas such as software testing and data conversion".
The Minister said the organisation had already formed links with employers from the IT sector and were already working with a number of candidates with autism to help them find employment.
He added: ""We need to ensure we have a talent pool available, ready for work and prepared to make their best contribution to the prospective employers in this industry."
The Minister encouraged employers at the event to get involved with Specialisterne and to enable people with autism or Asperger's Syndrome to get ahead in their careers and "provide the local ICT industry with a cohort of dedicated, loyal and top performing staff".
Specialisterne founder Thorkil Sonne said: "We are very excited about the opportunities for Specialisterne to showcase how people with autism can excel in the workplace given the right understanding and accommodation.
"Northern Ireland has welcomed our mission with strong support from key stakeholders and we are very much looking forward to working with a number of different partners to begin making a difference in the community."
The event also heard from Dame Stephanie Shirley, the founder of software company Xansa.