Autism at Work, a collaborative effort between AFMC and Wright State University, is approaching its third year. It is designed to give the college student, or recent graduate, the opportunity to gain work experience in a paid summer-intern work program as an Air Force civilian
“Autism at Work is a one of a kind initiative with the power to launch a student or pending graduate into a work environment which might be otherwise out of their reach,” said Kristine Billings, AFMC Affirmative Employment Program strategic advisor.
Wright State provides the number of students who fall on the autism spectrum and have an interest in pursuing an internship and pairs the student’s education with the available summer Air Force civilian positions.
The AFMC Workforce Recruitment Program recruits a mentor for each intern.
“We like to pair each participant in the program with a mentor who has a relationship with autism, meaning there is a family member, co-worker or friend with the condition,” said Rebecca Traynor, Human Resources Disability program manager.
Mentors are not a requirement of the Workforce Recruitment Program, but ‘something we like to do’ Traynor said.
Throughout the program, the intern works with an experienced mentor who has agreed to invest extra time to smooth challenges for the new worker with the autism challenge. This could mean anything from explaining tasks in greater detail, to providing instructions more times than might be required of another intern.
Traynor explained that working for the federal government versus the civilian realm is very different and can be daunting. Some interns are not familiar with the many facets of federal service or a military installation. Therefore, a mentor contributes to the positive experience for the intern.
“It’s satisfying for the intern and the mentor when the supervisor can say, ‘I really like this intern’s work ethic’ and would like to make this a permanent position to extend past the initial summer hire,” Traynor said.
The AFMC Workforce Recruitment Program is starting to recruit for 2021 summer intern positions now by polling organizations to determine which have a need for interns and are prepared to make the greater commitment of providing an opportunity for a student who falls on the Autism spectrum.
The Autism at Work program is funded through the Workforce Recruitment Program, an internship initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Defense. Candidates with disabilities have the chance to work in offices in the Department of Defense at no cost to the organization.
Summer intern positions run from June through September.
The Air Force currently has a 1.57% participation rate of individuals with targeted disabilities, which is approaching, but still short of, the federal goal of 2%.
“Autism at Work currently only exists on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but we are hoping other bases within the command will use the model and pick up the program,” Billings said.