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A Rare Inside Look into an Autism Hiring Program Between Manager and Employee

Alison Eveleigh  |  05/12/2019

A manager and employee in the Rise@DHHS program share how they have successfully navigated their working relationship.
Sensory garden museum.

Inside the Rise@DHHS Program


Many companies shy away from hiring autistic or neurodivergent staff because of a lack of knowledge on how others have managed the same experience. In this exclusive interview, NeuroWork speaks to a manager and employee in the Rise@DHHS program about how they have successfully navigated their working relationship, in an effort to demystify the difficulty of hiring and retaining talented autistic staff. 

Chris Hofmann Alternative
Chris Hofmann

Manager, Records Management at the Department of Health & Human Services, Victoria

Louise McKenzie
Louise McKenzie

Data Analyst at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria

NeuroWork: Louise, what is your role and responsibility at DHHS?

Louise: I started in the Victorian Government in July 2017 with the Rise program. We had an alternative recruitment process, so instead of interviews, CVs and key selection criteria we had a three-week assessment using Lego robots that you could program. We also did the tasks of the role. You do the job that you do during that assessment process.

Then, from there, in February this year I moved to another department using a smaller version of that process. We just had a week doing the work we would be doing as opposed to the robots. That was a week-long instead of three weeks long.

I was a records officer, now I am a data analyst and I am also the chair of the Autism Success Network, which is a Victorian Public Service-wide self-advocacy group for people on the spectrum. We are working on recruitment, workplace culture and progression within the Victorian Public Service. We are developing our skills and finding more challenging roles as we go along.

NeuroWork: Louise, what is your role and responsibility at DHHS?

Louise: I started in the Victorian Government in July 2017 with the Rise program. We had an alternative recruitment process, so instead of interviews, CVs and key selection criteria we had a three-week assessment using Lego robots that you could program. We also did the tasks of the role. You do the job that you do during that assessment process.

Then, from there, in February this year I moved to another department using a smaller version of that process. We just had a week doing the work we would be doing as opposed to the robots. That was a week-long instead of three weeks long.

I was a records officer, now I am a data analyst and I am also the chair of the Autism Success Network, which is a Victorian Public Service-wide self-advocacy group for people on the spectrum. We are working on recruitment, workplace culture and progression within the Victorian Public Service. We are developing our skills and finding more challenging roles as we go along.

NeuroWork: How was the Autism Success Network started and how did you get involved?

Louise: The Enablers Network is a Victorian Public Service-wide self-advocacy network for people with disability. In 2017 they held their first ‘Meet the Secretaries’ event. The Enablers meet with senior leaders to tell their stories and build understanding and at the 2017 event we met Dr Leigh Kibby [a manager and an Enabler in the network]. Dr Leigh Kibby and Sean McPherson set to work establishing the Autism Network as people with autism have different barriers to employment to people not on the spectrum, so we thought it was important to establish a group to try to remove those barriers.

Chris: Sean McPherson is a Rise@DHHS participant who was like Louise and who started right at the start of the program. It was great to see the Rise participants when they started that they stepped up and started to be very active across our department and the wider Victorian Public Service to drive autism awareness. That was not part of any kind of description, it just happened. For them to actually be an important part of the establishment of the Autism Success Network was really great to see.

NeuroWork: What were your initial perceptions of the Rise@DHHS program?

Chris: From a management point of view, it took us about 6 months of intense work to establish and design the program together with Specialisterne. Our understanding of autism in the workplace was very limited and my perception was that we needed to spend a lot of time around the process design, around how the participants will work within the group and I think I over-engineered it. I also thought the level of support that would be required for the staff, my perception was that it was way bigger than it actually turned out to be. The complexity that I envisaged was much higher than it actually was. We had such a smooth transition from the assessment to the participants actually starting at the Victorian Public Service. We basically went from the assessment ending on the Friday to a high performing team on Monday. It was so smooth that the participants just started to be productive on day one, which was very unexpected.

Louise: Beforehand I didn’t really have a perception. I had done one Specialisterne workshop before, so I knew about the robots and the teamwork we do with the robots. During the assessment we got a good idea of what we would be doing, so when we started, I had a clear idea of what the role would be. It didn’t really change once I knew what it was.

Accessible Storytelling Augmented by Technology

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To build a knowledge network library designed to empower professionals with evidence-based accessible resources, augmented by artificial intelligence. 

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Equipping neurodivergent professionals, their support network and businesses with accessible resources to unleash their potential at work. 


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