Rise@DHHS: A Manager's Perspective

Chris Hofmann  |  13/12/2019

Chris Hofmann, manager of DHHS, writes an opinion piece about the award-winning Rise@DHHS program in Australia.

Chris Hofmann is the Manager of Records Management at the Department of Health and Human Services based in Victoria, Australia. Here, he shares his views on the Rise@DHHS study.

The Rise at DHHS (RISE@DHHS) is a recruitment program which provides people on the autism spectrum sustainable employment options. It was established as a grass-roots campaign from within Corporate Services in the Victorian state government Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in 2017. At the time it was a first of its kind for the Victorian state government. 

The RISE@DHHS program began when three factors came together. 

  1. an executive who cared about disability employment, who wanted to make a real difference and had an attitude of ‘if we can, we should’ 
  2. a manager who had the skills and drive to design and establish it, to ‘make it happen’ 
  3. a commitment to use an already funded project to fund the program  

If any of those factors would have been missed, a grass-roots program like RISE@DHHS would have been difficult to establish. 

I strongly believe that any organisation delivers better and more meaningful services or products when their workforce reflects the community they serve. As an employee of government, we have a responsibility to ensure the best possible people be recruited for any given role.

People on the autism spectrum can bring unique skills and capabilities making them the perfect candidates to address a lot of requirements in and outside of government. It not only makes economic sense to recruit, on-board and support people on the autism spectrum; it is a competitive advantage to attract, hire and value autistic adults not only to Corporate Services, but to any organisation. 

We established the RISE@DHHS program to

  • identify and remove any barriers that hindered us to get the best people for our requirement 
  • be easily replicated in any organisation
  • shift the perception in the market that hiring people on the autism spectrum is just ‘too hard’.

Over 20 participants entered the program since 2017, today many of the participants have found other employment within our department or the wider Victorian government . Over that time, we’ve built friendships, had amazing success stories and had our challenges. 

My main take aways so far include 

  • Communicate often. Implement and consistently follow up on basic team management processes (e.g. meeting minutes, setting clear expectations, have regular one on one meetings and document processes).
  • Collaboration.  We couldn’t do it on our own, collaborating with a non-profit organisation like Specialisterne Australia provided critical support.
  • Embracing diversity. Everyone on the autism spectrum is of course different, so no one program or plan will ever cater for everyone.

A Lot More Needs to be Done

With 1 in 59 people on the autism spectrum (CDC, 2018) and a 59.2% unemployment rate (ABS 2015), a lot more needs to be done. 

To have unique recruitment programs like RISE@DHHS and the many other great specialised recruitment programs out there in the market, are crucial parts in this complex puzzle, but we have to be able to scale up. 

In my own opinion, employers have to work with recruitment agencies and other organisations to build support offerings for hiring managers and autistic candidates so that a role itself or the assessment process can either easily be adapted to attract autistic candidates, or support can be provided to candidates and people managers so that autistic candidates can compete for any roles in any organisations using the merit based system. 

Like life itself, not everything can be predicted and planned for, so we have to make it easier for autistic staff and people managers to get advice whenever required.