New Initiative to Create 50 Unique Jobs in IT Sector for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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  • A unique organisation was launched in Northern Ireland today with the aim of helping 50 people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) get professional jobs in the IT sector within the next five years.

    Specialisterne is a Danish organisation leading a global movement to create one million jobs for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. The name Specialisterne translates into The Specialists, which represents the unique skills that people with autism can deliver to IT companies including pattern recognition, focus and passion for detail, which are required in areas such as software testing and data conversion.

    Founded in 2004, Specialisterne has developed a unique approach to identify and develop the potential in high-functioning people with ASD, to provide initial support and establish business environments in which they can work comfortably.

    Specialisterne Founder Thorkil Sonne said:

    'We are very excited about the opportunities for Specialisterne to showcase how people with autism can excel in the work place given the right understanding and accommodation. Northern Ireland has welcomed our mission with strong support from key stakeholders and we are looking forward to working with a number of different partners to begin making a difference in the community."

    Stephen Farry, Minister for Employment and Learning commented: “As Minister for Employment and Learning, I am committed to helping employers to 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.

     “I would like to congratulate Specialisterne on their success since setting up in Dublin and more recently here in Belfast. I am aware that they have formed links with many local employers from the IT sector and are already working with a number of candidates with autism in an effort to help them achieve their employment goals.

     “My Department, primarily through the Disability Employment Service, is supporting more than 1,000 people per year through in-work support programmes, such as Work Connect, Workable and Access to Work.  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 IT industry in Northern Ireland is estimated to employ 16,500 people across 700 companies, including 100 international investors. It is predicted that 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.

    Specialisterne will provide a unique access point for companies to interface with ASD individuals that can help them with their IT skills shortages and ongoing projects.  There are many ASD young adults and individuals capable of taking up these positions if given assessment and support from Specialisterne.

    It is estimated that 1 in 88 people has an autistic spectrum disorder – that’s approximately 20,577 individuals in Northern Ireland. Only 15% of adults with autism are considered to be in full-time employment, but most are willing and able to work.

    Sharon Didrichsen, Manager of Specialisterne Northern Ireland said: “The IT sector in Northern Ireland is keen to recruit the best, most talented people regardless of label, the focus is always on ‘can the person do the job?' I represent some very talented individuals and I am excited by the opportunities ahead and for Northern Ireland to create a best practice model for the entire world to see.”

    Specialisterne Northern Ireland, based in the Skainos Centre in East Belfast, is a social enterprise and has been supported by Invest NI through the Social Entrepreneurship Programme. The organisation has already been in talks with several key IT firms in Northern Ireland.  Elsewhere in the world, companies like SAP, TDC, Nokia, Deloitte, CSC, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and many others have utilized the unique competences of ‘The Specialists.’

    The new organisation was launched by Dame Stephanie Shirley, whose software company Xansa was sold to Steria in 2007. Dame Stephanie, who is a leading philanthropist, founded The Shirley Foundation which is now one of the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK with well over £50m grants given. The Foundation has initiated and funded a number of projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms.

    Dame Stephanie said: “Britain spends over £30bn a year on autism, the vast bulk of which is in lost employment. I congratulate Specialisterne on its mission to get a million people on the spectrum into employment in the global IT industry.  It’s an excellent match of skills.”

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