When Ryan Lloyd graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, he immediately began looking for a job. But the days passed waiting for emails or phone calls that never came. He knew job interviews weren’t his strong suit, but he felt sure someone would recognize his willingness to work hard.
When nothing panned out, Ryan got a job as a cashier at a local grocery store, but he knew he wanted to do something more. He wanted a job where he could be part of a team and be connected to something bigger. He knew he had something special to offer.
Ryan was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three. His mom worked to find the right resources for him in the local school system, tapping into public services and teachers who she felt understood both his gifts and his challenges. Though he was a good student, his grades didn’t always reflect it, and what confidence he had built as a young child slowly dwindled. “I have struggled at times to find an identity,” says Ryan, “To figure out who I am and how to be myself, especially when interacting with other people.”
So, when Ryan attended a rally for the Eagles Autism Challenge during his senior year, he was encouraged by the Kinney Center at St. Joseph’s University to find out about CAI’s Autism2Work program. The program’s professional IT training and support to prepare for a corporate job were things he knew he wanted to take advantage of.
In fact, Ryan was so determined to attend CAI’s Autism2Work Job Readiness Training (JRT) – despite the fact that it was an hour and a half from home – he convinced his mother and grandmother to travel with him from New Jersey to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the training took place. “I had something to prove,” he says. “It didn’t matter if I had to travel from out of town. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity in the most positive way possible. I wanted to show them who I was and what kind of employee I could be.”
At the JRT, Ryan quickly became known as “the mayor,” building camaraderie and positive energy among the group. His intellectual curiosity and ability to pick up new concepts were apparent almost immediately. The Autism2Work Program Manager, Wayne McRae, saw Ryan had potential from the beginning. “Ryan has tenacity. He wants to learn. He wants to know how he can contribute in a meaningful way – and that’s what we look for at the JRT.”
Taking place over eight days, the JRT gives associates the opportunity to explore their individual learning styles, the benefits of collaboration, different roles in IT, and various software platforms. “We had to build a robot,” says Ryan. “We had to interpret the instructions and assemble the parts with a partner. That’s when I started to get to know and appreciate my colleagues. But the highlight of the JRT was the toast exercise.”
The toast exercise teaches Autism2Work associates how to create a test case – in this scenario, writing detailed instructions for every step involved in making toast so someone unfamiliar with the process – “even someone raised by wolves,” Ryan says laughing – could follow them and be successful.
After the JRT, CAI offered Ryan a job as a Quality Assurance Analyst working to deploy SAP S/4HANA for a major pharmaceutical company. The company and CAI partnered in 2018 with the goal to implement a diversity and inclusion employment program for those with autism, tailored to the company’s culture and business needs. The pharmaceutical company knew Autism2Work would establish the right processes for recruiting, training, and integrating individuals on the autism spectrum into its workplace and make it easy to match qualified candidates for specific roles. And because many on the autism spectrum have particular strengths – including attention to detail, a preference for repetitive work, a high level of concentration, and superior problem-solving and pattern recognition abilities – the new Autism2Work team members not only filled a void in the company’s diversity program, they increased productivity for the IT team to which they were assigned.
“The Autism2Work team is an integral part of our SAP S/4HANA program delivery initiative,” says the company’s Digital Capability Manager, Enterprise SAP. “We strongly believe in providing opportunities to individuals with different abilities. We are happy this job has helped give Ryan an identity. We look forward to having Ryan and others on the team for the long term.”
The company understands that creating opportunities for people with disabilities can change lives and enhance business results. “Without forward-minded organizations like this,” says Autism2Work’s Wayne McRae, “we would not have the opportunity to provide long-term careers for these underemployed but talented adults.”
As for Ryan? He knew it was a good fit. “I pay very close attention to detail, and my work here is very detail oriented. With my work ethic and motivation, I knew I could really help the team deliver S/4HANA. I’m happy knowing I have a place here, that I have stability and security here.”
Ryan’s team lead, Vipul Patel, works with Ryan every day. “Ryan is great at taking initiative,” says Patel. “He is persistent and curious to learn, which really helps him in his testing role. He has grown a lot in the short time that he’s been here. He is a more valuable team member every day.”
Ryan is quick to acknowledge the role of his coworkers and his gratitude for the opportunity to bring his gifts to the world. “I like the structure of Autism2Work. It makes me feel satisfied to know I am giving my best effort every day. It builds up my confidence. I always believed in others. Sometimes I didn’t believe in myself – but that’s becoming less and less true all the time.”