Raleigh, N.C.

In an effort to promote inclusive hiring practices for businesses across North Carolina and improve the state’s labor supply, the North Carolina Department of Commerce has spearheaded an educational campaign on Autism Acceptance Month. The department has provided a series of outreach and engagement activities designed to educate staff on the meaning and prevalence of autism, sharing resources for neurodiverse staff and family, and promoting programs that increase employment for ASD individuals.

In addition, NC Commerce hosted an event led by the department’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Betty Marrow-Taylor, to discuss the meaning of Autism Acceptance Month and the importance of the LiNC-IT program, NC's first statewide neurodiversity program that provides internships for college students and early career autistic professionals.  LiNC-IT, (Linking North Carolina with Innovative Talent) was developed by the NC Business Committee for Education, (NCBCE), the education and workforce nonprofit in the Office of the Governor.   

“Many individuals with ASD face challenges obtaining meaningful employment, despite having the skills and education employers are looking for,” Caroline Sullivan, the Director of NCBCE said. “To reduce the barriers that some neurodiverse individuals encounter, LiNC-IT provides job coaching and support for the intern and their manager Because both the employer and the employee come away with a great experience, the program dispels stereotypes surrounding neurodiversity, and paves the way for more individuals with autism to enter and thrive in the workforce.” 

NCBCE launched the LiNC-IT program in 2018 to help bridge the gap between neurodiverse job seekers and employers searching for a strong pipeline of talent.  NC Vocational Rehabilitation provides funding for the services and job coaching is provided by the Autism Society of North Carolina and UNC TEACCH Autism Center.

Autism spectrum disorder, or autism, is a developmental disorder affecting the brain. ASD begins in early childhood and typically presents as difficulty with social interaction, communication, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. However, the severity of symptoms varies widely; some individuals on the spectrum may require assistance with their daily activities, while others may live independently and support themselves.

Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed April as World Autism Month to recognize and encourage better understanding of individuals with autism. North Carolina, in particular, has a higher prevalence of autism than the national average. In 2020, the Center for Disease Control released a report that identified 1 in 39 (2.5%) of 8-year-olds in North Carolina as autistic – significantly higher than the national average of 1 in 54 (1.85%). Of the 11 states studied, North Carolina had the second highest rate of ASD among 8-year-olds. 

“People with autism offer so much to our communities, our workforce and our state,” said Governor Cooper. “They and their families deserve our support and understanding as they overcome the challenges of ASD, and I am grateful for the North Carolina organizations working hard to raise awareness and provide resources.”

Unfortunately, the current unemployment rate for ASD individuals remains high at 86%. However, in 2019 Governor Cooper took action to reduce this statistic and signed Executive Order 92, Employment First, into action. EO 92 established North Carolina as an Employment First state to increase opportunities for fair wages and employment for individuals with disabilities. In tandem with EO 92, the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) launched LiNC-IT (Linking North Carolina with Innovative Talent).

“If our workforce is to stay competitive in this ever-evolving economy, we must support programs, like LiNC-IT, that open the door to inclusive hiring,” NC Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said. “Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because diversity drives innovation, productivity, and serves as the number one selling point for businesses deciding to locate in North Carolina.”

The LiNC-IT program provides young people with autism the opportunity to gain employment experience through paid internships, while offering employers a pipeline of talent often missed in traditional recruitment processes. 

NC Commerce recognizes the importance of prioritizing diversity in workforce development. In 2021, the department unveiled its new economic strategic plan for the state, the “First in Talent” Plan. A key component of the plan relies on strengthening the state’s pipeline of talent by tapping into often overlooked demographics, like veterans, neurodiverse individuals, justice-involved individuals, women, and minorities – who often have the skills and education needed to meet the demands of jobs but are often overlooked by employers. 

To learn more about the LiNC-IT program and how you can get involved, visit https://linc-it.org/.

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