Keywords: Canada, autism, intellectual disabilities, supported employment 

Avalon Employment Inc. Autism Employment Facilitator

For 28 years Avalon Employment has supported individuals in accessing over 1,750,000 hours of paid employment. This new practice was identified through a SROI Research Process that we established in 2014. Through the research and subsequent job seeker questionnaires it was determined that the missing link for many was skills identification. Not only identification of skills that are formalized, but also skills that are informal or hidden. This skills identification was achieved by establishing and following a clear process of engagement with individuals with Autism for skills identification as well as a parallel process of Engagement with the Business Community on the economic impacts of being an inclusive employer. The process includes i) Prescriptive, data driven process of employment intervention for adults with ASD, delivered in an organic, person-centered methodology. ii) Working with the individual to develop clear strengths and skills inventory to match need of employer.

About the practice at a glance
Name of OrganisationAvalon Employment Inc.
Type of organisationNational NGO and/or Service Provider, Social enterprise
Country
of Implementation
Canada, was also part of an International Development Project in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
Year started2010
Funding modelSelf- financing, Public Funding

Avalon Employment Inc. is funded by the government of Canada and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador under a shared Labour Market Development Agreement. On-going resources are provided to supported employment agencies to assist individuals in making a connection to labour force and provide on-going support. The Autism Employment Transition Program is funded by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador as part of an ongoing provincial strategy for Autism Supports and Education Models.

We have an organizational budget of $1.7Million Canadian, we also run a large social enterprise that does $6.5 Million in payroll and finance for other not for profits and private business that helps support our various other projects and general organizational activities.

IMPACT

Impact and growth 
  • Reduced dependency on social income programs
  • Increased ability to build employment options, based on skills 
  • Connecting capable adults to long term, meaningful employment 
  • Work=money=independence=choices=decision making=spending power=voting=being a contributing member of society as all of us have the right to do 
  • Matching individual’s skill sets to a need within a company 

Avalon Employment Inc. has been using this model since 2010 to support individuals. In 2014 we were asked to support an international development project called Disability Rights Promotion International working with individuals and groups on employment in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. Since that project, Avalon Employment has adapted the process of skills identification and job matching to work with individuals with autism. It currently serves a population base of over 540,090 people. 

Innovation 

We moved from the long-established practices of “training to go to work” as it does not address the long-term employment needs of individuals with autism. This approach has been established to work with other marginalized communities in other countries but had not been adapted to service the unique needs and highly skilled individuals in our community on the autism spectrum in Canada. 

Target group 
  • Adults 18 years of age or older with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder who can work independently 
  • May have differences in learning or adhering to social nuances in workplace behaviours, communication, organization, or sensory needs. This will be addressed and developed into functional and successful interventions and strategies with the facilitator. 

The Job Matching and Skill Identification process works for many marginalized groups. The key process is to support the individual with autism. 

Other outcomes 

We have demonstrated the support model that works for individuals. We have ongoing data points to assess distance travelled so that individuals can measure their own success and progress. We hope to continue to expand the Autism Employment Model to another 15 locations in the province of Newfoundland in the coming 24 months. We have data from our social return on investment project that validates the support process and skills identification model that is being used in this program. 

THEORY OF CHANGE

We asked projects to outline their impact model (also called Theory of Change) – their main target groups, the key activities they offer these target groups, and what impact they want to achieve:

Target GroupActivityImpactIndicators
Individuals With Barriers Seeking EmploymentTwo stage development of Job Goals and Skills IdentificationIdentification of Current Skills both formal/hidden to match to the current employment needs of employers in the community.Just in Time Virtual Employment Supports

REPLICATION EXPERIENCE

We have already replicated our innovation 

We have used the model for over a decade for individuals with developmental disabilities. We have replicated the model with local programs in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh as part of an International Development Project that partnered with local agencies to deliver the program at the local level with support from Canada and travel on site 4-5 times a year. Subsequently it has been replicated for individuals on the autism spectrum funded under a pilot project from local government. Lessons learned included the absolute need for local implementation. Budget considerations, and how to seek out good economic data on current employment trends. (Particularly important in developing countries.) We also have a large social enterprise that has been able to support the development of new and innovative programs from those resources. 

Yes, this model has been used in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh as part of the DRPI International Development Project, and was pioneered in two provinces in Canada, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. We are currently in discussions with an indigenous group in Western Canada to use the model for young indigenous individuals who are not connected to training, education, or employment. Supporting through an indigenous lens helps the process to incorporate traditional elder knowledge. 

ORGANISATIONAL CAPACITY AND STRATEGY

Capacity 

We have a team of staff that have completed this program in person/virtually. We are committed to supporting this program with the required time to make it a success. We have 12 permanent staff, and a small volunteer board of 5 people.

Yes, we have a project owner for this program, with the necessary skills and seniority: https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanwiltshire/ 

Strategy 

The whole of the organization has been working on this issue for over a decade. Developing new programs to support individuals as their needs change. Evolving as an organization is required for survival, along with continued evaluation of programs. This demonstrates how we as an organization support other groups to develop their potential.  

Our board/partners have always understood that sharing the successes of individuals within a program only serves to improve the program. Looking at what we do, how we do it, and how we can share what are deemed successes is critical to our long term goal of employment options that support individuals in their ideas about what ” employment” may look like for them.  

Our CEO has long been a national leader in employment and disability, advising national level strategies, working to improve program/policy development. Founded a National Disability Employment group in its 25 year. Working with other international development partners to implement programs in developing nations. 

The development of the model is complete and adaptable to any community. Over the next 3 years we are engaged with the indigenous group in Western Canada to develop the model to support young indigenous individuals in access employment thought a model that identifies their hidden skills, while including traditional elder knowledge and cultural references. Ensure individual process and development of policies that support the individual to make their own choices referencing evidence-based decisions. 

MOTIVATION

Avalon Employment Inc. has been working for almost 30 years on knowledge transfer within the work of our organization. We support research and programs that identify and share “good” practice, as every practice can be applied with local ideas to become a “best” practice somewhere else.  

This process is based on our research from 2012 Social Return on Investment Project that we undertook with the New Economics Foundation in London, England. This project supported our process of skill identification and matching versus endless “programs of training”.  

Once we implemented the process of the “two stage” identification of skills, we saw results with how the opportunities changed for individuals seeking employment. Identifying the current skill set led to a great empowerment of the ability to seek work. We would often hear from individuals ” I did not know that was an important skill”. 

We also implemented unique data points using a personal identification process for the ” Theory of Change”. Subsequently individuals have been able to follow and identify their successes in real time, it also allows the organization to respond and develop programming based on the current situation and the real need of individuals seeking employment versus perceived needs for “training”.  

We have adapted and used this process in three countries in South East Asia as part of an International Development Project, DRPI Aware. We have adapted this project for use with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, Down syndrome, Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, and are currently working with some indigenous communities in other parts of our country to develop the process to include traditional elder knowledge within an employment program for indigenous youth.  

We feel that we could support the development of models of employment that both bring proven results and develop local partnerships and knowledge transfer as the goal of the relationship. It would build our body of evidence on the impact of this type of programming with clear economic and social data to support implementation by communities at all levels. 

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What is the organisation hoping to learn from taking part in the programme? 

  • Can we develop a process that will allow the “model” to be implemented in other jurisdictions using local information and development local partnerships?
  • How would the model best be transferred? In person, Webinar, a combination of both?
  • How can we use the program to inform policy decisions and government programs? (Evidence Based Decision Making)
  • What are the data points that we should capture that are more “socialversus “economic”?