The Precision Institute assesses and trains individuals impacted by autism and other developmental disabilities and prepares them to enter the workforce in technology and business services positions throughout the U.S. They look beyond the disability to identify the special abilities of each individual to overcome barriers and to empower a path to employment.
Janet Atwater, executive director, is a well-respected nonprofit leader with over 25 years of experience in nonprofit leadership and management. The exceptional challenges of the neurodiverse population they serve were exacerbated during the pandemic. I applaud Janet and the Precision Institute team for taking a big risk with time-consuming precautions in order to provide the in-person socialization that is so needed by their candidates.
How did your organization shift or pivot at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
In March 2020 we cancelled all our Workforce Development Assessment & Training classes and paused all philanthropic activities. By July, we were able to resume in-person Assessment & Training classes by putting stringent COVID protocols in place – temperature checks, PPE, social distancing, etc. We also adapted our curriculum and its delivery to ensure we could offer the program safely and effectively.
What adjustments did you make in response to COVID about which you are most proud?
Our training team redesigned the Assessment & Training program and its delivery. We reconfigured our classroom for social distancing, invested in PPE, and increased our technological capabilities – more powerful laptops, Zoom and web cameras – to pivot to remote and/or hybrid learning as needed. We were able to secure funding to continue to offer our multi-week program at no cost to the candidate. In addition, more than 80% of the candidates who attended our program have already been hired in Full-time IT or Business Services positions by our employment partners.
What risks did you take in the beginning of the pandemic, and did they pay off?
Our biggest risk was resuming in-person classes in July 2020 since so much about the virus was still unknown and evolving. The neurodiverse individuals we serve experience disproportional marginalization, exclusion, and social isolation. The onset of COVID only exacerbated those issues. We knew that providing in-person programs was vital to our neurodiverse candidates in not only finding meaningful employment, but in providing inclusivity and much needed socialization opportunities. We are delighted to report that we have successfully held 8 of our Assessment & Training classes during COVID with no reported illnesses.
What are the organization’s top priorities going forward?
Our priority continues to be offering Workforce Development Assessment & Training programs to neurodiverse adults, at no cost to the individual, to help them overcome economic disadvantages and employment barriers. 80% of neurodiverse adults are under/unemployed often due to their difficulty in navigating the job interview that typically focuses on communication and interpersonal skills. This means many neurodiverse adults often do not get past a first interview, if they receive one at all. Our Assessment & Training program eliminates the “job interview.” Instead, we identify and develop their abilities to empower their employment and, ultimately, change their lives.
Going forward, what are you most excited about?
There are more than 20,000 neurodiverse adults in Delaware. I am excited about the opportunity to work with many of these adults to discover their unique abilities and to assist them in gaining meaningful employment. It is extremely rewarding to see the growth in each candidate’s skills and confidence that occurs throughout the assessment. Everyone wants to live a life of purpose, and we all deserve to be valued and appreciated. Our program provides a potentially life changing opportunity for these amazing individuals, and it is an honor to be part of their journey.