A tech company in Edmonton employs people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and helps them achieve long-term career goals while excelling at their jobs.
Technology North Digital Services (TNDS) digitizes documents for law firms, governments and other organizations. It is not only a local and national success story, it’s also an inclusive employer.
Most of its employees are on the spectrum, except for the coaches and the supervisors, says Rob Wolferet, father of employee Ryan Wolfert — who’s on the spectrum.
Ryan has been working at TNDS for four years now as a document digitizer. He says his job gives him an opportunity to have “true purpose in life,” and be active and productive.
“It helps shape my life in a very positive way,” said Ryan. “Giving me very positive attitude towards being successful in the future.”
Ryan is grateful to be part of a successful team creating a positive work environment.
“We all get along with each other very well. … We focus on getting the task done,” said Ryan.
Speaking of Ryan’s skills to apply in his role, Rob notes that TNDS checks all the boxes.
“His hand-eye co-ordination is incredible. I would perceive TNDS as very tedious work,” said Ryan. “He likes the routine.”
Ryan wants to grow in his job, while aiming to become a supervisor in the future.
Meaningful employment, unique business model
CEO and founder of TNDS, Ling Huang, decided to offer meaningful employment for people on the spectrum to help his son, Brian Huang, secure employment. Ling says Brian was diagnosed with severe autism when he was four years old, when he couldn’t speak or follow simple instructions.
“I started getting worried about my son’s future, so I asked myself a simple question: ‘What is he going to do after school?,’ ” he said.
He says people with autism don’t have the necessary capabilities to communicate in a traditional work environment, as they have to have social skills.
“I know he’s not going to find a job on his own … simply, he’s not able to articulate ideas … you have to have a social cue. For example, chit-chat on a coffee table,” Ling said.
Ling says it’s very difficult for people on the spectrum to be included and trained properly using traditional ways, such as initial training. What his company does is break down the process into simple and small tasks, assigning each individual with one task that they can excel at.
“The traditional model is using a job coach one to one, which is difficult to be sustainable. … It’s very difficult for them to be included in the traditional way,” said Ling.
“Think about iPhone digital assembly line — you have a line of a 100 people, everybody doing a simple single action. We’re using the same model. They will perform a simple task, it’s easy to train, and makes them excel.”
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Ling adds this model unleashes their potential, as it’s predictable and enjoyable for them.
People on the spectrum are an “elite group,” and once given a chance, they leave a large impact, explains Ling. As a business owner, Ling still has to compete in the market, as customers seek positive outcomes.
The company has digitized more than two million documents, making close to $1,000,000 since its start in 2019. Brian is now in his early 20s, and his father’s company keeps him productive. He calls the team he works with the “A-Team.”
“Not only does it keep me productive, but it also helps our clients meet the expectations,” Brian said.
As TNDS expands, Ling aims to have 20 people who are on the spectrum on his team by the end of 2023, and 30 to 40 by the end of 2024.
“Our team is expanding, I’m looking forward to incorporate creative industries,” said Brian.