As the father of a 31-year-old autistic son, Pat Kemp’s new role as executive director of a new effort housed at Oakland University to help adults with autism find employment hits close to home.
The effort — funded with $130,000 the first year from the Autism Alliance of Michigan, OU and Smiles for Children — hopes to address the need for employment opportunities for the more than 60,000 in Michigan with autism spectrum disorder.
Kemp said the unemployment and underemployment rate among adults with autism is 90 percent.
By next August, Kemp, a former executive vice president of New York City-based Autism Speaks, an autism awareness advocacy organization, expects 20 to 25 people with autism to be employed at up to five small businesses. Those could eventually include small janitorial and paper shredding companies, for example.
The Royal Oak-based Judson Center Inc. will hire the employees at minimum wage using some of the startup money and then contract them out to the businesses. Judson will also train and provide support like job coaches and transportation for the employees.
The businesses will be managed by either a current OU student or recent graduate, Kemp said. He said the job description has been approved and that he, an OU business professor and an employee of OU Inc., the university’s business accelerator that is providing space for the businesses, will interview and make final decisions on which students or graduates to hire.
“They will be reporting to me,” said Kemp, who is also a former General Motors Co. executive. “I’m going to challenge them to drum up the business.”
OU professors will conduct research on the program, eventually publishing their findings and sharing them with other people and organizations in Michigan that would like to set up something similar.
“Nobody else has done something like this,” Kemp said, adding that the jobs will be seen as stepping stones to future employment at other companies.
Angela Martin, community support specialist for the Wayne State University Developmental Disabilities Institute, said the new effort is good for the autistic community.
“The thing is not just to find an employer who is ready and willing to collaborate on that (job) opportunity and then saying that this is a launching pad or a career for the person,” she said.
The training and day-to-day management for the employees, as well as promoting and marketing the companies, will be key to success, said Lisa Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Agency in Detroit.
That said, however, the laundry business fills a niche that, if done properly, can be successful, according to Katz.
“If I were looking at the business model, I would think, ‘Wow, there’s an opportunity right there,’ ” she said.
David Tindall, director of development for the OU School of Education and Human Services, said the businesses will be jointly owned by the university, Judson Center and the Autism Alliance.
“Taking this bold move is critical to giving these individuals a real purpose and a better quality of life,” Colleen Allen, president and CEO of the Autism Alliance, said in a statement.
Article by Kirk Pinho
Originally appeared on www.crainsdetroit.com