Technology North (TN) Corporation is an Edmonton-based IT consultant and service provider in business since 1998. We provide full IT services, including senior-level professional IT services, IT management, application development, and information technology security consulting services to local public and provide sector clients.
In our IT management operation, TN is a private cloud and outsourcing IT provider, our customers include Alberta Health Services (the Alberta provincial healthcare provider), the College of Paramedics, and Excel Society, a large disability service provider with group homes and a large supportive living facility across Alberta. Inside of our IT management and operations branch, we hire a group of IT specialists, usually the combination of junior, intermediate, and senior IT folks. While intermediate and senior specialists focus on project-based work, junior specialists are typically assigned to conduct day-to-day system monitoring and management tasks, including standard operation procedure (SOP) based routines to check servers, security firewalls, appliances, and applications for alerts, logs and status. 90% of system issues can be resolved by a junior resource based on SOP and 10% will be escalated to senior specialists for their prompt attention.
During the last two decades, TN has had difficulty finding and retaining junior resources for the role; we have tried to hire students from university and technical colleges, repair technicians from BestBuy, and housewives. TN provides lengthy training, usually a few months of technology stack knowledge and SOP, for the role and hope the new resource will stay and perform for as long as possible. Statistically, juniors leave the job around 6 months to a maximum two years, seeking more interesting project-based work internally, or they leave the company for a better job.
In 2014, Ling Huang, TN founder and CEO, also a parent with an autistic son, frustrated by the cycles of hiring, training, and leaving of junior IT workers asked himself why people like his son, Brian, couldn’t do junior IT work. He recognized in Brian some of the desirable traits for the junior IT specialist role many neurotypical hires lack: intense task focus, ability to accept and handle routine tasks, following instructions to the letter, and so on. This question began the long journey of extensive research, innovative inclusion framework creation, autism employment piloting, leading, finally, to the development of a purpose-built assistive technology called RoboCoach and TN Digital Services (TNDS), a dedicated autism employment program created in 2019.
Every morning, youth with autism will go through a quick well-being check with RoboCoach and start their day by following their task list of routine system checks. Today, TN manages over 1,000 endpoints such as cloud devices, servers, appliances, firewalls, and network equipment from a central location using a remote system monitor and management (RMM) tool, as well as a web-based interface. All work instructions, routines, and videos can be accessed by links to a connected WIKI. During the shift, RoboCoach monitors the autistic employee’s well-being and facilitates their work, collecting work performance data to satisfy the line manager or employer.
The natural characteristics and talents of autistic adults, especially deep attention to detail, following the SOP to the letter, and the ability to perform the same tasks over and over again, strongly show autistic adults are a natural fit for the role and can be a valuable asset to businesses similar to TN. TN has been employing autistic employees for the junior IT role for over 3 years in both Canada and Mexico, finding parity between the junior IT employment cycle and autism employment in IT results in both countries.
There is a great need to fill this role on a more permanent basis. In Canada, for instance, there is a reported vacancy of over 216,000 junior ICT specialists. Concurrently, there is a largely untapped and perfectly suited workforce desiring employment but largely left out due to their special needs.
Going forward, TN’s mission is to further develop and commercialize the RoboCoach application, promote autism employment, and ensure the vast untapped talent pool consisting of millions of autistic people in Canada and globally are matched to and retain meaningful and, more importantly, good paying jobs in the digital economy.