Global software giant SAP looking to hire more autistic Kiwis

A global software company says it wants to employ more autistic New Zealanders.

One in 66 Kiwis is affected by autism spectrum disorders, and even though they are often highly educated, many struggle to find work.

But SAP says they add enormous value to the workforce and boost innovation.

It has a global programme to employ workers on the autism spectrum. It already has 120 employees across 10 countries, and it's just launched the initiative in New Zealand.

Chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP Anka Wittenberg says they often have a natural advantage in the IT industry.

"We realised that people with autism, the way their brain is wired is very similar many times to computers.

"We focus on everyone's unique ability to contribute, rather than a person's perceived limitations. By embracing differences, we help spark innovation.

"Those on the autism spectrum, for example, add enormous value with their high levels of attention to detail in software development and testing, and data analysis."

But finding work can be tough. A recent Altogether Autism survey found two-thirds of autistic adults who wanted to work were unemployed.

Kitchen hand and budding chef Jonathan Ball took two years to find a job after studying hospitality at college. He's now been working at the Bert Sutcliffe Retirement Village in Auckland for 18 months and hasn't had a single day off sick.

Mr Ball says being part of a team gives him a real sense of purpose.

"Every morning I come through those doors... I'm very important and very necessary for this kitchen to operate."

Autism New Zealand wants more companies to be open-minded.

"The very nature of autism is, if the job's right and they're enjoying the job and it fits into their skill set, they will potentially stay there for a long time," says Autism NZ chief executive Dane Dougan.

"You may get someone who's exceptional who's going to change the way you operate your business or do something there that is going to potentially save the world."

"I've proven to myself and for most of the spectrum that some tasks can be better managed with the appropriate team," says Mr Ball.

He says people on the spectrum just need employers to believe in them, so they can prove their worth.