“Organizations like Specialisterne give opportunities to people who could be a strong fit for a role.”
Shawn Bolshin didn’t receive a proper diagnosis about being on the autism spectrum until he was 20 years old. “Going through school, people thought I had a behavioural problem and I didn’t have many friends. Everyone knew I was different, but no one knew I was on the spectrum,” says Shawn. Receiving a diagnosis came as a relief because it helped him to better understand himself.
With a keen interest and curiosity for understanding how things work, Shawn was motivated to complete a degree in software engineering. He was successful in school, but finding a job proved difficult. Oftentimes, people on the autism spectrum are challenged by social communication, which can make it hard to demonstrate their skills and abilities in a formal interview setting. When applying for a job, Shawn says the most challenging part is the interview process.
“I’m not comfortable talking to people and I find it difficult to talk about myself. It’s hard to articulate the thoughts in my head sometimes.”
Shawn felt discouraged and frustrated, and spent years trying to secure a job. His big break arrived when he came across an ad for Specialisterne CanadaOpens a new window in your browser., an organization that helps people on the autism spectrum find employment. Instead of a traditional interview process, Specialisterne puts candidates through a unique workshop where they're given complex tasks (such as building a robot) to assess an array of skills, including problem-solving. “The interview and hiring process wasn't traditional,” says Shawn, “It was definitely less stressful and helped me relax and be myself.”
CIBC was the first bank in Canada to partner with Specialisterne. Shawn was hired as an information security coordinator through one of CIBC’s first cohorts with Specialisterne. Today, he's an information security consultant, and leads a team of five to help improve the bank’s online network. Shawn says he enjoys digging through data to find the cause of system issues.
While Shawn still struggles with sharing ideas in meetings, he’s become more confident and finds that his manager and co-workers have been very accommodating. “My team knew early on that I have autism and they've been very supportive. I had a job coach for the first few months while I grew into the role, as well as a mentor who was really an advocate for me.” Shawn also joined WorkAbility, CIBC’s People Network for persons with disabilities. Through WorkAbility, Shawn can stay connected, help others and advocate for a more inclusive work environment.
Shawn believes there's a lot more understanding about autism today than when he was growing up. He hopes that companies recognize the unique abilities people with autism can offer. “I have really strong focus and attention to detail, which helps me a lot in my role. Organizations like Specialisterne give opportunities to people who could be a strong fit for a role but may not get a chance through a traditional interview process.”
Shawn's advice to other people on the autism spectrum seeking employment is this: “Never give up. Keep on trying, as your persistence will pay off.”
CIBC set a goal to hire 500 new team members with disabilities in 2018. We exceeded our goal, welcoming over 550 new team members to our bank, and we remain committed to hiring 8 to 9% persons with disabilities annually.
In December of 2019, CIBC became the first Canadian financial institution to support the Valuable 500 Opens in a new window. campaign, calling for increased attention to disability inclusion by leadership.
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