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‘Our engineers are simply the best’: Calgary lessons in employing people with autism

When it comes to connecting people on the autism spectrum with detailed-oriented jobs where they can excel, Belgium-based Passwerk has developed the “playbook” that Calgary-based Meticulon is now following.

But there’s one thing Passwerk executives Nico De Cleen and Dirk Rombaut learned on a recent visit to Alberta: How to be bolder.

After spending several days visiting with the staff of Meticulon – which currently exists as a sub-project of Autism Calgary but has a goal of becoming a financially self-sustaining company – De Cleen said he was impressed by how the local startup is already marketing itself.

“To be honest, we got a little bit inspired by strong statements like, ‘Our engineers are simply the best at what they do,’” he said. “So that’s maybe a lesson we can take home with us.”

Passwerk started its business and social enterprise in 2008 and within 10 months began turning a profit, De Cleen said, finding a large demand in the fields of software testing and data handling for the kind of hyper-focus and attention to detail that many people with autism can bring to a task.

They since have shared their model with people around the world, including Meticulon CEO Garth Johnson.

“Passwerk gave us everything we needed to start,” Johnson said. “They basically handed us everything on a disk.”

Rombaut said their business, which aims to both improve the lives of people with autism and meet the needs of clients, is not one of propriety information.

“We really believe in an open source network,” he said.

Growing business:

• CEO Garth Johnson said Meticulon, which has only been in operation for about a year, will have nine consultants employed by the end of 2014 with local companies.

• Another six people are coming through Meticulon’s rigorous assessment process and should be placed in jobs after that, Johnson said.

• Data entry, data analysis, and software testing are the main fields in which Meticulon consultants find work, often with oil and gas companies and banks.

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