Autism employment program partners with state finance

WILMINGTON — After graduating from college and working as a delivery driver, Frank Beifus knew that he wanted a different work environment: a desk job, working Monday to Friday, with the possibility for career growth.

In January, that goal became a reality, as Mr. Beifus joined The Precisionists, a Wilmington-based organization focused on employment for adults with disabilities. The organization recently began working with the Delaware Department of Finance. A team of adults with autism from TPI’s workforce are working with the Division of Revenue team to support personal income tax return processing and business license processing.

“I’m really happy to be where I am right now, working in the Division of Revenue, in downtown Wilmington,” Mr. Beifus said. “I’m really enjoying it so far.”

Founded in 2016, TPI performs projects for large corporations and organizations, and helps them run more efficiently, focusing on things like information technology, office accounting, administrative work, legal or human resources, said Ernie Dianastasis, CEO.

“[It’s a] very wide range of services that we provide. But what’s unique about us is that a significant portion of our workforce are neurodiverse people,” he said. “We do have a combination of neurodiverse and neurotypical people, but a significant portion of our workforce is neurodiverse and that includes developmental disabilities, for example, autism.”

Oftentimes, he said, 75 to 80% of people with autism are un- or underemployed.

About seven years ago, Mr. Dianastasis received a call from then-Gov. Jack Markell, who was leading an initiative with all 50 governors to employ people with disabilities. At the time, Mr. Dianastasis was running an IT service company in Delaware. Gov. Markell introduced Mr. Dianastasis to Thorkil Sonne, the founder and CEO of Specialisterne, a Danish firm globally recognized for their accomplishments with the employment of autistic adults in Denmark.

When Mr. Sonne moved to Delaware, Mr. Dianastasis wanted to bring the model to his company.

“It worked so well,” he said. “That’s when the light bulb went off and I said, ‘Ah, this is great, I actually want to do this, not as a side project at a different company but I want to do this 24/7.’”

The Precisionists formed from that, with the goal of creating more than 10,000 jobs for people with developmental disabilities like autism over the next five to 10 years. It now works with a number of entities, like the state of Arizona, Delmarva Power, Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia.

“It really requires an organization like us to come in and help these individuals get on the right path to become workplace ready. And we have the expertise and the training and the certification to do that through our process of talent acquisition,” he said. “At the same time, there’s also a lot of work that has to be done with the companies that we work with.”

At DOR, Rick Geisenberger, cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Jennifer Hudson, director of the Division of Revenue, set the tone as leaders of their organization to commit to neurodiversity, Mr. Dianastasis said.

“The best part about all this is: these individuals are great performers,” he said. “This is not a charity model at all. It is a performance model. These folks come in and they perform, and they do a great job so that’s why it’s so important.”

TPI helps give candidates some of those skills through a four-week training program. They learn technical skills for the job TPI is hiring for, as well as workplace readiness: working in teams, how to make presentations, do’s and don’ts of a professional work environment, personal hygiene and more.

“We’re really giving them a lot of the things that they would experience in a professional work environment once they start their work,” he said.

Mr. Beifus agreed.

“Anyone that’s on the autism spectrum, once you uncover their skills they can really go to a great height with their capabilities and the work that they can do can be really valuable to so many corporations and organizations. Anything,” he said. “And once you’re just given a chance, you can just really go far. I’m really thankful to be a part of TPI.”