Dandelions grow in STEM

Last month, 85 Department of Human Services Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) specialists celebrated graduating from the department’s STEM ICT (Information and Communications Technology) scheme.

For Jack Anderson and Daniel Cubelic, the milestone was particularly significant.

Jack and Daniel are the first Dandelion Program apprentices to graduate from the STEM ICT scheme.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which aims to improve awareness and understanding of people with autism. The department used this month to acknowledge the achievements of its many staff, like Jack and Daniel, who are on the autism spectrum.

A collaboration between the Department of Human Services (DHS), DXC Technology (formerly Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and initially supported by Danish organisation Specialisterne, the Dandelion Program helps people on the autism spectrum to find work with the department in software testing IT roles.

The program’s goal is to enable people on the spectrum to find ongoing employment and careers.

Jack, who is based in Brisbane and works on the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) initiative, said having autism made it difficult to find employment before he joined the Dandelion Program.

“I used to have panic attacks when using a phone, which made it very difficult to contact employers in a way that would get noticed,” Jack said.

The support provided by DXC’s specialist autism consultants and his co-workers helped him adapt to the nuances of office life, and to thrive in the Dandelion Program.

“We were eased into the social aspects of the job and we had the unexplained rules of the workplace outlined to us,” Jack said.

“In usual work places we’d just get emails and have to try and work out what to do and be afraid of making mistakes.”

The STEM ICT scheme is a six-month program run in Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra, where university graduates with STEM degrees are recruited to fill a number of information technology roles, before becoming ongoing full-time staff.

For Jack, who has a Bachelor of Science with a major in Physics, it seemed like a natural fit.

“By the time I got the call to let me know I’d been accepted into STEM ICT, I knew that I really wanted the opportunity,” Jack said.

Adelaide-based Daniel currently develops software for the Community Support Program, which allows people and businesses to support migrants.

Like Jack, Daniel said his STEM university studies led him to apply for the ICT scheme.

“Having worked with one of the previous STEM recruits it seemed like a great way to make a move to the [software] development space at DHS to put my skills to use,” Daniel said.

“The work can be challenging but is extremely rewarding – the projects can have very tight deadlines and working as a team to make sure we complete our tasks and fix any issues that testing finds can be both frustrating and fulfilling.

“Knowing the systems and staff from the Dandelion Program made the shift from the testing practice to the development practice a much smoother transition than if I was new to it all.”

Daniel graduating from university

Daniel encouraged other people with autism to be upfront with potential employers about both their strengths and their weaknesses, and to embrace the contributions they can make in the workplace.

Jack agreed, and said he would like to see more programs such as Dandelion adopted across Australia.

“What we need is for more employers to follow the lead of DHS, by recognising our strengths and encouraging neurodiversity in the work place,” Jack said.

“My advice to other people with autism looking for work is to learn what your strengths and passions are, and focus on finding a role where these would be advantageous.

“And don’t be afraid or ashamed to accept help to overcome your difficulties – people want you to succeed!”

More information