Specialist skills: Dr Kirsty Richards, of the SunPork Farms Group, speaking at the Victorian Pig Fair in Bendigo.
The below article was originally featured on The Weekly Times:
DALE WEBSTER, The Weekly Times
April 20, 2017 12:00am
BESIDES the price of pork, the hot topic of conversation at this year’s Victorian Pig Fair was a program targeting labour shortages in the industry, “Autism and Agriculture”.
Developed by the SunPork Farms group, it has seen the company turn its recruitment system on its head to accommodate autistic employees, who have been identified as having particular skills suited to working in specialist animal care roles.
Project leader Dr Kirsty Richards spoke about the benefits that had been seen across the board — from the individuals involved to the company and workforce as a whole.
“We have taken teamwork to a new level,” she said.
“I have never seen staff as motivated or as many managers in tears — the level of engagement has been incredible.”
Dr Richards said the project had been driven by company chief executive Robert van Barneveld who, because of a family interest, was heavily involved in autism research and development.
“We recognised there was a labour shortage in agriculture and concurrently, that there was this great resource of autistic people looking for work,” Dr Richards said.
“It didn’t take a genius to add the two together and see if we could integrate this untapped workforce into a sector that needed employees.”
SunPork now has 16 people on the autism spectrum employed at piggeries in Dalby, Queensland, and Gawler, South Australia — 10 per cent of its workforce.
“We have demonstrated that if you shift the recruitment paradigm away from the traditional interview-resume process it works,” Dr Richards said.
“They have empathy with animals, attention to detail, impressive recall and memory, are motivated learners and committed workers.
“We have definitely created a pathway to drive improvements in animal care.”
Read the full article here.