After opening Fargo office this summer, nonprofit has placed people with autism in jobs

J.P. McBride, left, Zach Zaborny and David Strand do quality assurance testing at Myriad Mobile located at 503 7th St. N. in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Fargo  - David Strand said he never worked in a place where he felt welcomed and accepted.

He does now as a mobile application tester for Myriad Mobile.

“I’m part of something. I contribute in a meaningful way to a larger whole, and that sense of purpose is the essence of life, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Strand is one of five men who have recently found employment through Specialisterne, a global nonprofit that trains individuals with autism spectrum disorders to work in detail-rich occupations.

Specialisterne Midwest opened an office at 624 Main Ave., Fargo, this summer. It was the first office in the Midwest region, which is one of three regions in the country.

The Fargo office received funding from the state Legislature as well as the Anne Carlsen Foundation.

Myriad Mobile, initially an unnamed partner, agreed to use Specialisterne consultants.

Jake Joraanstad, CEO of Myriad, said being able to do in-depth, unbiased quality assurance testing is one of the biggest challenges the company has had as it’s grown.

The four Specialisterne consultants test Myriad’s apps for functionality as well as aesthetics. It’s a highly methodical process; the testers record every button pressed, so the developer can retrace their steps when a bug is found.

“This is taking something that others have looked at as a disability, and taking it and using it as a strength,” said Margie Gray, a Specialisterne employment services manager who works with the team at Myriad.

She said the company helped make it “a seamless transition for people who often don’t deal well with transition.” The four employees attended the company Christmas party last week.

Jeremiah Utech, project manager for Myriad, described their work as detailed, actionable and valuable, with a fast turnaround time.

A fifth Specialisterne consultant, Alex Lee, is working in manufacturing assembly at Appareo Systems, another Specialisterne partner.

April Steffan, marketing manager at Appareo, said she didn’t even realize Lee was a Specialisterne employee.

“The skillset is really people with good attention to detail and their manual skills,” and Lee fits that profile, she said. “It just seems like he’s part of the team.”

Tony Thomann, executive director of Specialisterne Midwest, said two of its first Fargo-based consultants have college degrees but have struggled to enter the world of work.

“It can really impact your ability to secure employment that’s of your level,” Thomann said.

Training and employing people with autism spectrum disorders is good not only for those individuals but the businesses and overall community, he said.

“I think it’s so awesome that here in Fargo there are companies that are willing to jump in and do this,” Thomann said. “That’s not the case around the country.”

Specialisterne is now recruiting its next group of candidates to take part in its Lego hangouts and initial interviews Jan. 8-10.

Thomann said there have been discussions in Grand Forks that could result in Specialisterne expanding there. He’d also like to see more Fargo businesses embrace the concept.

Strand said when he first read about Specialisterne, it almost sounded too good to be true.

“What motivated me to sign up was the promise of earning a better future by learning and applying new skills to do useful work, which is exactly the opportunity that Specialisterne was offering,” he said.

Readers can reach

Forum Business Editor Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556