FARGO-Ian Holmes stood at an engraving machine Wednesday, June 22, centering the text for the next DogIDs collar.
"Someday I hope to be as good as Beth. She's really, really good at this. She's really efficient," he said of a nearby co-worker.
But James Whirlwind Soldier, DogIDs' director of business operations, says Holmes is already doing a great job. He's been impressed by his quality of work and problem-solving skills.
Holmes secured his part-time job in November thanks to Mind Shift, an organization that helps high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum find meaningful employment.
Formerly known as Specialisterne Midwest, Mind Shift has helped 14 people find jobs since it launched here in the spring of 2014. Thirteen continue to work on a contract basis with local companies such as DogIDs, Appareo, Myriad Mobile, Aldevron and Eide Bailly.
Cortnee Jensen, director of community relations and development at Mind Shift, said the organization initially focused solely on positions in IT and other tech fields. Those on the autism spectrum are typically known for skills such as attention to detail and the ability to do the same task over and over.
"Repetition is not just something they're good at," Jensen said. "It's often something they enjoy."
What Mind Shift has found, however, is that clients' skills and interests varied just like everyone else.
"There are characteristics of people with autism that are pretty consistent; but, if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. It's like how every one of us is different. We can have the exact same interests, same Myers Briggs letters, and yet be very different in how that's applied," she said.
Mind Shift has placed clients in manufacturing, IT, banking, biotech and retail positions so far.
Those affected by autism make up a significant portion of the population. It's generally accepted that one in 68 births will fall along the autism spectrum, but Jensen thinks that number is low. A study recently conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests it's more like one in 45, which she said is more consistent with what they see here.
While there are a number of programs to assist children, Jensen said few exist for adults like Holmes.
How it works
Clients are assessed over the course of a few weeks at the Mind Shift offices to determine what they're good at and what they're interested in. They also observe how they interact with others and how they take and give feedback.
At the same time, Mind Shift staff is searching local want ads and visiting businesses to find job opportunities.
Whirlwind Soldier said one of their biggest concerns about hiring Holmes was if he would fit in with DogIDs' corporate culture.
"Tony (Thomann, Mind Shift's executive director) and Margie (Gray, employment services director) went out of their way to understand our culture and values and worked to find a candidate that could fit," he said. "At the same time, they went out of their way to communicate what we could expect and anticipate from someone on the spectrum and found a way to marry those ideas."
The fact that Holmes is different no longer even crosses his mind.
"I don't think of it at all, and I don't think anyone else does either. There was a transition period, but that goes for any employee. You never know if someone is going to fit in with what we call our pack. Ian is part of our family now," he said.
A nonprofit hybrid
Jensen calls Mind Shift a nonprofit hybrid. While it's currently supported with help from individual donors and the Anne Carlsen Center, it should become self-sustained once it secures 30 clients.
Jensen acknowledges that each placement takes a significant amount of time and money, but the return on investment is "incredible."
"It's about $8 million to have one person on social benefits for their lifetime," Jensen said. "You take $8 million and multiply it by 13 and all of the sudden our hundreds of thousand dollar investment is pretty incredible. ... You tell any business person you're going to get that level of return on investment and they'll say, 'Sign me up.' "
What: Mind Shift
Where: 624 Main Ave. suite 2F, Fargo
Contact: (541) 817-9023