For the Empowerment of Neurodivergent Persons throughout Society [Part 2] Can Employment of Persons with Developmental Disability Really Change Work Style and Organization?

In 2021, the OMRON Group launched a project to recruit human resources with unusual talent. This progressive initiative is all about providing job seekers who, due to their developmental disability, may not be very adept at communication, with employment opportunities in order to give a chance to their outstanding gifts in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, machine learning, or other cutting-edge fields. You'll find it all in the following story, as reported by Yuko Hasegawa, an up-and-coming freelance journalist.

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Yuko Hasegawa

Freelance journalist

A graduate of Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Yuko Hasegawa started her career in the Tokyo metropolitan area, where she performed investigative services for government offices and translated news stories for foreign news outlets, before setting herself up as a freelance writer, translator, and journalist. Also known for her research/advocacy of work style and challenges for persons with disabilities, she was chosen as a LinkedIn (a business-focused social media platform) Japan 2020 Top Creator. With a focus on "business" and "diversity," the scope of her professional services encompasses reporting/writing, translation, support for owned media production, campaigns, and lectures. Her personal ambition is to be an opinion leader who captures the imagination of and influences people.

 

Illustrating a Social Model to Expound Why Different Brains and Nerves Function Differently

Back in 1972, OMRON Taiyo Co., LTD. the first welfare factory in Japan for persons with physical disabilities, was established when Kazuma Tateishi, the founder of OMRON, and Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, the founder of the Social Welfare Organization Japan Sun Industries(Taiyonoie), resonated with each other's principles. Ever since, the OMRON Group has pioneered the employment of persons with disabilities. More than half a century later, circumstances surrounding the employment of such persons have changed dramatically in Japanese society. It is no longer rare for companies to offer positions to persons with disabilities. Meanwhile, another social issue of persons with specific individual disability traits, such as mental disabilities and developmental disabilities, struggling to land a job, has been brought to the fore.

In 2021, the OMRON Group launched the project to recruit human resources with unusual talent, who are gifted in STEM, to provide them with opportunities to give full play to their aptitude for new product development and research work.

Out in the global job market, it is becoming common practice to respect differences in how brains and nerves work, including those of persons with developmental disabilities, not as relative merits but as diversity, and perceive them in the context of the social model of disability. This framework for understanding the diversity of human brains and nerves is called neurodiversity. Now, the "social model of disability" is the idea that "disabilities" are created by interactions between disabilities of mental and physical functions of individuals and systemic barriers in society, and it is the responsibility of society to remove such barriers. OMRON's project to recruit human resources with unusual talent is perfectly aligned with the concept of neurodiversity.

 

Organizational Change to Prepare for the Near Future

OMRON embraces the Principles of contributing to a better society by solving social issues through its business. One of the agenda items when they drew up a long-term vision for the employment of persons with disabilities in 2017 was how they should go about recruiting such persons without relying too much on the special subsidiary. Accordingly, they began hiring more persons with disabilities for an even broader range of job categories, including salespersons and staff members, while at the same time addressing the aforementioned social challenge by accelerating the employment of persons with mental and developmental disabilities. One of the solutions to both of these issues is scouting human resources with unusual talent. To hire such talent, they decided to "put minimal weight on interviews but maximal weight on how they dealt with technically challenging problems during internships" on a trial basis.

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During the three-week-long internship program offered by the Technology Development Division HQ, Industrial Automation Company, one of OMRON's mainstay businesses, interns were asked to work on a problem of "analyzing human movements from a video and imaging the movements in a virtual space." A candidate who was attending an employment transition support center for persons with developmental disabilities participated in the program. He majored in advanced information studies and possessed top-tier programming skills that put him among the best for graduate students. However, he struggled to pitch his virtues during interviews and so could not secure a position at any company upon graduation from university.

The level of engineering that the candidate incorporated in his answer was such that the team manager was profoundly surprised and filled with joyful expectations, though he hardly spoke at job interviews. Some in the company were naturally concerned that his lack of communication skills may prevent him from mingling with his peers, but at the end of the day, the company opted for change. "The internship was a catalyst for change in our corporate culture and management. Taking his recruitment as an opportunity, I was determined to make ours an inclusive organization, which I hope will go viral," recalled the team manager.

In April 2022, OMRON extended a warm welcome to the intern-turned-employee.

Let us hear what the person in charge of diversity & inclusion at the HR Department has to say about how he is doing in his office: "In the team, he is constantly trying to improve his communication skills. To give you an example, he is making periodical visits for interviews with his supervisor, industrial doctor, counselor who gives guidance on working life at the office he is assigned to, and HR personnel. We also asked him to be a member of Kaien, an employment transition support center for persons with developmental disabilities, thus creating a system for supporting his living, such as going to the hospital, and, if we sense a sign of some change beforehand, sharing it within the team."

His hyperacusis makes him sensitive to noise surrounding him. To isolate himself from the noise and focus, he uses earphones. He also finds conversations challenging. He once confessed, "Sometimes I get brain fog, but I don't know why it happens." Or he took several minutes before he could answer a question from the manager. But now, everyone has become used to this and takes such things for granted. He may not be good at answering "analog" questions, per se, but he is in his element having technical conversations with his engineering peers. He is quick-witted and gets his work done far more quickly than anticipated, and at very high quality. He may need time to verbalize his ideas, but he attends every weekly meeting and presents his work using materials he prepares. Besides, he is working hard to communicate better with people around him, trying to reach out to make friends with others, and thinking of ways to try something new.

1421_01.jpgAt Work in his Office

Navigating the project to recruit human resources with unusual talent was not without its difficulties. Yet, it was possible to push past these challenges because the upside eclipsed the downside; that is, they are sure to outperform your expectations that, if you give them due consideration according to their disability traits, they reward you with an advanced level of technical capabilities in their area of expertise. Another benefit is that their presence facilitates a review of the way their team is managed or a greater ease of working for the entire workplace. In its long-term vision, "Shaping the Future 2030 (SF2030)," the OMRON Group declares its human resources strategy, which reads, "Inspired by the corporate philosophy of 'contributing to a better society,' the company and its employees will always choose each other and continue growing together." Accordingly, they are implementing human resources measures on a global basis to attract diverse talents and allow each individual to fully live up to their potential by accelerating diversity & inclusion. The project is one of the human resources strategies linked to the long-term vision and, as such, embodies human capital management.

 

Interview

miyaji.pngIsao Miyaji

Executive of Diversity & Inclusion Promotion Department, OMRON Group

In its human resources strategy with a view to building a new relationship between the company and its employees, laid out in the long-term vision, Shaping the Future 2030 (SF2030), the OMRON Group set its non-financial targets for the first time, one of them being "Achieving employment of the disabled at our 28 overseas sites and maintaining the ratio of employees with disabilities at 3% in Japan." At present, the Group's employment rate for persons with disabilities stands at 3.45%, which far exceeds the legally mandated rate and is among the highest in the manufacturing sector. Yet, we do not perceive the project as merely another measure to recruit persons with disabilities. Rather, if we fine-tune our organizational culture and work style to harness diverse individuality, we firmly believe that this initiative will trigger OMRON's transformation into a company where a greater diversity of people shines brightly. To recruit talented human resources that will shoulder the next generation, we are again offering internship opportunities for the project this fiscal year. This time, with cooperation from OMRON Corporation's Technology and Intellectual Property HQ and OMRON SOFTWARE Co., Ltd., we invited applications to a total of seven job categories, including an R&D position for imaging/sensing technology and an IT development position for software development and the like. This initiative has begun spreading within the OMRON Group as well. Furthermore, with the aim of expanding recruitment of human resources with unusual talent through cooperation among local businesses, we called upon other companies to launch a regional cooperation council, which comprises governments, supporting businesses, universities, and OMRON as an initiator. As of this writing, six Kyoto-based businesses have joined this initiative. We understand that this employment case is still a small wave. We intend to swell this wave by increasing successful cases one by one, though it might take some time.

suzuki.pngKeita Suzuki

Co-founder and President, Kaien Inc.

Neurodiversity and developmental disabilities should never be regarded as synonymous with unusual talent. The fact is that we now know that some highly-educated or highly-skilled persons have disabilities in communication or executive functions (ability to plan/act to achieve goals). It's fair to say that the project to recruit human resources with unusual talent is an attempt to shed light on those who do not have a chance to give their valuable talent full play, as people often perceive them as not trying hard enough. What is important here is to know that accepting these unusual talents should by no means be limited to the employment of persons with disabilities. Accepting specialists with unlevel talent is like stacking stones of different sizes and shapes. It's not as simple as building walls with bricks. Humans are, by nature, like stones, no two of which are the same in size and shape. As such, designing an organization in a way that taps into the individuality of each stone is not only friendly to employees but makes a stable stone wall. If, on the other hand, you assume all persons are of the same size and shape and try building an organization as you do with bricks, which is quite easy to do, you end up having one that is not kind to humans. If you were to ask if that's how to build a resilient organization for the years to come, I would have to say it's not. I expect the OMRON Group to recruit and develop persons in an individually optimized manner, with due regard given to the differences in the way each individual's brain functions, as part of its initiative to design an organization that will pave the way to a new era.

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