Aramark, the Philadelphia-based food service provider, recently hosted its first hiring event specifically catered towards neurodiverse job seekers.
Held in partnership with Drexel University's Business Inclusion Center (BIC), the event took place on Drexel's campus in Philadelphia in December. The BIC develops programs and strategies to build businesses' capacity to hire, train, and retain neurodiverse talent, and is a collaboration with Community Integrated Services (CIS), a greater Philadelphia organization that helps individuals with disabilities find employment.
"The BIC and CIS had people looking for employment, and we had positions. We said, let's team up to see how we can support one another," says Jennifer Scott, Aramark Human Resources Director of Collegiate Hospitality - Mid-Atlantic Region.
The BIC and CIS were quick to point out that a standard hiring event might pose challenging for people with neurodiverse conditions such as autism. That led to the development of a job fair aimed exclusively at meeting the needs of neurodiverse candidates. "The biggest barrier for some of these folks was the hiring and onboarding process, which can be cumbersome and convoluted," Scott said. Large crowds and an overstimulating environment were other potential difficulties.
The hiring event was designed to be a one-stop-shop to help neurodiverse job seekers become employed. In addition to holding interviews, candidates would receive offers, complete background checks, fill out onboarding documents, and receive key information and details about their new position all before leaving the fair. At a typical hiring event, "interview candidates would be left in the dark," regarding the next steps they'd need to take in order to become employed. At the neurodiverse event, candidates received assistance to complete all of these steps in one fell swoop. "Every hire left with a job offer, a schedule, and a clear direction of what to do before they started their first day at work," Scott says. A mobile fingerprinting device was even brought in so candidates didn't have to go off-site for background checks.
Aramark, the BIC, and CIS also concentrated on keeping the event small and personal, so it wouldn't become intimidating or overstimulating. The job fair, which was closed to the public, invited just 100 candidates (that had been brought in by the BIC and CIS via local job organizations) plus a support person or job coach to help the candidate navigate the interview. Interviews were held one-on-one instead of in groups and were designed to be private and laid back. "We met with the Aramark hiring managers in advance to train them on how to accommodate neurodiverse candidates during the interview process," Scott says. Job seekers were given interview questions in advance, too, to help them prepare.
According to Scott, many of the candidates were first-time job seekers. A handful of local high schools brought students in life-skills classes to introduce the students to the idea of a job fair and explain the types of jobs typically offered by Aramark.
Roughly 30 of the 100 attendees received on-the-spot job offers for foodservice positions with Aramark clients including Temple University, La Salle University, Widener University, Saint Joseph's University, Cheyney University, and West Chester University. Additional offers were extended after the event.
"It was a success thanks to our partners," Scott says. "They're so weaved in to the community, they have so many different connections and a unique ability to reach out to the marketplace. They helped us bring in candidates and helped provide the hiring managers with the knowledge to make the most of the event."
Aramark's hiring managers, too, found the event to be rewarding. "The team appreciated how organized it was, in that they could really take their time and focus on the candidate experience, and that everything else was taken care of," says Scott, who notes that at most job fairs, hiring managers are typically expected to juggle multiple roles in addition to conducting interviews.
The event's success has encouraged Aramark to build on their partnership with Drexel University and CIS and find ways to scale the same format for use with other accounts. In fact, plans for a spring hiring event are already underway. "One of the opportunities we discussed was how do we capture folks that are graduating from high school before they go off into the summer without employment? That's a crucial time," Scott says.