by Jack Lewis, MEd
Associate Program Manager, Aspire Works
Aspire’s internship program connects employer partners with neurodiverse participants to provide skills-based internship opportunities to adults on the spectrum. Massachusetts General Hospital’s Materials Management department, managed by Jim Burns, has been a long-standing employer partner. Jim has given his interns a supportive place to work. He understands their strengths and wants to create an inclusive environment for all to feel welcome during their short-term employment.
I recently interviewed Jim Burns and Thomas Pucci. Thomas is an Aspire intern who worked in the MGH receiving department during the past two summers and was excited to return again this year to continue developing his skills. Below is an excerpt from my interview.
As a manager, what traits do you look for in an employee?
Jim: Someone who is teachable and displays a willingness to learn and contribute to our operations.
As an intern, what strengths do you bring to the workplace? What do you love about your work?
Thomas: My strong memory and sense of direction helped me to quickly learn the layout of the hospital campus and department locations. I’m punctual, reliable, and dedicated to doing a good job. I love making deliveries to the different departments and making connections with co-workers. I also love the opportunity of being able to explore Materials Management as a career path.
Did you encounter any barriers securing internships or work in the past? Are you comfortable sharing some of those barriers?
Thomas: Prior to this internship I didn’t understand the steps I needed to take to obtain a job. I needed support and assistance with finding opportunities that interested me, and I needed assistance with completing the needed paperwork. I also needed some coaching about the interview process.
Did you or anyone at your organization have any concerns about hosting a neurodivergent intern?
Jim: Our senior leadership team has been very supportive when I’ve asked to bring in an Aspire intern. Working with the staff at Aspire and talking with potential interns before they arrive has helped make sure their working experience is a positive one. Our goal is to take the intern on a tour of operations and discuss various tasks that would be available to them. Then, based on what the Intern prefers to do, we figure out the best fit. This is done in a work environment that is welcoming to everyone and with no timetable or pressure to learn the task by a certain time frame. All we ask is that the Aspire intern provide feedback to us that they are ready to handle their tasks/responsibilities on their own and they feel comfortable they do not need additional training.
What do you wish other companies knew about Neurodiversity in the workplace?
Thomas: That individuals with neurodiversity have strengths and skills that companies could benefit from. They are hard workers, follow rules, and strive to meet expectations.
What advice would you give to future interns?
Thomas: Don’t be afraid to try something new. Internships give you an opportunity to try different jobs, explore interests and develop skills you may not have known that you had.
What are some highlights that you see neurodivergent interns bringing to the workplace?
Jim: When put in a position to be successful, neurodivergent interns can perform the same tasks over and over with attention to detail and reliable performance. As a manager, you have one more task that you know is going to be completed by your intern and you have the same trust and confidence as your staffed employees.
Thomas: Individuals with neurodiversity bring a different perspective to the workplace that would benefit all companies. The ability to show attention to detail to each task that is completed helps the companies.
What do you hope to see happen in the future with neurodiversity in the workplace?
Thomas: I hope to see that more companies are more inclusive with the workforce that they hire because individuals who think differently bring a fresh perspective to the workplace.