“Australian Spatial Analytics is a social enterprise that embraces the cognitive talents of Australians living with autism,” says Geoffrey Smith, CEO of Australian Spatial Analytics (ASA) and 2022 Social Change Fellow.
In Australia, the workforce participation rate for people with autism is less than 38 per cent and the unemployment rate for this cohort is three times higher than those with a disability generally.
“We tackle these unjust statistics head on by specifically employing and training young people with autism to conduct data analytics,” says Geoffrey.
“For us, neurodiversity is our competitive advantage. It’s what makes us faster and more precise in doing data analysis. So not only do we work for social good, we unleash the power of data to create a better future.”
Breaking down barriers
ASA is working to change the perception that social enterprises are synonymous with a low-skilled labour workforce providing low-margin services.
“We’re trying to change the societal norms on autism employment. We want to break down the barriers and help employers understand that there's neurodiverse talent out there that isn't getting through the door,” says Geoffrey.
“But we're also a professional service provider, providing data services to commercial customers,” he says. “And we hope that, over time, our customers can transition some of our analysts and poach our team members into the greater workforce. This will hopefully break down those societal barriers so that we won't need social enterprises as the vehicle between unemployment and the mainstream job market.”
A data analyst himself by trade, Geoffrey believes that technology can create work and wealth for disadvantaged communities while also providing B2B data solutions to valued clients. Employees benefit from sophisticated support to ensure their wellbeing at work, as well as personal confidence and financial stability.
“We do service delivery really well, and we believe that employment and trust in the team is the best way to build confidence,” he says. “Being a social enterprise means we take pride in putting our employees first, but at the same time our clients are purchasing services and we're creating value for them.”
Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the Western world, and the unemployment rate for autistic people under 30 years old is more than 55 per cent.
“The problem is getting bigger, but the great thing is that a lot of neurodiverse people can be predisposed to be outperforming in data-driven roles.
“We're just trying to go with the momentum of the new economy and show that that problem and the solution can link in quite nicely in 2022 and beyond.”
ASA’s employment model is thriving, and this year the enterprise has expanded from its Brisbane base to new offices in Melbourne and Cairns.
“We're proving that not only can data analytics be done on shore by people who were previously unemployed, but it can also be done in regional locations where it's even harder to get a job,” says Geoffrey.
ASA was recently awarded Most Outstanding Social Enterprise at the Lord Mayor’s Business Awards and was named Social Traders Qld/NT Game Changer for 2022 for its collaboration with facilities service Ventia.
ASA is also a 2022 recipient of a Westpac Foundation $50,000 Social Enterprise Grant, which helps to scale the impact of social enterprises creating jobs and employment pathways for people overcoming barriers to work. There have been significant changes to the business since it was awarded the grant.
“We had about 40 staff and now we've got 110,” he says. “We were only in Brisbane and now we're in Brisbane, Melbourne and Cairns. We were doing about $50,000 a month in sales and now we're doing about $600,000 a month. We've promoted a lot of the analysts from Junior Analyst roles to Data Analysts, and the Lead Analysts are now leading their own junior teams. We have also transitioned a few staff on to our clients organically, which is great as they're now getting paid very well at big corporations.”
Now, the challenge for ASA is to keep up with the momentum.
“Not only is the growth in the social enterprise going great, but also we have very low turnover of staff,” he says. “Most of the team are under 30 and many are in their first jobs or have been long-term unemployed, so they feel safe and secure in a business that is community focused and based in their best interests.
“Westpac Foundation support has been multilayered,” he says. “The funding helps us grow our team and deepen our service offering, but we also get a lot of ancillary support such as mentors, financial health checks and risk committees. That kind of capacity-building support is just as important as the actual grants, if not more so.”
A place to belong
Chris Taylor is employed by ASA and uses mapping and analytics software for asset management and navigation.
“It was great to finally find a place where I belong,” says Chris. “My previous work hadn’t enabled me to make the most of my strengths or who I am. But ASA has given me stability and a better future and I feel empowered and appreciated. I’ve gone from wondering where I would be in a few years to being happy with where I am right now.”
Find out more about ASA.