A Wayfair Supplier’s Commitment to Support and Employ Adults with Autism
Suncast Corporation, maker of high-quality outdoor storage products found in backyards and garages, knows - just like Wayfair - that their people make everything possible. From paying all employees a living wage to supporting underserved communities through on-the-job training and apprenticeship, they strive to foster a diverse community and promote equal opportunity initiatives to make new things possible for them.
Recently, the company was faced with an all too common problem. Even in the best of times, box folding and parts kitting were tough job positions to fill, and it had become even harder in the middle of a national labor shortage and pandemic. Suncast’s CEO, Jim Ahlborn, had a simple, but unexpected solution. As the father of a daughter with autism, Jim recognized that the skills and talents of those on the autistic spectrum are often overlooked in the workforce. It is estimated that over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed in the United States and Jim saw an opportunity to partner with AutonomyWorks, an organization whose mission is to employ people with autism, to solve a growing business problem.
“We have continued to be impressed by Suncast’s commitment to pushing industry standards forward,” said Catherine Quatrano, Wayfair’s Associate Director of Outdoor Structures & Spa. “From their cutting edge product innovation, commitment to sustainability, and recent efforts with workforce diversification, we are honored to have a partner like Suncast on the Wayfair platform.”
Day-to-day, Suncast’s AutonomyWorks employees are treated and paid exactly the same as any other Suncast employee, but the company has designed a training program and work environment to look a little different in order to help them succeed. Because sensory overload and change are potential obstacles for people with autism, Suncast has taken actions to ensure their health and well-being from the start. Once AutonomyWorks identifies potential candidates for the positions, they bring them into their offices to work on test materials and then guide them through an extensive training process to ensure there are as few unknowns as possible for them on the day they start. This includes visiting the facility, learning where their work station will be, and training in a replicated work environment. In the event that any of them might need to decompress or take a break, Suncast has created a controlled environment in a quiet space for employees to rest. Employees also work with a job coach and team lead at all times to help with everything from challenging days to task transitions.
Suncast CEO Jim Ahlborn, who meets every one of Suncast’s AutonomyWorks employees for lunch on their first day, knows everyone by name and is especially fond of an employee named Jeremiah. Jeremiah usually builds a box and passes it off, but for his birthday, he wanted to pre-build all of his boxes for the day so he could take a photo with his large stack of boxes and show it to his family. To employees like Jeremiah, having a job not only helps pay bills and allows him to purchase things for himself or his family, but also supports him to develop confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of pride for his work.
“These types of partnerships don’t have to be - and shouldn’t be - exclusive to Suncast,” shared Jim Ahlborn, Suncast’s CEO. “We hope others can follow suit because with just a little effort from other companies, we can all make a lasting impact on these individuals’ lives together.”