Social Enterprise Canada

October 23, 2013

New Calgary social enterprise has big IT dreams for people with autism

Garth Johnson hopes his new Calgary business will help create a new kind of society where it’s just common for people like his son, who have varying forms of disability, to find meaningful employment that allows them to use and hone their talents while earning a living wage.

Garth and two colleagues, Michael D’Souza and Joy Hewitt, are launching Meticulon, a social enterprise which will hire out IT consultants to perform an array of highly specialized tasks such as software quality assurance processes, data management and scanning services.

Meticulon chief technical coach Michael D’Souza and chief employment coach Joy Hewitt.
Meticulon chief technical coach Michael D’Souza and chief employment coach Joy Hewitt.

What makes Meticulon different from other consulting companies is that its employees will all have autism and exceptional abilities allowing them to perform these specialized tasks with a high degree of effectiveness.

This past summer Meticulon conducted a market needs assessment of Calgary organizations to identify potential customers for its services. The goal was to understand organizations’ “pain points” and offer a solid business proposition in response. “Businesses are not going to employ (our consultants) because they’re people with autism; they’re going to employ our people because they’re very good at what they do,” Garth says.

Meticulon is inspired by and modelling itself after Passwerk, a six-year-old Belgian company which has been successful both financially and in creating meaningful, long-term employment for people who have autism through a similar IT services provision model.

About three months ahead of schedule, thanks in large part to Passwerk’s generous sharing of its assessment and training process, Meticulon is currently reviewing applications from prospective consultants.

Selected applicants will undergo a rigorous three-week assessment process to determine if the work is a match with their skill-sets and interests. Garth says people best suited for this line of work include those who are interested and passionate about it and also demonstrate such qualities as exceptional attention to detail, diligence and an ability to understand what’s required of them within the larger context.

Meticulon CEO Garth Johnson.

Candidates who are determined to have a strong fit will receive several weeks of training from Meticulon and the company will place them in job positions identified in conjunction with its industry partners. The goal is to have a first round of consultants assessed and ready for employment in December, and employed in January.

Meticulon will continue to provide support as both the consultants and employers require.

“A lot of (the consultants) have all the gifts and abilities to do the actual task, but all the other pieces that surround the work life environment, they can struggle with,” says Garth, who has experience both in non-profit management and running a private business. “They don’t need to have their hand held, so much as they need mentoring through the process, and so we provide that as part of our service to them as our employees and facilitate that integration into the workplace.”

Meticulon will also provide orientation and facilitation support and training for employers, though very little accommodation is usually required, Garth says.

The company aims to place 44 consultants by Year 5 of its current five-year plan.

As a business, Meticulon’s goal is to be self-sustaining and profit-generating, which it anticipates will be possible by about Year 5. Consultants will be hired out under contract to client organizations. In addition to paying their wages, Meticulon will fund its core staff, operating costs and also the necessary training and job facilitation support. Given this latter cost, earnings before interest and taxes will be smaller, but “that’s fine and we view that as an investment back in the business anyway,” says Garth, noting any profits will be directed to expanding the programs and opening up new branch locations.

In addition to job creation in Calgary, Meticulon envisions replicating itself at least twice elsewhere in Canada within five years.

It’s also aiming to speak to a minimum of 1,000 businesses to encourage them to find ways to employ people who have autism and other disabilities inside their own corporate environments. This is in line with the company’s larger aspiration to contribute to shifting society’s perception on the employability of people who have a disability.

“My ultimate hope is that we (as employers of people who have a disability) can be a functioning, enabling part of the mainstream industry,” says Garth.

“I think there is nothing worse than somebody who is capable of a lot and is trapped with no opportunity, so I’m really hoping that five years from now we’ve got a tremendous success story and we’re able to replicate it and inspire others to do something similar in their own fields in different ways.”

Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger

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