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Allstate Northern Ireland

Allstate NI Dragons' Den Project Helping People With Autism Find Work

A new website, designed and developed free by Allstate NI as part of a Dragon's Den style Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, will make a massive difference to a fledgling social enterprise that is changing the way businesses think about people on the Autistic Spectrum.

Specialisterne NI, formed in 2014, is a specialist recruitment agency which also provides expert training to companies to help them understand social difference. The new website will make a huge difference in their ability to communicate with companies and job seekers.

ANI employees take part in the Dragon's Den Corporate Social Responsibilty initiative.

In 2014 Allstate NI ran a Dragon's Den CSR programme where teams were invited to pitch ideas that would meet a social good, while making use of their talent. The Allstate NI website team, headed up by Paddy Warnock, decided they would like to develop a website for a social enterprise that may otherwise not be able to do so. The team were successful in their pitch and were awarded £2,000 by the Dragons. They initially reached out to Business in the Community NI, who hosted a competition to invite local Charities and Social Enterprises to explain why a website would help them achieve their social aims. The team selected Specialisterne NI as the subject struck a chord on a personal level with some of the team members and they were impressed with Specialisterne NI's passion to not only help those on the Autistic Spectrum, but to also change the mindset of employers.

Specialisterne NI is a social enterprise that works to enable £16k+ job opportunities for people on the Autistic Spectrum. It does so by creating awareness of the skills people on the Autistic Spectrum can bring to a company and by supporting job seekers to secure jobs and coaching within job roles.

Specialisterne NI is part of the Specialist People network, which started in 2004 and is in 13 countries today. Its aim is to create one million jobs for people on the Autistic Spectrum. Although the Specialist People Foundation had a website, it was not meaningful for the local context in Belfast.

Specialisterne NI Manager, Sharon Didrichsen, worked for 11 years in IT Recruitment and wanted to bring best practice in IT recruitment to the social space. She said,

"Having worked for large multinational and leading local recruitment consultancies I could see the difference that an effective website can bring. We wanted to make it easy for employers to advertise jobs that people on the Autistic Spectrum can access, and for job seekers to apply. Sometimes all the support our candidates need is to be pointed in the direction of a job that matches their skills, and the website can do this. Students at school and university can also create a profile and save jobs that catch their interest as they become available. We hope this will inspire young people that there is a place for talented people on the Autistic Spectrum in our workplace, as well as direct their studies."

The project has had unexpected benefits for both Allstate NI and Specialisterne. Paddy Warnock, a Senior Manager at Allstate NI said,

"The CSR project attracted volunteers from across a number of Allstate teams and disciplines and became a great collaborative experience. Furthermore, it completely changed our perception of people on the autistic spectrum and the unique skills that they can bring to our industry. It has helped Specialisterne better define what they can offer, with both training and support options detailed on the new website, and has caught the attention of the Specialisterne international network, who are adapting the website to their local context."

Rose Kelly, VP and CAO at Allstate NI, who heads up the Company's overall CSR strategy said,

"We are delighted to be working with Specialisterne NI as part of our Dragons' Den initiative. It is a fantastic social enterprise and it has been a privilege to help enable jobs within the IT sector for people who are on the Autistic Spectrum. Our CSR activities, which include the Dragons' Den initiative, demonstrate how our business practices and operations impact local communities across Northern Ireland and it's great to see that this project might even reach beyond the province and right across the globe. I'd like to thank all of our employees who worked very hard on the website to make it the success it is today."

Sharon adds

"We have been bowled over by the commitment, hard work and professionalism of the Allstate NI team. It has been a really fun project and as a start-up social enterprise this brings a huge benefit to our team. Our whole aim is to help connect employers with talented people with Autism and to show that diversity, when done well, feels good and is a win/win for company and candidate. We know that the website will help us achieve that not only in N Ireland but across the Specialisterne network. It feels good, for example that people on the Autistic Spectrum in Australia will be able to apply to jobs in Hewlett Packard in 2016 on a website developed by Allstate NI in Belfast and Derry."

To register as an employer or as a candidate, or to find out more about Specialisterne NI, please visit


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