Helping adults with Autism enter workforce - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Helping adults with Autism enter workforce

COLUMBIA, MO (KFVS & U of MO EXTENSION SERVICE) -

By Phil Leslie

Teacher Teri Walden and physician Becky Llorens met a couple of years ago and bonded over a common concern. Each has a young adult son with Autism seeking work.

While helping their sons find jobs, the two Columbia women did something they never dreamed they would do. They started a business, with guidance from University of Missouri Extension.

Their nonprofit venture—Encircle Technologies—offers tech-oriented training for autistic young adults.

Walden and Llorens started the business in 2013 after searching nationwide for postsecondary vocational training options for autistic youth. They found inspiration from training efforts in Los Angeles and Dallas.

Now they have a tech training business with several teachers, 15 students and a whole range of classes, says Collin Bunch, MU Extension business development specialist. Bunch has counseled the new entrepreneurs on the basics of starting and maintaining a business.

“It was really helpful for us to find somebody like Collin who knows the business side of things,” said Walden.

Bunch helped Walden and Llorens identify market needs. A recent survey of Columbia businesses pinpointed an ongoing vacuum of around 800 unfilled tech jobs.

Many small businesses in the area need employees trained in technology basics such as database administration, programming and Web design.

Walden designed a project-based curriculum that provides training in all those areas. The company also trains its students in socialization, communicating with potential employers and adapting to the work environment.

“We give them the tools to land a job,” said Walden.

Along the way, Walden and Llorens have learned about keeping a business running.

Though Encircle Technologies is a nonprofit, it must bring in dollars to stay afloat. Their three-pronged approach to revenue generation includes tuition from students, support from business partners and clients, and donations from interested individuals and groups.

The two entrepreneurs have come a long way in the two years since starting Encircle.

Maintaining the business will present more challenges. But Walden and Llorens are in it for the long haul and determined to make it work.

“We are cultivating our business community to help our students find jobs after their training at Encircle,”

Walden explained. “We're continually looking for ways to develop relationships with local businesses.”

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