Autism & Agriculture

Autism and Agriculture is our world-first initiative that employs autistic adults with a high attention to detail in specialist animal care roles.

The program has resulted in an on-boarding and support framework that allowed SunPork Farms to place 16 autistic adults into fully integrated, full or part-time employment, on our farms in Queensland and South Australia. 

An evaluation of the Autism and Agriculture pilot program by Curtin University, on behalf of the Autism CRC, will provide recommendations to the wider agriculture industry to extend the employment model and animal welfare strategy across Australia and the world.

Some of our goals: 

  • To identify and employ the diverse skills and talents of adults with autism in animal care
  • To develop innovative solutions that continue to provide optimal welfare for livestock
  • To build capacity within the agricultural sector to employ adults with autism

Collectively our program represents a financial commitment by SunPork Farms, the Autism CRC and Specialisterne exceeding $800,000.

While the outcomes of our program are significant for autistic adults, the impact of the innovation on SunPork Farms and the Australian pork industry may outweigh them.

The program has made SunPork staff aware of autism and they are now focused on what can be acheieved with, and by, these staff rather than any accompanying impairment.

The employment process has resulted in replacement of existing work instructions and training resources for all staff as well as a significant improvement in some staff amenities. 

Far from representing charity exercise, this program has changed the entire company culture for the better and the enthusiasm and pride in the program is permeating to other parts of the Australian pork industry.

Why Autism?

Autism affects more than 1% of the population. Adults with autism are often unemployed, underemployed and socially disadvantaged despite having the necessary skills required.

Skilled employment can be difficult to find and hard to retain. Traditional recruitment practices such as a job interviews can cause distress and are poorly suited to otherwise capable employees. Workplace understanding and support is often poor.

In 2015 United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, joined by business leaders from Microsoft, SAP and Towers Watson, among others, launched a Call to Action inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ adults with autism, supporting the creation of equitable employment for autistic individuals and a workforce that better reflects the general population.

Consistent with the UN Call to Action, SunPork Farms recognises that some adults with autism possess unique empathy for animals. We also believe that there are many aspects of our animal work that align with other attributes of individuals with some forms of autism: an exceptional ability to focus and pay attention to detail, and finding comfort in repetitive activities. Furthermore, many individuals with autism struggle with social interaction and perform well on solitary tasks.

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