Frist Center for Autism and Innovation

The Nashville Model

AIW Nashville Model

It takes a village

The Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation, and the Workforce was formed from its inception in 2017 with the intention of serving as the core academic research partner within a larger, community-based effort that we call the Nashville Model. The Nashville Model seeks to develop, demonstrate, and disseminate all of the components necessary for a community to come together to create a robust “cradle to workforce” series of pathways and opportunities that lead to meaningful employment for autistic individuals and that enhance the bottom line for area businesses.

This “pipeline to employment” model helps the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation identify roadblocks to meaningful employment faced by many individuals with autism and work with partners throughout the community to identify or develop programs and innovations that may help individuals succeed in overcoming these obstacles.

There are a lot of unknowns in science, particularly when it comes to autism, but what is clear is many in the autism community are looking for employment help. We examine each program and innovation to get a sense of its potential to have a positive impact. For those that show promise, we help facilitate such pilot projects so we may try to help those who need it today, while examining the results with a scientific lens so we can determine what works and what doesn’t. Once a program or innovation has been vetted, we’ll add it to the Nashville Model.

Simply put, the Nashville Model will be a collection of programs and innovations that may help individuals on the spectrum find meaningful employment, not just in Nashville but, ultimately, anywhere such elements may be replicated.

The Nashville Model was featured in this Tennessean article.

UBS, The Precisionists, the Frist family, and Vanderbilt kick off the Nashville Model

On April 20, 2017, UBS announced the launch of a pilot program that aims to provide employment opportunities to adults with autism. The program, formed in collaboration with The Precisionists, an organization that creates jobs for individuals across a broad range of disabilities, will begin in the Compliance and Operational Risk Control division of UBS in Nashville, TN. UBS is the first organization to partner with The Precisionists in Nashville, and the Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation, and the Workforce will serve as the core academic research partner serving to study and develop and disseminate the model.

“With the launch of this pilot program, UBS is strengthening its commitment to workplace inclusion and to creating career opportunities for an often underutilized talent pool,” said Julian Fry, Managing Director and Americas Head of Monitoring, Surveillance & Controls in Nashville. “I am thrilled that UBS is engaging in such a worthwhile undertaking and confident it will demonstrate the talent and contribution that people on the autism spectrum can make.”

Some individuals taking part in the “Nashville Model” may be employed by The Precisionists, and some of those carry out project-based work for UBS on a contract basis. Of those working at UBS, they were provided with four weeks of training, utilizing the methodology of Specialisterne, a nonprofit launched by Thorkil Sonne that offers programs for talent and career development to individuals with autism. The ultimate goal will be to expand this autism employment model to other UBS locations globally. The Precisionists envision employing 10,000 people with disabilities in the US by 2025.

Since 2017, The Precisionists have been in negotiations with other local businesses in Nashville, and many of the individuals with autism that have received their 4-week training are currently employed by such companies as contractors from The Precisionists, with the stipulation that the company may hire that employee on a more permanent basis once they’re settled and a waiting period has elapsed. Of the few who remain unemployed and those seeking to sign on with The Precisionists, further negotiations are underway for work.

“When properly assessed, trained and employed, people with autism are extremely high performing employees in critical and challenging jobs such as email analysis, software testing and data analytics,” said Ernie Dianastasis, CEO of The Precisionists. “When you consider that more than 70% of people with autism in the country are either unemployed or underemployed, we are making a true difference in engaging a significant untapped, high-performing labor force right here in Nashville.”

UBS initially connected with The Precisionists in 2016, following its first annual Global Autism Innovation Roundtable, which was hosted by UBS Client Philanthropy, the Kirby, Calvani & Walker Group at UBS Private Wealth Management, and philanthropists Billy and Jennifer Frist. Each year, the event brings together a diverse set of UBS clients, accomplished professionals, activists, parents, educators, inventors, technologists and organizations to tackle some of the difficult questions related to autism.

In 2017, the Global Autism Innovation Roundtable took place in Jupiter, Florida at the Els Center for Excellence, established by PGA golfer Ernie Els. The event focused on providing meaningful employment and solutions for independent living to individuals on the autism spectrum. Last year, the Roundtable focused on leveraging technology to help individuals on the spectrum communicate.

“While we still have a long way to go, we’ve made significant progress since our first Global Autism Innovation Roundtable,” said Bill Sutton, Head of Client Philanthropy at UBS. “With 70 million people in the world affected, supporting people with autism is increasingly important to our community and clients. We are proud to launch this pilot program with The Precisionists and the Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation, and the Workforce, and to continue our efforts through the Global Autism Innovation Roundtable.”