SFPUC’s Neurodiversity Internship Creates Career Pathways for People with Learning Differences

The SFPUC and partners are working to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce through the Neurodiversity Internship Program.

On Tuesday, June 23, over 40 people from the SFPUC, its private firm partners, community partners and family members of the interns celebrated the second cohort to graduate from this innovative program that creates career pathways for individuals with developmental differences, including autism, down syndrome, and severe ADHD.

Throughout the six-month program, Brendan Chin, Andrew Collier, Gabriel Wanderlay, and Eric Yu gained valuable work experience and on-the-job training as paid interns at Pankow, Arcadis, and Black & Veatch—three large engineering and construction firms. During a typical workday, interns supported the firm with data entry, document control, organizing supplies, office reception, and a variety of other administrative tasks. In partnership with the nonprofit organization The Arc of San Francisco, each intern was paired with a job coach to provide additional support at their worksite and participated in weekly enrichment sessions to further develop skills they were learning in the office.

Yu supported the SFPUC Biosolids Digester Project during his internship at Arcadis and was able to impart his new skills to his peers. He shared, “My job coach taught me how to better communicate in work-related social interactions and I was able to share my learned skills with the other interns. Further along in the internship, I also taught the other interns how to improve their Excel skills by providing slides and step-by-step hands-on instructions.” Since the internship, Yu has been hired to continue working at Arcadis as a Document Control Specialist for the Biosolids Project.

Eric Yu (right) at the Arcadis Field Office.
Eric Yu at the Arcadis Office.

“Every graduate is a success story,” said Valerie-Tulier Laiwa, one of the program administrators for the SFPUC’s Workforce Economic Programs and Services (WEPS) team. Other SFPUC WEPS team members include Scott Kaplan (now with DEM), Chanh Tran, and Yordanos Dejan.

Chin, who interned at Black & Veatch, will attend Fresno State University in the fall. Collier and Wanderlay, who both interned at Pankow, now have meaningful work experiences to add to their resumes and advance their careers as they pursue jobs in the future. During his closing remarks at graduation, Collier shared, “This program has built my skills, both in computers and being part of a new professional community. It has given me more confidence to move forward in my professional life and career.” Collier was pleased to work in his Bayview community.

Brendan Chin interned at Black & Veatch and will attend Fresno State University in the fall.

The SFPUC’s Workforce and Economic Programs team launched the Neurodiversity Program in November 2018 as one of the first internships in the nation to alleviate barriers to employment in the engineering and construction sector for the Neurodiverse community. The six-month “interview” gives both the firms and interns an opportunity to see if they are a good match and after the internship, firms are given the choice to hire the intern. Hiring Neurodiversity interns can help firms meet the City’s First Source Hiring requirements and ensure that workforce opportunities from SFPUC’s capital investments directly benefit the most impacted communities. Past participating firms include, Webcor, Black & Veatch, and Stantec. Last year, Stantec also hired their intern.

Andrew Collier interned at Pankow and now has meaningful work experience to add to his resume and advance his careers as he pursues jobs in the future.
Gabriel Wanderlay interned at Pankow.

The Neurodiversity Internship Program is funded by Sundt Walsh JV through SFPUC’s Social Impact Partnership Program, which invites private sector firm partners to give back locally to the communities in which they are performing work on behalf of the SFPUC. The SFPUC is the first public utility in the country to implement a social impact program that advances corporate social responsibility as a part of its competitive bidding process for professional services, alternative delivery and energy contracts. Other examples of SFPUC’s Social Impact Partnership program include the Dinner with a Scientist, Bayview Small Business Phoenix Fund, and CityWorks.

Neurodiversity Pilot Program: Graduation Ceremony in 2019.