Leah Burdick, PRIDE Industries Chief Growth Officer, recently spoke with Doug Thomas of the Sacramento Public File Podcast. In this interview, Leah explains PRIDE Industries’ support for Autism Awareness Month and its plans for the annual Big Day of Giving. The written interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Doug Thomas: I’m Doug Thomas, and my guest this morning is Leah Burdick, Chief Growth Officer for PRIDE Industries. Good morning, Leah.

Leah Burdick: Hello, Doug. Nice to speak with you.

Doug Thomas: Leah, please share about the history of PRIDE Industries.

Leah Burdick: PRIDE Industries was founded in 1966 in Auburn, and it was started by parents whose adult children with disabilities were unemployed. The parents wanted to create meaningful employment so that they could earn paychecks and start to take care of themselves. Fast forward to today, we’re in 16 states plus Washington, D.C., with over 5,000 employees.

Doug Thomas: Wow. Quite the success story started by concerned parents. Well, Leah, April is Autism Awareness Month. So, let’s talk about the misconceptions that employers have about hiring someone with autism. First, there is unconscious bias, right?

Leah Burdick: Yes. Think about some of the tools used for hiring, even artificial intelligence tools. If you don’t have eye contact, it’ll cut you out of the process. We’ve all been taught that a firm handshake, looking the interviewer in the eye, and idle chit chat to get to know you are important, right? These are behaviors that folks on the autism spectrum can be uncomfortable with. These traits are due to differences in their brains. And that’s why the CDC reports that 85 percent of adults with autism are unemployed. Luckily, employers are now waking up to the fact that this is a great potential group of people to hire if placed in the correct roles.

The next level of understanding is how people with autism’s brains are different and how to accommodate that because the benefits can be pretty significant. Harvard Business Review has reported people with autism are considered neurodivergent, and teams that have neurodivergent professionals can be 30 percent more productive. JP Morgan Chase established its Autism at Work program to recruit and manage employees with autism and found that employees who were autistic made fewer errors and were 140 percent more productive than neurotypical peers in certain areas of the business. Companies just can’t ignore these findings, especially given the labor shortage.

Doug Thomas: Those are some amazing numbers.

Leah Burdick: Absolutely. Autism is a spectrum, and all people are different. Some need more support than others. It’s about working with the person, understanding where their strengths are, and matching those strengths to roles within a company.

Doug Thomas: You mentioned that PRIDE Industries is all over the country now. So, let’s talk about some of the global and local companies that partner with you.

Leah Burdick: One that’s really fun to highlight during Autism Awareness Months is Knee Deep Brewing up in Auburn. And they have just launched a special brew to drive awareness for autism called the Hoppy Roger.

It’s a pirate theme, and that was developed by the PRIDE Industry employees with autism who work for brewery bottling and packaging the beer. They did this last April, and it was so popular that they brought back their autism awareness special brew this month. The photo on the label features caricatures of all the PRIDE Industry employees. We’re very grateful to them for helping raise awareness.

Doug Thomas: Well, just so you know, I live in Auburn, and I’ve actually been to Knee Deep, and I’ve had one of those and they’re delicious.

Leah Burdick: Across the country, we work at military bases and at government facilities. Locally we work for the different counties in the area. We also work for VSP, SMUD, Raley’s, and Walgreens. We’re also at Thunder Valley Casino. We do all the laundry there.

We do facilities management where we’ve got everything from landscaping and cleaning through to engineering. HP is a very large supply chain customer and our manufacturing facility, it runs the gamut because we provide manufacturing services, we provide everything you’d need to run a building.

And then we do kind of individual placements in the community with companies who are looking for people for different roles.

Doug Thomas: Do you know if there are any local PRIDE Industries partners with current job openings right now?

Leah Burdick: We certainly have job openings in our manufacturing and commercial facilities businesses. People can go to our website, prideindustries.com, and look at our job board. If you have a disability and you need help even just getting on a career path and understanding what services are available to you, you can call our free I AM ABLE helpline at 844-426-2253, and a representative will point to you in the direction of the different jobs we have available.

Doug Thomas: Believe it or not, we’re already running out of time, Leah. But before we go, tell me what you’re doing for the Big Day of Giving this year.

Leah Burdick: We’re running a campaign to support our helpline, which is fully funded by donations. It’s the only resource of its kind in the country that we’re aware of that connects people with disabilities with the services that I mentioned to help them with job placement. We’re on track to help over 2000 people this year, and we continue to grow. A donation to PRIDE Industries during the Big Day of Giving will help support running and expanding this helpline.

Last year we placed over 130 people into jobs, and we helped close to 900 get connected to services to get on the path to employment.

Doug Thomas: You’re doing some amazing work, my friend. Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Leah Burdick is the Chief Growth Officer for PRIDE Industries. This has been The Public File. I’m Doug Thomas. Be good to each other and thanks for listening.

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