Bridging the gap

An H-E-B pilot program focuses on helping people on autism spectrum find high-tech jobs with the company

About two years ago, Jared Rumack was a college graduate with a computer engineering degree, working an entry-level customer service job. His pay was modest, his job was routine, and his chance for advancement was limited.

In college, math and computers came easily but the hard part was interacting with people. Trying to put his degree to use, he ran into dead end after dead end at interviews. It wasn’t a lack of effort that kept him from showing his true talents. Rather, not wanting to be unfairly characterized, Jared, 31, was unwilling to disclose to potential employers what was at the heart of his struggle: a disability he was diagnosed with a decade earlier.

As someone on the autism spectrum, the Chicago native’s professional development was hindered by deep social anxiety and communication difficulties. It was hard for him to convey his experience and showcase talents during interviews. And while his education stood out on his résumé, his lack of relevant experience kept him from any professional opportunities.

“I was discouraged because I was never given the chance to show what I’m capable of,” said the Texas A&M graduate. “How do you know I’m good at something if I can’t show you?”

But all that changed once he landed an internship at H-E-B, where now works full-time as a developer.

As an extension of the company’s Bridges program, which focuses on providing jobs and support to people with disabilities, H-E-B established a pilot program that offers internships to people on the autism spectrum, giving corporate-level opportunities to an incredibly capable but marginalized group. In many instances, people who go through H-E-B’s internship program end up, like Jared, landing permanent, full-time positions with the company.

“Too many times, companies and society in general, dismiss people with autism and never get to see what’s really hiding underneath,” said Tina James, H-E-B Chief People Officer. “All we want is to give them a chance. We’re not lowering the bar on talent. We keep the same high standards but give them the support they need to reach their fullest potential.”

Three years ago, H-E-B launched the pilot program to find capable, tech savvy workers among a group that is often overlooked. Many times, people on the autism spectrum have an affinity for mathematics and technology focused disciplines. While H-E-B has always made a point to nurture a diverse and inclusive workplace, this path gives the company access to skilled talent who otherwise wouldn’t be given a chance to follow their passions.

“We’re trying to build a bridge across a chasm to help people get to meaningful career,” said Jenn Byron Ross, H-E-B Director of Recruiting. “We’re creating opportunity and really want to give people a chance.”

Looking back, the shy IT professional who was recently promoted knows he’s come a long way, and he owes it to his internship opportunity, which gave him the opportunity to excel in his desired profession while learning how to be successful in a corporate environment. Now as a full-time Partner, Jared makes about four times more than he did before he started his internship, a financial benefit that allows him to be more independent.

“This is rigorous, mentally stimulating work, which I appreciate,” he said. “It’s good to do something that’s challenging me and to work with a team that appreciates me.”

Visit our H-E-B Careers page for more information about internship and job opportunities at H-E-B.


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