Grant offers virtual job-interview training to students with autism


For teenagers and young adults with autism, getting hired for a job can be daunting without preemployment services to develop their skills and build confidence.

However, a new $3.16 million grant awarded to the University of Michigan by the National Institutes of Health will be used to offer virtual job interview training in 16 Michigan and California schools over the next three years.

Once in the program, students will practice interviewing for various jobs, such as cashier, food service worker and greeter, among other positions.

Matthew Smith, professor of social work in the School of Social Work and project lead, said the plan involves two efforts.

First, the team will leverage existing partnerships with schools and organizations that have participated in prior virtual job training studies, such as those in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan.

Team members also will recruit new partners by reaching out to special-education directors and school board members.

The efforts also include a California partnership with San Diego State University. One project initiative is to overcome historical barriers to study participation by different minority communities, including San Diego, which has a strong cultural diversity.

Smith said preemployment transition services are federally mandated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act of 2014 to prepare autistic, transition-age youth for the workforce prior to exiting high school.

“There are few evidence-based job-interviewing programs with limited accessibility within preemployment transition services,” he said. “This is a contributing factor to low employment rates among autistic, transition-age youth.”

When students sign up for this new program, they will complete research surveys and assessments to help coordinators understand their employment history, perspective on employment and their current level of job interview skills.

Smith said the participants will be randomly assigned to practice their interview skills with virtual interview training now or at a later time.

A limitation of preemployment transition services is that most job-interview training is resource intensive where teachers role-play with students once or twice, whereas more practice will help students develop the skills needed to do well in the interview, Smith said.

The grant builds upon previous efforts involving virtual interview training for transition-age youth in five schools. In that study, the training improved interview skills, lessened interview anxiety and led to more students finding competitive employment within six months of completing the program, Smith said.



  1. Laura Stchur
    on October 10, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Is there any way to actively enroll to be part of this training? Or is enrollment only by the study team’s outreach invitation only?

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