Fostering Inclusion and Opportunity: Spectrum Works and ZAGO Manufacturing’s Inspiring Partnership


Spectrum Works and ZAGO Manufacturing Co. have joined forces to create a more inclusive workforce by integrating autistic individuals into meaningful employment opportunities. Spectrum Works is a non-profit organization located in Secaucus, New Jersey, that offers job training, internships, and employment opportunities to young adults on the autism spectrum. Founded and spearheaded by CEO Ann Marie Sullivan, Spectrum Works addresses the high unemployment rate among autistic individuals, helping them achieve economic self-sufficiency. One of Spectrum Works’ most critical initiatives is connecting with businesses in New Jersey to help foster a symbiotic partnership between this untapped talent pool and employers.

Ann Marie Sullivan met ZAGO’s Co-Founder & CEO Gail Friedberg Rottenstrich in 2022, a fortuitous meeting that has spurred a fruitful partnership for both New Jersey based companies. “I met Gail and immediately she said we definitely want to figure out a way for us to work together,” says Sullivan, “and she introduced me to [NJMEP], and right away she asked if we could participate in ‘MADE in NJ’ Manufacturing Day, and we were put on the alternative workforce panel.” ‘MADE in NJ’ Manufacturing Day is the East Coast’s largest annual manufacturing networking event, which boasts nearly a thousand annual attendees, so an exposure opportunity like this for Spectrum Works was a great opportunity to get in front of potential partners. “That was a really great entryway, not only to working with ZAGO, but it gave us the opportunity to give everyone at Manufacturing Day an opportunity to learn about who we are and the work that we do,” Sullivan adds.

Recent reports estimate that nearly four million jobs will need to be filled in manufacturing in the next decade. To fill these vacancies, industry leaders will need to educate their communities about modern manufacturing, encourage more women to pursue careers in the field, invest in community partnerships, and look for alternative talent pipelines to meet the demand for skilled labor.

ZAGO Manufacturing Co., a family and certified woman-owned business based in Newark that makes sustainable sealing fasteners and switch boots—holds partnerships like theirs with Spectrum Works in high regard, says Kim Keating, Director of Customer Success at ZAGO, “We practice diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that means everybody really, so even if we’re not sure how to integrate with a student or worker right away, we’re going to take our time and figure it out,” she adds, “And Ann Marie and Spectrum Works are the best partners to work with for that.”


This past January, Spectrum Works was able to place their first trainee (Jeremy) at ZAGO.

“We just started talking about getting the program on-site at ZAGO, which was the ultimate goal,” says Sullivan. Due to some unforeseen transportation issues, it took a little while to get students to ZAGO’s facility for training, but that didn’t deter the Spectrum Works team or their students. “We were practicing and doing some of their work at our facility so that we could train the students so that they would be prepped and ready to go once we were on-site at ZAGO,” says Ann Marie.

Outside of simply providing on the job skills training, the internship program was an opportunity to provide their students with essential life and leadership skills that will be necessary for successful careers in advanced manufacturing. “We learned that it was much more than just assembling things, we used it as an opportunity to teach them teamwork and leadership,” says Sullivan, “Each person got to be the leader and work as a team, so in addition to learning the actual skill, it gave them so much more. It built their confidence and made their self-esteem go up, so it was really a great opportunity to do that.”


Ann Marie emphasizes the importance of providing support and opportunities to alternative workforces, including autistic individuals, “We’re just trying to get people to open up their minds to alternative workforces, veterans’ organizations, disabilities, autism, and to understand that they can be great workers they just need support and opportunities,” she says. Sullivan also highlights the practical benefits for employers, outside of just meeting their DEI requirements, noting that autistic employees often exhibit low turnover rates. “There’s low turnover because they don’t want to go to another company if they feel valued, they want to stay and they typically end up staying a long time,” she adds.

ZAGO Manufacturing’s participation in this internship program has proven their continued commitment to diversity and inclusion. “The team there [at ZAGO] are so caring, they make sure Jeremy feels included, and he’s nurtured,” says Sullivan. ZAGO has demonstrated a commitment to creating an environment where autistic employees can thrive. “We had our annual autism acceptance day celebration at ZAGO and it went really well, all their employees participated, and it was just a great feeling to hear how they cared about Jeremy.”

Keating appreciates Spectrum Works for their dedicated approach. “What we loved about Spectrum Works, Ann Marie, her team and coaches is that they really care, and they’re patient, and they take time. It takes a village and we wanted to make sure whomever came on we could provide an environment where they could flourish and learn.”


The program’s success is evident in the opportunities it provides. “Opportunities are not limited at all. That’s exciting for anyone to see who comes to manufacturing,” says Keating. She emphasizes the importance of giving people the opportunity to flourish. “No one fits in a box, it’s amazing when you can see people flourish no matter who they are. You just have to give them the opportunity and some support.”

By partnering with companies like ZAGO, Spectrum Works aims to create more inclusive workplaces, fostering self-confidence and skills among participants, and promoting societal acceptance of neurodiversity in professional environments. Through this partnership, Spectrum Works and ZAGO Manufacturing are setting a powerful example of how inclusive employment practices can benefit both individuals and businesses. Their collaboration not only supports autistic individuals in gaining meaningful employment but also enriches the workplace with diverse talents and perspectives.

ZAGO’s Keating encourages other manufacturers to explore similar programs, stating, “We’re really happy with Jeremy and with Spectrum Works. I would encourage other manufacturers to do the same, to look into the program, to go visit Spectrum Works, go meet the students—you can’t really get a good understanding of how beneficial this program is until you see it for yourself.”

What’s next for Spectrum Works? Spectrum Works recently expanded their program by launching a new out-of-school youth internship initiative, which focuses on placing autistic adults who are no longer in the school system. This initiative has already placed eight students in positions, with the goal of increasing participation to 28 students by the end of the year. This expansion aims to provide more autistic individuals with valuable work experience and opportunities in the manufacturing sector, further enhancing the inclusive work environment that both organizations are committed to fostering.

Request Your Complimentary Assessment

Schedule Now