As the Director of Partnership Development with Disability Solutions, I take on a dual role when assisting our clients with their goal of hiring individuals with disabilities. I often hear companies say they do not know where to start as they begin a hiring initiative. This sentiment is completely understandable when there are often over 50 groups in their community serving jobseekers with disabilities. On the flipside, the community partners struggle to connect with the employer and get their foot in the door to discuss what programs they offer and the talent they work with. Although both have the same goal (employment for people with disabilities), things tend to get lost in translation due to language barriers: business language vs. social services language. My job, and that of my team, is to bridge that gap and help our clients hire the best person for the job who just so happens to have a disability. In order to do this, both sides have to be prepared.
There are four steps that go into preparing the employer. The first is that you have to learn about our client, the employer, inside and out. The second is to host an interactive training that is open and honest, helping to dispel common fears and stigmas that can come with working with individuals with disabilities. Then, community outreach and creating partnerships with organizations serving jobseekers with disabilities becomes necessary. Finally, you need to the build the bridge between the organizations identified and the businesses looking to connect.
In the past (and actually to this day), community partners have a difficult, and at times, unforgiving job placing individuals with barriers in positions. As a result, they have relied on the old Beg, Place and Pray model:Beg a company to hire an individual on their caseload, Place the individual in that position (hired!), Then pray to the powers that be that it all works out. “Placements” yes but “success” no.
Before I reach out to any community organization and/or refer a jobseeker to an employer, I make sure I know the business and what type of employee the business is looking for. When working with our clients and partners, we make sure the partners know business culture, language, expectations (it is not social services!), job requirements and necessary qualifications, and qualities of successful employees.
Much like any relationship, the ability to understand where the other person is coming from is critical. Once the connection with the CBO is made and the bridge is built, they will readily learn the ins and outs of your business so the most qualified candidates can be referred, and ideally hired. Most importantly, do not be afraid of failure. Not every referral will work out. Not everyone is the right fit for the job. If a goal is not met as quickly as you had intended, understand why and use those lessons to learn and improve. Keep in mind all relationships are built on trust, communication, and reciprocity.
At the collegiate level, the key to any great communication plan is developing internal (on-campus) and external partners (off-campus). Employers and organizations do the same thing in order to identify their stakeholders or consumers. Often they are seeking out these partners to better assist students and alumni reach success in the work world. Employers and community partners must brand or promote their program or initiative to colleges and universities. You cannot assume that one press release about your program has managed to reach all individuals engaged in workforce opportunities or all college and university faculty and staff that assist students in workforce opportunities. A company could have an outstanding program for individuals with disabilities but if no one knows about it, then it’s likely that it would not be a successful or highly utilized program.
Once employers have engaged the campus community leaders and workforce related faculty/staff, those campus leaders must then begin the process of sharing the opportunities with students and alumni. One-on-one advising sessions could provide more information on such employer programs or initiatives that help students transition to the world of work. Employer information sessions, could allow employer engagement with students that fit the criteria for the program and would also allow for students to better understand what they would get from participating in the program. More importantly, it allows for advisors to provide more resources that are focusing assisting students with physical or mental disabilities to become even more engaged in the workforce than ever before. It’s a very exciting time for individuals that have been thought of as having limited opportunities in the workforce.
Career Services staff can also connect employers with external partners. One example of an external partner may include workforce development or city/state Career Center officials within the city or region. It’s their job to know of any specialized programs that could help more individuals obtain work. In addition, Vocational Rehab Programs, would also be a great external partner to share program or employer initiative. Vocational Rehab programs focus on placing individuals into workplace opportunities that may have been challenging due to a disability or past experience with trauma.
Overall, colleges and universities can serve in two roles to assist companies or organizations that have great programs or initiatives for students or alumni with disabilities. First, they can help identify a population in which they serve that would need programs that assist students with disabilities obtain quality work. And, second, they could also help any said organization recruit talent to fill any said job opportunities. Furthermore, most college and university career services staff usually can assist in helping the employer develop a network with the city/state that provides services for students with disabilities.
In closing, whether you are an employer who finds this opportunity unique and of interest to you or whether you are a member of career services or disability services staff at a college or university, it’s a great opportunity to find out about any new resources or job training programs that can assist in further developing opportunities for students and alumni that have one or more physical or mental disabilities.
If you would like more information on employers with training programs or if you are interested in developing training programs on campus for your students/alumni, please feel free to contact Kevin McCloskey at Kevin.McCloskey@abilitybeyond.org .