Helping Students with disABILITIES -Kevin McCloskey & Dr. Amanda L. Walker

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 .

Challenges, Opportunities, and Questions: Career Services Recruiting Platform Survey Results

Offices providing career services are currently faced with a rapidly changing technology landscape, relative to the platforms we use to manage employers’ job, internship, and cooperative education postings; events, meet ups, and career fairs; and counseling or coaching appointments with our students and alumni. Over the last few years, we have seen company mergers, the combining of separate systems, and the launch of entirely new platforms and companies!

As our offices continue to adjust to this changed environment, the Technology Knowledge Group (KG) decided to capture the current state of the field and target areas for future programming. During the summer of 2017, the KG conducted an association-wide survey of career centers and offices to identify the types of systems we all use as well as some of the common challenges we all face.

In total, 84 individuals completed the survey, from 74 institutions; during analysis, duplicate entries were removed. The results confirmed that we are truly in a period of transition, which has left many of our colleagues with a wide-ranging set of questions and the need for additional assistance and support.

Nearly half (n=36) of our participating schools reported using Handshake as their platform for students. 19% reported using Symplicity, while 11% reported using Grad Leaders. A number of other systems were being used by our member schools as shown in Table 1 below.

TABLE 1: Systems Used for Student Support

System Number of Schools Percentage
Handshake 36 49%
Symplicity 14 19%
Grad Leaders 8 11%
College Central Network 4 5%
CSO 4 5%
Purple Briefcase 4 5%
12Twenty 2 3%
Portfolium/TalentMatch 1 1%
None 1 1%
Graduway 0 0%

When providing services for alumni, the percentages indicated broader diversity among the systems being used with Handshake leading the field at 36% of schools using their platform. As shown in Table 2, 22% reported using Symplicity, while 12% were using Grad Leaders. Of particular note, 12% of respondents indicated that they were not using any system for the delivery of services to alumni.

TABLE 2: Systems Used for Alumni Support

System Number of Schools Percentage
Handshake 27 36
Symplicity 16 22
Grad Leaders 9 12
None 9 12
CSO 4 5
College Central Network 3 4
12Twenty 2 3
Graduway 1 1
Portfolium/TalentMatch 1 1
Purple Briefcase 0 0

In addition to collecting information on what platforms schools are using, the survey also collected questions from participants for the software vendors. The following broad themes emerged:

Platform Versatility – Participants zeroed in on challenges around customizability of the platforms, ease of use (simplified processes and less cumbersome access for end users), integration support for CRMs (e.g. Salesforce or Banner), and database access / analytics support (e.g. reporting or dashboards).

Platform Development – There were a number of questions on how the platforms were developed, how were career services offices involved in the initial creation of the platform, how can they be involved in future development, and what features are most used by students and employers and how those features have improved overall usage.

Proving Value and ROI – Several participants asked questions about using the system to measure Return on Investment and alumni engagement, managing longitudinal data for outcomes reporting, and integration of First Destination Surveys.

 Customer Service – These questions were focused on the quality of customer care for users of the system and the need for real-time help desk services, such as telephone and online chat support. There were also questions related to who the vendors felt their “customers” were (i.e. students, employers, or career center staff).

Employer Relations Support – We collected questions related to best practices for keeping employer recruiter or human resources contacts current. We also collected questions related to wanting to learn about ways in which the platforms could help with growing connections between employers and students and alumni.

Survey participants also had questions for their peers. Related to staff usage of the systems, there was a desire to know how much time staff members were spending in the system on a daily basis. There was also a desire to know how schools were keeping up with system updates and training their staff. On the employer relations front, there was significant interest in the approval processes being used with companies and their jobs. Finally, schools were interested in how their peers were increasing the adoption rate of the platforms by students on their individual campuses.

In light of these results, the KG will be hosting a unique session at this year’s SOACE Conference in San Antonio.

We will begin the session with a mini-panel featuring representatives from 12Twenty, GradLeaders, Handshake, and Symplicity as well as career center employees who are currently using each of the platforms. This will be followed by breakout sessions for each system, allowing attendees to explore the questions and challenges identified in this survey, as well as any they would like to bring with them to the conference.

Join us on Sunday, December 10 at 5:00 p.m. for this exciting program!




Ashley Graham Phipps

Assistant Director, Employer Relations

Wake Forest University


Peter Thorsett

Communications & Marketing Officer

Career Services

University of South Florida