Job seekers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are an overlooked and underappreciated talent pool. For organizations hoping to develop employment opportunities for the people they serve, one of the biggest hurdles is building partnerships with businesses.
Stephane Leblois, program manager at The Arc@Work, did a webinar with us to educate IDD service providers about the program’s approach to supporting corporations to develop, implement and maintain neurodiversity hiring initiatives. Stephane provided useful information and actionable steps for providers interested in improving their employment programs.
The audience had great questions, and Stephane offered insightful answers. Here’s some of that Q&A.
Q: What are some nontraditional job development partnerships?
A: I would recommend looking at Rotary International, the local Chamber of Commerce or other large networks of businesses. Also, look for fraternal organizations in your area whose members may be comprised of business leaders and other folks you can network with. The key is to get on the docket to speak at a meeting about what you’re doing. Use that elevator pitch we talked about developing at the beginning of the webinar. Talk about who your organization is and the value and services you provide. That is exactly the type of presentation people want to hear.
Q: Can you speak on how to engage specifically with smaller, locally owned businesses? Do you do much job carving or customized employment?
A: The first thing is to identify their need—what are they struggling with staffing-wise—and figure out, on your terms, a way to solve that problem. For example, if they’re looking for one or two full-time positions to fill immediately, but they’re having trouble filling those positions, go to them and say, “Hey look, we can do this, but some of the individuals that we support may not be able to work full-time jobs for benefits reasons or as an accommodation. I would recommend we do job carving or splitting one position across two or three people if need be.” Employers are responsive to thinking creatively about those things.
Q: If you don’t have any applicable candidates for the position that this business is looking to fill, would you reach out to other agencies that are supporting job seekers with disabilities?
A: As far as I’m concerned, yes. I think that we shouldn’t lose sight of our mission, which is ultimately to get people with disabilities into jobs. So, if you don’t have a job candidate who is a fit for a job with a certain employer, I would 1) reach out to another agency because you want to fulfill that mission, and 2) know that the employer will thank you and remember you. They will gain trust in your ability to get their needs filled no matter what, whether that’s you doing it or somebody else.
Q: Are there any assessment tools you would recommend that would be used to find the type of businesses or industries that fit best as places of employment for your participant workforce?
A: Not that I can think of. Ultimately, it’s important to reach out to all kinds of businesses in your area, especially if you live in an area with few employer options. But you want to focus your fire on employers that have the types of jobs that may fit the skill sets and preferences of the individuals you serve. The way you assess that is up to you, but I think it starts with a person-centered plan and figuring out what the individual wants to do with their career.
One way to assess the best kinds of jobs or employers to reach out to in your area is by creating realistic job previews or walk-throughs of different employers—working with employers to create a “day in the life of” or an opportunity to shadow a current employee so that folks understand and see if they are interested in that type of work. I would use whatever free means you can for getting folks into workplaces and familiar with work processes so they can make an educated decision down the road.
Q: Have you had luck with offering some type of trial work experience to the employer and then transitioning into an actual hire?
A: One of the great programs that does this is Project SEARCH, and we’ve worked with a number of sites. Project SEARCH is a little bit different because it’s a longer internship program.
It’s not unusual for employers to allow for a bit of a trial period with an individual where they can come in and either shadow an employee or maybe even work a shift, depending on the relationship that you’ve established with that employer. That shift and the liability are often covered by vocational rehabilitation as on-the-job training, so that’s able to be funded most of the time.
To answer the question—yes, we’ve had success in doing job trials not only for the job discovery process but also as a means to build confidence on the employer side that the job seeker can work effectively.
Q: How do you feel about disclosing the fact that your company works with people with disabilities? Some pundits think we should not disclose this key piece of information.
A: The Arc is one of the nation’s largest and oldest non-profits serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so I think that working for and with people with disabilities is a fundamental aspect of who we are as an organization. Secondly, I would say that working with people with disabilities is a strength and asset—not something to either be ashamed of or hide away.
At the same time, it is important for any organization that either employs people with disabilities or works with people with disabilities to not use disability as a mascot. People with disabilities are people, and true inclusion happens when disability no longer becomes a defining characteristic in the workplace or a condition for employment. Celebrating diversity and diverse abilities in your workplace is important, but not exploiting that in external communications is key.
Q: Do you recommend hosting a business partner appreciation event, or is that too much time and money?
A: Yes! In fact, one of the slides in my presentation mentions that an alternative method to traditional job development is to host events at your agency or “play a home game.” This serves to not only establish needed partnerships with local employers but also shows the community other ways that your agency achieves positive impact (e.g., daily living skills training, social events and community volunteerism). It is also important to recognize businesses in your area that are doing great things in the realm of inclusion, so I think it’s a great idea to host an appreciation event! To your point, though, don’t go overboard on expenses.