For the past several weeks, I have traveling around the country talking with state officials, business leaders and others about the work they are doing in the disability and employment area, listening to speeches and presentations, and observing the work of very dedicated people trying to figure out how they can crack the employment problem. While traveling, I have had so many interesting conversations, and listened to some presentations that were really thought provoking – I wanted to share a few with you.
My conversation with Terry Donovan who works on Pathways to Employment in Minnesota about the ‘diffusion of innovation’ theory and strategies for effectively moving pilot projects to national implementation successfully. We also talked about how to inculcate piloted local and state practices from their research and development phase into new ways of doing business. Terry and all the other folks in Minnesota we work with through our Center give me so many ‘aha’ moments when we talk that I always want to stay in Minnesota (except for that winter thing they have going there).
My talk with Michelle Martin (a women with enormous creative energy who has her own blog called ‘The Bamboo Project’ and who is assisting New Jersey with their disability employment efforts) was about the need to look at, and work with, jobseekers in terms of their ‘employment readiness’ versus some stereotype or silo like ‘disability’, ‘low income’, ‘TANF recipient’, or ‘dislocated worker’. Michelle is a rockstar! and is teaching me a lot about Web 2.0 technology and communications and all that energy – wow!
My discussions with folks in New Mexico about the necessity, if not the imperative, of objectively evaluating our employment programs and practices. My colleague at the Heldrich Center, Bill Mabe, and I recently presented at the Southwest Conference on Disability about what you need to know to structure an effective, user friendly evaluation (the presentation can be found on the Heldrich Center website www.heldrich.rutgers.edu). I can’t say enough about the need to really know if the services and supports everyone is working on really are making a difference, or whether we are so emotionally attached to what we are doing that we can’t objectively see that some things just are not working very well.
Finally, I was recently presenting with Dana Egretsky from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce (who also runs the New Jersey Business Leadership Network) in Atlantic City at a state conference on autism. Dana and I were scheduled to discuss the New Jersey economy, what employers are looking for, and how to best prepare for the world of work. We both realized that the presentation we were about to give was, most likely, going to be somewhat depressing given the poor employment outlook and how difficult it is to be upbeat when the reality of the job market is a bit bleak. What can you say except get a skill, stay in school, be positive and slog through it? Clearly, there are not a lot of easy answers for jobseekers right now. Yet conversations like these continue to make me realize how there are great people out in the field who are thinking about how to make changes, who want to have an honest dialogue about the status quo and challenges to real change, and who sincerely want to make a difference.
Director, NTAR Leadership Center