Friday, January 29, 2010

Testimony from Jade Gingerich

The following is testimony by Jade Gingerich, Director of Employment Policy, Maryland Department of Disabilities, delivered to the Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

As Director of Employment Policy for the Maryland Department of
Disabilities and Project Director for Maryland's Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, I respectfully submit the following for consideration.

  • Medicaid Infrastructure Grants must be reauthorized to continue the important cross agency employment efforts underway. The MIG emphasizes long term, statewide strategic planning for /sustainable/ infrastructure. Through a multistate effort, a national marketing campaign targeting employers, titled "Think Beyond the Label" is launching this month, one example of the broad impact of the MIG dollars.
  • Efforts such as the NTAR project, funded by ODEP, should be expanded. Maryland is just beginning to benefit from technical assistance on universal design that has the potential for great results, but meaningful sustainable systems change takes time and resources.
  • Increase funding and set higher expectations for federally funded benefits counseling services.
  • Universal outcome measures should be created across employment funding streams. ODEP could provide leadership with incentive grants to help states create a workstat system.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Year of the Perfect Storm

About two weeks ago, First Lady Michelle Obama, spoke to a group at the U.S. Department of Labor. She, in no uncertain terms, talked about the need for our workplaces to catch up with and reflect the realities of our lives. Her statements directly reflect the need for today’s workforce to focus on workplace flexibility as a means to obtaining and retaining a solid and productive work-life balance.

Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, remarked on the 19th Anniversary of the ADA, “And although the federal government strives to be a model employer, in actuality the number of people with disabilities in the federal workforce has decreased over the past decade. This trend must be reversed, and the Department of Labor will be a leader in the effort.” Her statements reflect the acknowledgement that the largest employer in the US needs to step up and make some changes.

Lastly, Christine Griffin, the newly appointed head of the Office of Personnel Management asked all federal agencies to do some introspection and look at their unintended barriers to hiring and advancement, particularly for people with disabilities. She encouraged agency representatives to “start doing some barrier analysis” and discover where the problems exist not only for career advancement, but also for the opportunity to even get in the door.

So, this is the year of the “Perfect Storm.” At this point in history, we have a rare combination of circumstances that has a potential to drastically change a situation. That situation is the overall (generically poor) employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Not only does the Federal Government have the opportunity to do something dynamic, their actions and words have the potential to lay the foundation for states and local areas to do the same. And, as those of us who work (or have worked) on the front lines know, it’s much easier to move a creative vision forward at the local level than it is for the Federal Government. Anyone courageous enough to meet this challenge?

President Roosevelt's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins once pointed out that most of our problems "have been met and solved either partially or as a whole by experiment based on common sense and carried out with courage." Dare I say it’s time to start using common sense?!? If the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, than let’s break the cycle of insanity! Make an opportunity happen…experiment…come up with new ideas…try out a new approach. Slowly but surely those dreadful employment outcomes will change. You might choose one of the following: meet employers in a different way; assist others develop the skills they need to find their own jobs rather than focusing on “job placement;” develop a new relationship with a community workforce partner; or just simply step outside of your comfort zone to make something exciting happen.

If what you’ve been doing to assist people with disabilities get to work isn’t working…and if your relationships with employers are getting stale, find the courage to try a new approach. Most importantly, share your stories with NTAR and let them know the progress you’re making. They have a direct line to the Federal Government….and would be thrilled to share your successes. Who knows? Maybe one of your courageous ideas could be planted as a “seed of change” at the Federal level. After all, we’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Lisa Stern

Stern Consulting, LLC

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strategy Spotlight: Employer Engagement

Engaging employers is an ongoing challenge for the workforce development system at large, and particularly challenging during this current national recession. While a wide array of employment preparation programs and work experience initiatives are available that assist adults, including those with disabilities, in getting jobs, these programs must coordinate their efforts with employers to ultimately be successful. States in the State Leaders Innovation Institute and State Peer Leaders Network are experimenting with a variety of approaches to overcome this obstacle. Strategies used by states range from primarily informal, one-time communication and information dissemination to employers designed to educate and inform them about existing services and activities, to more intensive engagements and formal relationships that may involve assigning dedicated staff resources to help employers screen, recruit, train, hire, and retain potential employees. The NTAR Leadership Center is currently working with the U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored national technical assistance center for employers on the employment of people with disabilities, managed by Cornell University, and the U.S. Business Leadership Network, to identify promising practices and effective methods for engaging employers.

Listen to the Audio Podcast interview with John Kemp, Executive Director of the U.S. Business Leadership Network about their employer engagement efforts

Read the transcript of the interview with John Kemp

State Spotlight: New Mexico

Focusing on Abilities is New Mexico’s initiative that works to better coordinate and enhance a more comprehensive and coordinated system of employment services and supports for New Mexicans with disabilities. Its 26-member leadership board is comprised of federal and state government agency representatives (e.g., human services, workforce, education/vocational rehabilitation, Governor’s Commission on Disabilities, etc.) as well as people with disabilities, advocacy organizations, and business leaders. Most recently, New Mexico has stepped up its efforts to better align state economic development activities and the business community with its “to-work” efforts for individuals with disabilities. To this end, the leadership board is working closely with the New Mexico Business Leadership Network (BLN) to lead the charge in "creating best practices as next practices in disability employment through a collaborative effort and a mutual understanding of needs, goals, and resources." To kick off this new direction, the New Mexico BLN recently brought in John Kemp, Executive Director of the USBLN, to join high-ranking state workforce, small business, and economic development officials; employers; and members of the Focusing on Abilities leadership for a discussion about next steps in partnering. “There is something wonderful happening here in New Mexico,” stated John Kemp, “and the nation deserves to hear about it.” A significant part of their activities includes working closely with the federal government, a major employer in the state, to gain access to the system of federal hiring at such locations as Kirtland Air Force Base and the U.S. Forest Service, Region 3.

Read about New Mexico's efforts from Guest Blogger Michelle Gonzalez from Verizon Wireless and member of the New Mexico Business Leadership Board of Directors

to the audio podcast interview with Randy Richardson from and member of the New Mexico Business Leadership Network Board of Directors

Read the transcript of the interview with Randy Richardson

Listen to the audio podcast interview with John Kemp, Executive Director and General Counsel of the U.S. Business Leadership Network

Read the transcript of the interview with John Kemp

Preparation and Promise and the Importance of Being Relevant

I sit down to write this as the New Year begins. January is always a month of reflection for me, and this year is no different. Thinking back on 2009, working with state leaders through a still struggling economy, continued rising unemployment, renewed terrorist threats, and now the devastation in Haiti. It is a lot to take in. Yet, I am approaching 2010 optimistic about the future and our ability – as individuals and as organizations - to make some headway into what seems to be the intractable problem of unemployment and underemployment of people with disabilities. And I believe, as always, our solutions lie within us - as persevering people - to continue to plow through but perhaps with a more single minded focus, and a notion that we have to make the preparation for work, and the promise of jobs a mantra.

Preparation and promise. For me, this means continuing to talk about the importance of preparing all of our young people and adults, especially those with disabilities, for a world of work and inclusion in our nation’s economic prosperity. Good or great things just don’t always happen by luck or circumstance in our lives – they happen because many of us (and our parents, friends and family – maybe even our public policy makers) understand the importance of preparation. Promise is about opportunity and the promise of potential new jobs and new opportunities that await those who are prepared. This may be my optimism or perhaps my advancing age, but economies like play sets always have swings. There will be jobs in the future, but they just might not be the jobs in place today, and they just won’t appear without any concerted, focused effort to create them. As such, it is vitally important that we internalize the importance of making our systems change efforts relevant. That is, if there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to employers so that job training is based on jobs that employers foresee needing to fill. If there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to governors and public officials who will be focusing on creating jobs and supporting business development. And, if there is going to be any progress, our efforts must be relevant to every person with a disability who would like to leave dependency on government programs behind and get a job.

Kathy Krepcio
Director, NTAR Leadership Center