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

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