Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Veterans Green Jobs

Veterans Green Jobs is addressing our nation’s energy and environmental security challenges through utilizing one of our Nation’s greatest natural leadership resources: the veteran population. By doing this, VGJ hopes to replicate the camaraderie, intensity, and meaning of work that our service members experienced in uniform service in their civilian lives.

We started our work with our first cohort in April of 2009. Looking at a picture of this first group, you could not point to the individuals struggling with post traumatic stress issues, the individual with symptoms of traumatic brain injury, those veterans who were once homeless, or the young combat veteran and single father who has only 52% of his lung capacity due to injuries received at war. In other words, you could not look at the picture and pick out the veteran who was or was not disabled. Disabled is defined by the 1990 American with Disabilities Act as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.

From the beginning, VGJ has been serving disabled veterans and believes that regardless of a disability being visibly noticed or not, our veterans coming back from service or war who are disabled need to have the same opportunities and possibilities afforded them that any veteran returning to a life outside of uniform is afforded. Unfortunately, our country has failed since the Vietnam era to welcome properly home any veteran and those with disabilities face additional challenges. As a group, veterans face a troubling picture painted through higher levels of homelessness, incarceration, drug use, violence, unemployment, and suicide than the non-veteran population.

Working through the vehicle of green jobs and cohort based training we believe veterans, regardless of disability, can take a leadership role in securing America’s energy security and repaint the veteran experience in a decidedly more positive light. VGJ is working with many different partners, including NTAR, to ensure that we do not leave any veteran behind and that all of our programs are as universal in design and delivery for maximum inclusion.

We are also working on a joint project with the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), the Colorado Historic Society, and the Homelake Foundation to create the Nation’s first disabled veterans green jobs training center. This project aims to convert a portion of the Homelake Veterans Center outside Monte Vista, Colorado to become this needed facility. Our hope over the next three to four years is to implement a phased facility renovation program creating residential, instruction, and community facilities on the site. These will integrate universal and renewable energy and green building principles already underway at the site. Part of the intended use of these facilities is to create active and regular opportunities for engagement with the larger local community. Disabled veterans will be key participants and workers in the further creation and construction of this vision.

I encourage anyone reading this blog post who has additional interest in our programs, or any ideas, resources, comments, contacts, or questions about our work in general and the Homelake project specifically, to visit our website to learn more. Please also comment here, or contact me directly about how we can together achieve our vision of not leaving any veteran behind

Stacy Bare
Director of Operations and National Programs

Veterans Green Jobs

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strategies for Growing Jobs Must Include an Economic Recovery for People with Disabilities

In the past several weeks, Governors from California to New York have announced job creation initiatives and strategies that have included helping small businesses stay open and hire new staff; that look to recruit and retain industries vital to they state’s economy; that effect greater diversity in their state economies beyond traditional crucial industries; and that put a new imperative on workforce/education training to develop skilled workers to match industry needs.

While I remain optimistic that our nation’s Governors as well as President Obama have a renewed focus on jobs, it is highly likely that jobseekers with disabilities will remain marginalized when it comes to who benefits from publicly funded job investments. That is, unless there is persistent attention directed at insuring their inclusion in federal and state “Main Street" economic efforts.

For Americans with disabilities, the unemployment numbers over the years speak for themselves - they have never been part of any real economic recovery. What I see is decades of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and significant exclusion from the competitive labor market – in part enabled by out-of-date, exclusionary public policies and labor market practices.

For Americans with disabilities, gaining any significant job opportunities from the President’s first stimulus package or new gubernatorial strategies remains to be seen. A scan of grantees receiving green jobs training funds shows that less than a handful identified people with disabilities as a target population for training. A scan of state plans outlining new job creation strategies mention special initiatives to create job pathways for welfare recipients, youth, food stamp recipients and laid off workers, but with the exception of disabled veterans, no mention of insuring that all Americans have equal access to these opportunities.

In order to insure that Americans with disabilities, who want to work, can benefit from these new state and federal job creation investments, we should not be afraid to let our White House and our State Houses know that a jobs program for all should mean all. And that means improving who gets access to new publicly financed skills training, education, and jobs. Much more can be accomplished in new job creation strategies than just putting some people back to work. Federal and state officials have a tremendous opportunity to create, along with jobs, new policies and practices that removes barriers to work, and creates better access to jobs so that people with disabilities can truly participate in an economic recovery.

Kathy Krepcio
, NTAR Leadership Center

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

State Updates

Last October, Seeding Change featured Maryland's effort to develop multi-agency strategies to ensure that the talents of Marylanders with disabilities are included in state plans to prepare for job growth resulting from the expansion of military bases under their Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative. Since that time, Maryland has held several career expos and workshops for people with disabilities looking for BRAC-related employment, contracted with an AmeriCorps volunteer to conduct outreach to college students with disabilities, and developed and issued fact sheets on security clearances, universal design, asset development, and base realignment and closure.

- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Security Clearances: What is a Security Clearance and Why Should I Obtain One?
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Universal Design for Housing
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Asset Development: Why Asset Development?
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Base Realignment
- View information about the 2010 Essential Workplace Skills Webinar Series

Also highlighted in the fall were the Commonwealth of Virginia's efforts to facilitate stronger collaboration among members of its business, economic development, workforce development, and disability and rehabilitation communities. In November, Virginia released the final report from its Governor's Forum on Disability and Economic Development, which was distributed to all Forum participants, state agencies, and the Virginia General Assembly.

- View the Virginia Governor's Forum on Disability and Economic Development final report titled "Virginia's Call to Action."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking Back

Did you know that since 2007, the NTAR Leadership Center has:

  • Conducted more than 14 training webinars on such topics as blending and braiding resources, sector strategies, understanding and using labor market information, understanding customized employment practices, and asset development, as well as myriad topics related to leadership, partnership building, and collaboration. View these archived webinars.
  • Grown the number of states in its State Peer Leaders Network (SPLN) to 24. The SPLN now includes Alaska, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. For more information about how to join the SPLN, or to request technical assistance from the NTAR Leadership Center consortium members, visit our state Peer Leaders Network page.
  • Conducted six surveys asking states in our SPLN about their efforts on outcome measurement, sector strategies, economic stimulus funding, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization, self-employment, and states as model employers of people with disabilities. View summary reports of these surveys.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leadership Spotlight: Megan Juring

Megan Juring has been a tremendous public policy leader in the field of disability employment policy. She currently serves as the Assistant Secretary of Olmstead Activities at the California Health and Human Services Agency and has extensive experience both in the workforce field as well as in the disability field. Megan is also the co-chair of the NTAR Leadership Center's Technical Assistance Panel, where her real-world experience and expertise are invaluable to helping shape and direct the technical assistance that the NTAR Leadership Center provides. In her role with the State of California, she has not only been active in workforce issues but also with issues surrounding the challenges of an aging population and helped develop a plan to address the unique needs of citizens with Alzheimer's disease within the state. Megan's leadership has also helped ensure success for AB 1269, a bill that expanded Medi-Cal eligibility limits to allow more people with disabilities to earn and save without fear of lost coverage.

Listen to the audio podcast interview with Megan Juring about the importance of peer learning and the challenges of driving change in a tough state economic climate.

Read the transcript of the interview.

View a video of Megan speaking about her role as co-chair of the NTAR Leadership Center's Technical Assistance Panel.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Every Willing Heart

In his inaugural address just over a year ago, President Obama said something that resonated deeply: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

As the nation starts to crawl out of its deep economic hole, it might seem counter intuitive to talk about disability employment. But a large body of evidence and a growing public policy consensus suggest that the president is right: it’s in the nation’s best interest for everyone to work.

That notion is articulated in the value proposition adopted by Minnesota’s SLII team: We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper. This is the organizing principle of the Minnesota team’s work.

Our work assumes that employers will recognize that it is in their own best interest to seek out "every willing heart" from populations that have long been under-represented in the workplace. This belief represents a vision of workplace flexibility (or customization) that provides accommodations, maximizes productivity, changes workplace experiences and attitudes, and reconfigures the composition of the workforce, perhaps dramatically, and perhaps forever.

New hiring policies might, for example, distinguish between “qualified” workers (who meet specific and rigid job requirements) and “quality” workers (who maybe wouldn't meet rigid qualification tests, but who would demonstrate flexibility, trainability and eagerness to work). Policies like that very likely would bring new workers into the workplace rather than erecting barriers that keep them out. That would indeed be a historic change.

A couple of years ago Minnesota employment planners identified a number of workforce issues that state government will be forced to address soon. Minnesota, like the rest of the nation, has an aging workforce, accelerating retirements, and a looming shortage of people who have the education, skills and training to fill key government positions. The planners also identified several underutilized populations in the workforce and outlined strategies to include those populations—including people with disabilities—in the state's workforce planning.

One of several responses to these findings was an executive branch initiative to make Minnesota a model employer of people with disabilities. The idea was to create an expectation—not a hope or a wish or a request, but an expectation—that all state hiring managers would be both intentional and proactive in recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. The results, while admittedly modest in numerical terms, have nonetheless raised dramatically the profile of disability employment in state government. In the first couple of years, the model employer initiative generated about 100 new government internships, apprenticeships and part-time or full-time jobs for people with disabilities. In a state workforce that comprises some 40,000 employees, that's a small but very real shift. The early results of this initiative show great promise, and it appears likely that the trend will continue as more and more employees retire from public service.

The reality of workforce shortages for everyone is becoming increasingly dire. Employers will have to compete, as never before, for skilled workers. Attitudes toward hiring people with disabilities are changing, and public policy is shifting in the direction ensuring employment for every willing heart. Not, as President Obama said, out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

John Fisher
Public Affairs Director, Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development