Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Employment First

This is a guest post from Wendy Parent, Research Associate Professor and Assistant Director, Lawrence Site, Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, NTAR National Research Advisory Panel Member

Employment First is an exciting new public policy that is gaining increased momentum at the state and federal levels. It establishes the idea that integrated competitive employment is the first option for all individuals regardless of disability level or support needs. This is significant in that it changes the way we think and overtime changes the way we do things with funding streams and service delivery practices eventually following suit.

To date, numerous states have implemented some type of Employment First activity. These include: Minnesota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Washington, Tennessee, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Colorado, Vermont, Delaware, Iowa, and Kansas. Efforts have focused upon conferences, summits, publications, training and technical assistance, agency goals and mission statements, and policies and legislation. Kansas has recently submitted an Employment First Bill, H.R. 2669, which has passed the House and is currently in the Senate for vote. This landmark piece of legislation establishes that “…competitive and integrated employment of persons with disabilities in communities of Kansas shall be the first priority in the state…” and creates an oversight commission for monitoring and accountability.

The Employment First Bill introduced in Kansas represents the culmination of a series of major activities and multiple peoples’ involvement. The original impetus was the result of contract negations between the state funding agencies and provider organizations including self-advocates in which “employment first” language was added. A task force of key stakeholders was appointed and the outcome of their work was an Initial Report and Recommendations. The concept was rolled out for the legislature at a reception conducted at the beginning of their session with presentations from several individuals with disabilities who talked about their employment experiences, an employer, and a researcher who discussed employment outcomes in Kansas. Information sharing and networking for professionals, families, and individuals with disabilities is proposed at a two-day Kansas Employment First Summit to be held in the near future with an impressive line-up of national speakers and ending with a Conversation with the Governor’s Cabinet Secretaries and Directors.

Why emphasize work? Research shows that employers express positive attitudes toward workers with disabilities and are willing to hire employees with extensive support needs when they receive competent services from disability employment programs (Katz & Luecking, 2009). Individuals with disabilities themselves, tell us they want to work and have made employment their priority (Alliance for Full Participation, 2009; The Riot, 2007). Furthermore, supported and customized employment strategies are effective at meeting the hiring needs of the employer and the support needs of the employee resulting in a cost-efficient alternative to sheltered work and day services (Cimera, 2008; Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2005; Wehman, Inge, Revell, & Brooke, 2007).

Why Employment First? Nationally, the number of individuals participating in sheltered work and day services continues to rise. In Kansas and many other states, the majority of their dollars are spent on funding these segregated programs for the very population of people for whom supported and customized employment strategies were developed and have proven to be effective. Multiple systemic issues contribute to the problem. A federal and/or statewide employment first policy would begin to shift these outcomes by establishing integrated competitive employment as the first option for people with disabilities. No one agency or organization can do it alone. Employment First would put everyone on the same agenda, working towards the same goal, with integrated competitive employment as the expected outcome and the focus of limited resources. A collaborative effort will direct our attention to the challenges we must address in order to make these outcomes a reality for all citizens with disabilities. Employment First could potentially be the change we need.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don’t Be Afraid of Social Media!

This is a guest post from Savannah Barnett, Research Coordinator, NTAR Leadership Center

Sure, we all know the myths about social media: it’s for teenagers, it’s for telling people about what you had for lunch, it’s vacuous and a waste of time. These myths are being reinforced by employers who block access to these sites and don’t let their employees participate. While it is true that many people (including young people) have private Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts , these resources can be deployed strategically to better market the services that governments and nonprofits provide, inform the public about news, legislative and regulatory change, and new research and resources.

In my role at the NTAR Leadership Center I help coordinate this blog, our twitter account, and our Facebook page. In this capacity I sometimes encounter people who seem dismayed, overwhelmed, and alarmed at the possibility of engaging, sharing resources, and expressing their policy views in these online forums for a variety of reasons.

Social media is a great way to share resources and increase collaboration and coordination with colleagues, clients, and others who are interested in your work. Unfortunately not all companies (and especially not all government agencies) are embracing these positive resources that can extend the reach of an organization and contribute greatly to staff professional development.

One myth about social media is that employees cannot be trusted to fairly represent an organization online. I want state policymakers, leaders of nonprofits, and jobseekers to know that there is nothing to be afraid of! If you speak to colleges around the office water cooler or make new contacts at a conference, you can absolutely meaningfully engage in online social networking in ways that promote collaboration, coordination, and your own professional development.

If your role is nonpartisan, simply stay away from expressing partisan activity online as you do in person. If there are confidential aspects of work, keep them confidential online, just like you do in person. If you are in a position to issue a social media policy for your organization, encourage the use of good judgment, authenticity, and value to your online presence. (For more information on social media policies see http://mashable.com/2009/06/02/social-media-policy-musts/)

Another common myth is that social media will be a waste of time and will monopolize staff time. If part of your role as an organization is to communicate anything to anyone you should consider the monetary and time savings that can be had through online mechanisms. Twitter lets you instantly track feedback about your organization or agency, blogs let you get the word out about current issues, and Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways to build networks. Posting resources on these sites is much quicker than engaging in separate outreach activities for multiple constituencies and incredibly faster than relying on print. Additionally, many of these resources can be accessed on cell phones and other portable devices quickly.

If you’re still not entirely convinced about actively engaging in social media activity, consider participating passively at first. By watching a twitter feed or belonging to a LinkedIn group you get resources right at your fingertips, with very little effort. Just sign up for an account, start following a few people, and let the information flow in.

For those of you who are curious about new forms of interaction go ahead, step a bit outside of your comfort zone and sign up for these free services. While you’re there don’t forget to follow the NTAR Leadership Center on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Scary Realities and Practical Solutions

According to a recent report issued by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, the labor market, workforce and educational system are undergoing significant changes in the first decade of the 21st century. With widespread unemployment at all levels of education, longer than usual time spent now looking for a job, and declining heath care coverage, it is no surprise that the Heldrich report highlights how very dissatisfied people are with both their personal economic circumstances as well as the country’s.

At the same time, state budgets and state workforces are suffering as well -- teetering on the point of going broke or broken. To respond to taxpayers cries for less government, lower taxes and to keep states from going bankrupt, federal and state law makers are desperately looking for fresh solutions to cutting costs and getting Americans back to work. The jobs crisis and state budget crises demands immediate attention, but need solutions that are practical and evidence based, and that mutually help job seekers and employers.

Jobseekers (including those with disabilities) need solutions that provide them with a paycheck first and foremost, along with a work experience and the ability to acquire skills and education if that paycheck is not from a full time job. Employers need solutions that can get them access to qualified workers at wages and benefits they can afford. As seen in the recent increases in part time and temporary workers, employers continue to remain reluctant to make permanent hires because of doubts about the recovery’s durability, and still remain skittish about the escalating costs of health care and the uncertainty of health care reform.

As for public policy makers charged with creating and implementing solutions, they need strategies that are low cost and high volume; that are easy to implement with a minimum degree of complexity and that promise to yield a moderate degree of success (meaning jobs) for hundreds, if not thousands of people. What state policy makers cannot afford these days are boutique programs, untested initiatives or further policies that research demonstrates don’t yield big results for either the unemployed or employers. They also can’t afford programs that are high cost and low volume; that require lots of complex moving parts to implement, that require low paid front line workers to develop new, higher skills in order to make it work, and where employment is realized for only tens of people, not in the hundreds and thousands needed to make a dent in the unemployment rate.

The $15 billion jobs bill passed by the Senate and the House is sadly likely to be much ado about nothing. The bill, which includes tax breaks to businesses to hire, will have a negligible effect on employment rates – especially among people with disabilities. In fact, evidence from the Work Opportunity and Welfare-to-Work Tax Credits points out that these employer tax breaks for new hires have suffered from poor participation and have not had any meaningful effect on employment rates among the disadvantaged (Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 2005), despite what is seen as large potential benefits to firms. And for people with disabilities who have been routinely shut out of a robust labor market, much less one in recession, hiring credits are unlikely to yield any benefits at all.

Economists and academics have suggested other solutions that would put ‘jobs’ back in a credible job creation strategy. These include expanding summer youth employment programs, and deploying time-limited employment programs for public purposes in public and nonprofit agencies. These also include transitional job programs such as on-the-job training or OJT in private firms and nonprofits, and paid work experience programs such as through internships and apprenticeships. Other promising strategies, some more complex and longer to implement, include stimulating small business development including seeding and supporting ‘real businesses’ through nonprofits.

Any successful national jobs strategy must provide mutual support to jobseekers need for work and income, and businesses need to stay in business. Only if these two needs are met can communities prosper and our nation thrive. The current job bill falls far short.

Kathy Krepcio
Director, NTAR Leadership Center

Friday, March 5, 2010

Introducing the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP)

Across the country, minority-owned and female-owned businesses have had a competitive advantage because they provide other businesses with the ability to achieve diversity goals. Until now, that same advantage was not available to businesses that were owned and operated by people with disabilities. Two key organizations have partnered to make sure that those competitive advantages are made also available to disabled-owned businesses through the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP).

The New Jersey Business Leadership Network (NJBLN), a program of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, has entered into a partnership with the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) to promote and develop the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP). The DSDP is a process that produces a credential certifying a business as disabled-owned, thus enhancing that company’s ability to compete for contracts from companies seeking to increase their supplier diversity.

The DSDP was created and launched by the USBLN in response to feedback from the business community that indicated a third-party certification credential would be a mechanism they could use to increase their supplier diversity.

Required supporting documentation includes business contact, capabilities, historical, financial and governance information. There is an annual recertification process as certification is valid for one year. Site visits take place at a minimum of every third year.

The USBLN is in the last phase of piloting and verifying the credentialing process and has partnered with the NJBLN to participate in the pilot, and promote the program in the state of New Jersey. Three New Jersey businesses are currently being vetted through the DSDP process.

If you are a disability owned business or know of an owner of such a business and would like more information on DSDP, please contact Patty Cullinane at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation (908-975-3211) or via e-mail (patty.cullinane@njchamber.com).

Patty Cullinane
Director, Business Development
NJ Chamber of Commerce Foundation/NJBLN

The NJBLN and USBLN are employer-led organizations committed to enhancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The NJBLN is a state affiliate of the national USBLN.

USDOL/ODEP Releases 4 Step Guide

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy releases a four step guide to recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees with disabilities.

Topics include:
  • Incentives & ROI
  • Recruiting
  • Interviewing & Hiring
  • Achieving Workplace Success
  • Retaining Valued Employees
  • Links & Resources

View the PDF version of Diversifying Your Workforce or order hard copies.