For any company, considering hiring a person with disabilities can seem like a daunting task. A number of questions come to mind: What are the considerations for hiring persons with disabilities? How do I determine whether a person is the right 'fit' for my company, or this position? Are there special training procedures to follow? You don't need to carry this weight on your own.
As CEO of Special Care & Career Services (SCCS), a supported employment agency that prepares and places adults with intellectual disabilities in the mainstream workforce, I know that many organizations are available to help your company through the process of hiring, training, and maintaining qualified and deserving persons with disabilities.
The rewards I've seen companies experience when hiring special-needs workers are three-fold: 1. Companies create the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the community; 2. They may experience an increased level of employee engagement and loyalty, and; 3. Special-needs employees enjoy a sense of purpose and livelihood while gaining a sense of self-sufficiency.
For over 25 years, more than 100 businesses in North Texas have partnered with SCCS to place more than 300 of our clients in skill-appropriate positions within the workplace. In fact, this type of program is particularly timely in the current economic climate—in August, the unemployment rate among the population of 33 million intellectually challenged adults was 16.9 percent compared with 9.7 percent unemployment for the general population.
The key benefit of forging a relationship with agencies such as SCCS is the degree to which we simplify the process of identifying, hiring, and on-boarding new employees. Based on our long-term experience, a company—and its associated agency—should focus on four key areas to ensure mutually beneficial program success.
Identifying the need. First, identify potential positions within your company in which a special-needs individual has a strong likelihood to succeed. While it's important not to limit your initial thinking regarding their abilities, consider how the job will match an individual's skill. A person with autism or a brain injury, for example, may be better suited for a repetitive-action job that doesn't require multitasking. Mailroom delivery and office supply inventory are considered light tasks in the workplace—appropriate for clients with this type of condition. As part of our program, we assign a job consultant to a special-needs client, who will conduct pre-screenings to determine the type of position that will be a good fit.
Providing a positive on-boarding experience. Like any new member of the team, special-needs individuals require an on-boarding experience to familiarize them with the organization, its goals, and expectations. An SCCS partner for eight years, Dallas-based Alliance Data, a provider of loyalty and marketing solutions, works with SCCS to identify, hire, and train clients for employment. Once hired, the new employees are introduced to their assigned supervisors, who meet with them every morning to review their task list for the day before beginning their job duties.
Structuring a program for success. Once one of our clients has entered the workplace, SCCS provides an ongoing program for on-the-job training and monitoring to ensure the individual is supported and working toward a long-term, successful outcome, while also helping to eliminate that potential workload for the employer. The daily coaching and mentoring we've provided our clients employed at Alliance Data and other companies have allowed them to expand their responsibilities—in some cases, well beyond the position they initially were hired to fill.
It is critical, however, that employers work closely with their agency when it seems like the right time to expand the role and responsibilities of its special needs employees. Deferring to the agency will determine whether the employee is capable of those new responsibilities and also help appropriately manage expectations for both parties. Ultimately, the contributions of these individuals will benefit the company through their hard work and loyalty, while simultaneously building their own self-confidence and financial independence.
Measuring job performance. When an employee begins a new job, SCCS also assigns a long-term job trainer to ensure the special-needs employees are adequately trained and fulfilling their job responsibilities. Some companies even utilize evaluations to measure individuals' job performance. Accounting firm Grant Thornton, for example, keeps a daily record of each duty performed, providing assistance where needed and acknowledging improvement where appropriate. Internal performance tracking for special-needs individuals might be as simple as keeping an accurate record of each responsibility, or gaining a better understanding of proficiency, business practices, or operational metrics.
The uplifting stories following a successful agency/company partnership and employment program truly validate a company's decision to give these individuals a chance. To illustrate, one of our special-needs clients gained enough confidence and self-determination from his seven years with Alliance Data that he was finally able to move out of his brother's home and into a nearby apartment to lead a more independent life. This type of success story serves as a reminder that by working with the right agency, any company can offer meaningful employment to these capable and dedicated individuals.
At SCCS, we are most proud of our clients' loyalty to their employer, as measured by their job retention rate. In fact, more than 50 percent of our clients have been on the job for five years or more with the same employer. We attribute this success to our continuing support program—scheduling on-site visits to our clients at their job site once or twice a month—as well as the fact that when these individuals are given a chance, they hold high allegiance to their employer.
If you'd like to learn more about employing special-needs individuals, or to find a supported employment agency in your area, please contact Julie Gebhardt-Brown, SCCS vice president of supported employment services at: email@example.com or (972) 991-6777 x161.
Cathy Packard is CEO of SCCS, a Dallas-based organization that provides supported employment services for adults with intellectual and/or physical disabilities to fill appropriate entry-level positions within the workplace. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (972) 991-6777 x112.