During Disability Employment Awareness Month, Skills Encourages Local Businesses to Consider People With Disabilities

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]October is recognized annually as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Skills of Central PA wants to remind the local business community that people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health challenges are a vital part of our local workforce.

Charles Lansberry and Cristy Rachau manage Skills’ employment services programs. They and their staff help the people supported by Skills prepare for, find, and succeed at paid employment in the community. “The people we support are ready, able, and excited about finding jobs,” Lansberry explains. To support them, Skills offers a variety of services for both adults and transition-age youth (typically ages 14-21) who want to develop skills to help them succeed at work. To a large extent, Skills relies on the willingness of local businesses to support its efforts.

Partnering With Local Businesses

Roy stands at the front desk at Bishop Guilfoyle High School.

Roy loves his job at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School in Altoona. Roy says he has a “happy job,” and the people there are very nice.

“Many local businesses allow us to bring the people we support in for a community-based work assessment, so we can evaluate their skills in an actual work situation,” Lansberry explains. “This allows us to create a plan to help them develop the skills they need to succeed. Other businesses open their doors to provide job shadowing experiences for transition-age youth, so they can learn about the working world and see if a particular type of job is a good fit for them.”

In addition, explains Rachau, some businesses are willing to offer paid work experience where the person is working an actual job, but they are paid by Skills, not by the employer. The best of all scenarios though, she says, is when a local business hires someone directly. “The business pays the person’s wages, but they may also receive a tax credit for doing so,” she explains. “In all of these situations, one of Skills’ support staff will accompany the person on-site as they learn the job. This support will continue for as long as needed or until the person is able to meet the needs of the employer independently.” The support that Skills’ staff provides is at no cost to the employer.

Many Success Stories

Skills’ employment services team can share many success stories about the people they support, for example:

  • Devon works at a grocery store in Huntingdon where he was recently named Employee of the Month. He goes above and beyond by helping customers load their groceries into their vehicles, and the store has received many compliments from customers on how friendly and helpful he is.
  • Roy works at a high school in Altoona where he is loved by both staff and students because of his eye for detail, his humor, and his willingness to share his passion for sports.
  • Shane works at a restaurant in Ebensburg. He has experienced significant improvements in his mental health because he sees that his work contributes to the community, and the paychecks he earns let him see the value of his time.
  • John Paul works at a fast food restaurant in Tyrone. His career there spans more than twenty years, and he’s not planning to retire anytime soon. He thrives by staying busy and seeing the friends he’s made working over the years.
  • Donald has worked at a fast food restaurant in State College since 2007. He is well liked because he always has a smile on his face and is willing to help his co-workers. Donald likes being part of the team and has learned to do other jobs, so he can help other employees when his work is all caught up.

Benefits of Integrating People Living With Disabilities

Skills works closely with local businesses to help them understand the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and mental health challenges. For example, employees supported by Skills tend to be a good fit because Skills takes time to understand the business’ needs and find employees whose abilities match up. They show up to work reliably because Skills arranges transportation to and from work. They have positive attitudes and truly want to work because they are matched with jobs that interest them. They are accountable because Skills continues to work with the business and the employee to develop skills that help ensure success. Best of all, there is no cost to the business to work with Skills.

John Paul at his fast food job. He enjoys having burgers ready for customers to eat, and he likes that his schedule lets him volunteer with the fire department on the weekends.

Understandably, some employers are concerned about the liability risk of having staff from Skills and non-employees in their workplace. To mitigate this, Skills maintains insurance to cover both its support staff and people doing work assessments and job shadowing. If an employer hires someone directly, their workers’ compensation insurance covers the employee.

Overcoming Challenges

COVID-19 has led to some challenges for Skills as they try to find employment for the people they support. Rachau explains that some employers have become a bit more hesitant to hire people supported by Skills, largely because of social distancing and infection control requirements. “When we get someone placed in a job, they generally have a support person from Skills to accompany them,” she explains.  “This means two additional people going in and out of the business, which causes concerns for some business owners. However, we take lots of time explaining to business owners the processes and procedures we follow to keep their employees, the people we support, and our staff safe and healthy.”

Skills has a group of eager potential employees who are looking forward to getting to work and earning a paycheck. If you own or manage a local business, we strongly encourage you to consider integrating people with disabilities into your workplace. Together, we can make a difference!

To learn more about the support services that Skills provides or to talk to an Employment Specialist about hiring employees for your business, please contact us at info@skillsofcentralpa.org or call 814-238-3245.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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