Delaware Governor Jack Markell has been all over the news, and for good reason. Markell made disability employment the centerpiece of his one-year tenure as Chair of the National Governors Association, which just concluded. He appeared on PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff to talk about his initiative, A Better Bottom Line: Employing Individuals with Disabilities, and to release a new blueprint for state governors to take action.
Markell, who blogged for Think Beyond the Label earlier this year, suggests in his blueprint that state leaders should introduce companies to the oft-ignored talent pool of people with disabilities. They must become real business partners to companies looking to hire people with particular skills, rather than just ask companies to “do a favor to those with disabilities by offering them a job,” he says.
“Businesses tell states that they do not want to hire a candidate to meet a state’s need,” says Markell. “They want to hire a candidate that meets the business needs.”
CAI, a Delaware-based IT company, is one such company. CAI recognizes that many people with autism excel at software testing and has committed to making people with autism 3 percent of its consultant base within three years. SAP, the enterprise software giant, has made a similar commitment.
Walgreen’s is another known leader in this space. At two Walgreen’s distribution centers, at least a third of workers are physically or mentally disabled, and productivity as these centers is demonstrably higher. Walgreen’s now plans to have at least a quarter of its entire workforce consist of people with disabilities.
There should be opportunities beyond Walgreen’s too—in the corporate sector—for people with disabilities who are qualified. Today’s generation of people with disabilities are primed to enter the workforce and secure meaningful and well-paying jobs.
Also, today’s people with disabilities search for jobs like anyone else: online, through word of mouth, or on professional networking sites. To hire this group, companies should go where the job seekers are. (Think Beyond the Label’s Online Career Fair is a cost-effective way for companies to build their pipeline.)
Markell’s blueprint isn’t a requirement for states. It’s a way to help state governors do a better job of making disability employment part of their overall work force development strategy. “It’s a change in a cultural mind-set away from charity and more toward what’s in the best interest of the businesses,” Markell tells PBS Newshour.
To that end, Markell says state governors should begin taking action in specific ways:
– Issue an executive order or work with state legislature to enact legislation that directs state policies and investments to prioritize employment for people with disabilities.
– Encourage state agencies to find more such businesses by dedicating staff with business expertise to work with employers across size and sectors.
– Create a fast-track hiring process for people with disabilities in state government, and set hiring goals.
– Send a message to state agencies, educators and parents that education and career readiness must begin early, and must be supported at colleges and universities and as students transition to work
– Secure and direct resources to agency heads to continuously review opportunities for federal support and the possibility of partnerships with federal agencies and the private and nonprofit sectors.
Most importantly, Markell says state leaders should continue to push the business case for hiring people with disabilities, like Think Beyond the Label has being doing since 2010. Use the Think Beyond the Label Hire Gauge for a quick look at how a company can impact their bottom line when they hire a person with a disability, through tax credits and other incentives.
People with disabilities want to work. With a true commitment at both the federal and state level, and with leaders focusing on becoming business partners to employers, job opportunities will follow. Thank you for a great year, Governor Markell. We applaud your vision and efforts to move the needle on disability hiring.
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