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By MRC Director of Statewide Job Placement Services William Allen

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) recently announced that the overall unemployment rate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is 6.9%. According to the U.S. Department of Labor,  however, the unemployment rate for a person with a disability jumps to 14.6 %. 

A person with a disability has to work even harder to compete in a very tight job market. In order to counteract this disparity, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) has forged partnerships with the business community to promote the employment of people with disabilities.  Economists at the University of California and Berkeley indicate that structural unemployment reflects deeper problems such as a mismatch between the skills workers have, and the ones employers need. Structural unemployment, unlike cyclical unemployment, doesn’t disappear when the economy improves. Cyclical refers in this situation to seasonally adjusted unemployment rates.  During certain times of the year people are laid off or hired to increase in productions needs of the business or organization.  Structural unemployment refers to skills that are not sufficient to meet the needs of the company

Over the last several years, the MRC has developed both Employer Boards, such as the Boston Employer Advisory Board, Springfield Business Advisory Board; and local collaboratives — including the Greater Worcester Employment Resource Collaborative – to identify greater employment opportunities for job seekers with disabilities. These groups help job seekers with disabilities by providing them the opportunity to network directly with local Human Resource personnel, in order to get feedback directly from some of the largest employers in the state;  thus, the MRC gains first-hand knowledge of employers’ needs and requirements, and job candidates gain self-confidence and insight to the HR perspective. Companies choose whether or not they want to participate, recognizing that doing so will help bolster their company’s diversity initiatives, and give them direct access to an untapped pool of qualified candidates. This connection also provides employers with a network of resources available within the disability community.  

One of the innovative tools that MRC offers is the On-The-Job (OTJ) evaluation, which offers an employee exposure to a job prior to a permanent hire, giving both the company and the prospective employee with a disability a chance to evaluate whether it is the right fit.   During the past year, 3,061 persons with disabilities have gone to work as a result of vocational rehabilitation services offered by MRC. The OTJ evaluation is extremely valuable; offering a person with a disability that initial ‘foot in the door’ that might otherwise be closed.  The ordinary application process may screen out an individual with a disability, for reasons that include gaps in work history; due to being a brand new graduate with little work experience; and/or a late onset disability — which caused a major mid-career interruption.  There are many Massachusetts employers, however, who see beyond the disability and hire an individual for the unique set of experiences and talent that he or she brings to the table. 

During the first week of May, MRC will host events geared toward promoting the employment of individuals with disabilities. The events’ keynote speakers will hopefully inspire other employers who may be on the fence about employing individuals with disabilities, and at the same time, recognize the companies in the Commonwealth that have successfully hired individuals with disabilities.

Following are upcoming MRC events:

May 1 – Greater Worcester Employment Resource Collaborative The Greater Worcester Employment Resources Collaborative (GWERC) is hosting an employer recognition breakfast at the Skyline Bistro Conference Center, at the Worcester Vocational High School on May 1. Three Worcester area employers will be recognized for their exemplary leadership in hiring individuals with disabilities.  Harr Dodge, Wegman’s Food Markets, Akuity Technologies, Inc. will all be receiving awards. Keynote speakers are Nancy Jodoin, RN and Susan Dally RN Manager, Long Term Care Solutions, both of whom will share their stories as registered nurses returning to work after significant visual impairments.  A buffet breakfast will be prepared by the culinary students of Worcester Technical High School.   

May 4 – Greater Boston Employment Breakfast - May 4th marks the 15th Annual Greater Boston Employer Award Breakfast (GBEAB), at the Boston Marriott Copley. This year the GBEAB is recognizing Suffolk University, Spaulding Rehabilitation, TJ Maxx, and the Museum of Fine Arts as Distinguished Employers; it will also honor state Fish and Wild Life Services and the Psychological Center with Certificates of Appreciation. The keynote speakers are Oswald “Oz” Mondejar, Vice President for Human Resources, Community Relations and Communications at Partners Continuing Care, Inc and Colleen Moran, Project Manager for Human Resources and Community Relations for Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. 

May 7 – MetroWest Work Opportunities Coalition Annual Employer Awards Luncheon The MetroWest Work Opportunities Coalition consists of representatives from several human service agencies, including MRC, that promote the hiring of individuals with disabilities. The ‘Accommodation Award’ recognizes MetroWest employers’ efforts and commitment to employing and retaining people with disabilities. This ceremony is sponsored by the Framingham Rotary and will be held at Ken’s Steak House in Framingham.  The event starts at noon on May 7.

For more information about these events or how your company can work with the MRC in employing people with disabilities, please contact me at William.Allen@state.ma.us.

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