“Our work changes with the ebbs and flows of the economy and as we change more opportunities are available to people who may not have been able to gain employment without our assistance.”
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I have spent the last 27 years assisting people with disabilities to become productive, self-sufficient members of our society. The people that I have worked with come to us with varied backgrounds. Some have never worked while others have a very long work history. Due to changes in their circumstances, some have not been able to work and need vocational rehabilitation services to get them back into the workforce.
The Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has been my home for the last 17 years. It’s been my privilege to work with customers in designing their career plans, offering the services necessary for entry into that career, advocating for them and providing support, even after they became employed. My role as manager allows me to continue that work and help new vocational rehabilitation counselors in their professional development.
What do you love about your work?
That excitement, smile, and elation when someone gets the job they want makes it all worthwhile. Many of us really are defined by our careers. Work often connects us socially to our community. Our customers tell us that being able to say that they are working, paying bills, and having some money left over for fun makes it all worthwhile.
Even more gratifying is when I educate businesses about the benefits of hiring qualified candidates. Many of our local businesses get it. Typically it takes one successful job match for the employer to know that looking outside the traditional candidate pool not only adds good skills and work habits to the workforce, but also changes the workplace dynamics. I have heard more than once, “If he can do it, I certainly can.” This positive attitude can be so contagious in the work environment.
Two major champions that come to mind are Amazon, who has hired 42 of our candidates, and CW Resources, who has hired more than 70. Both of these opportunities offer competitive wages and benefits that bring our clients into the workforce. But this is just to name a few. We have many more business partners who have joined our efforts and found we are a good source for qualified employees.
What’s next that has you excited?
The demand for qualified workers with disabilities is growing thanks to the 503 regulations requiring federal contractors to target hiring 7% of their workforce with people with disabilities. We are already working with area businesses to help them attain and track this workforce. My counterparts and I are meeting with businesses about the many incentives available to businesses that hire our candidates.
With the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, internships available and supports provided, DARS expects that smart businesses will embrace this target and seek out our job candidates. The job announcements are already coming in seeking qualified candidates with disabilities. Once we tell them of our many successes and how they can enhance their work environment through a diverse workforce, businesses are eager to hire our clients.
To assist in this process, we provide disability awareness training and accommodation consultations to help each business grow in their quest to hire and maintain good candidates. It’s all about the partnerships, and that is what I think we do best.
How does ConnectVA help you fulfill your mission at DARS?
As a business development manager, ConnectVa is a great networking tool. It helps me to find nonprofits and other organizations that I can reach out to about hiring people with disabilities. It also provides information about local resources, events and activities to become involved in.