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Rep Shows How to Work With Business

by Christopher Maloney

A marketing team, an assessment of business practices and a strategic marketing plan are some of the features of a model designed for vocational rehabilitation officials to work more effectively with the business community.

Katherine McCary, vice president of human resources at SunTrust Banks and manager of Accessing Community Talent, a diversity program for the mid-Atlantic region, laid out the model for officials at a meeting of the American Public Human Services Association in Washington, D.C.

McCary´s presentation was based on Public/Private Partnerships: A Model for Success. The guide was developed by the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports with support from the National Institute on Disability Research and the Department of Education. The work stemmed from a May 2003 disability summit attended by 21companies and vocational rehabilitation directors and managers from eight states.

The impetus for businesses to recruit disabled workers is a predicted future workforce shortage as baby boomers retire and the number of jobs increases, explained Cathy Healy, program officer at the Center for Workforce Preparation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

CWP has been working with the Research and Training Center to disseminate resources on disabilities and employment to the business community.

Initial Step

McCary suggested that VR staff form a marketing team with private sector advisers as an initial step in creating a partnership with businesses.

She also urged VR officials to assess employer practices and the employer market, paying particular attention to how businesses recruit workers, whether full-time, part-time or temporary; what positions are typically available; and what qualifications the positions require.

VR officials also need to understand employers' attitudes toward people with disabilities and what experiences they've had hiring disabled workers. Employers who have had positive experiences can assist with the marketing, advised McCary. Some employers, she warned, have had a negative experience with one disabled worker and they've let that situation cloud their view toward hiring disabled individuals.

Develop a strategic plan to market the right message to employers, based on the information gathered from the study of employer practices, she advised. VR officials will want to set goals, including the number of people they want to place and the types of employers who will receive the message.

Customized marketing materials and approaches should be used to target different industries, McCary suggested, pointing to employer advisers and focus groups as a means to get a sense of the likely reaction.

Consider other ways in which agencies may meet multiple employer needs, beyond referrals, she advised the VR officials.

Maintain a current database of employer contacts and customers, including primary contact information, industry description, hiring practices, experience with VR and disability employment organizations and contact history. The database may be used for mailings, invitations to forums and events and to track job development contacts. A database may also prevent duplicated contacts and lost information.

VR agencies should dedicate personnel to develop and nurture employer relationships, said McCary. These individuals should be grounded in human resource practices, knowledgeable about workplace diversity and skilled in addressing accommodation needs of disabled individuals.

Employers want a single point of contact for hiring and supporting disabled jobseekers, notes the guide. Some agencies have established corporate account representatives responsible for employer development activities. The representatives "filter" candidates to employers based on their close working relationship with employers, resulting in better matches between job candidates and company needs.

Develop practical guides for staff and employers, said McCary. The staffers' guide should explain how to represent VR to businesses, how to find out who has hiring authority in firms and how to identify employer needs. The employers' guide should describe VR and how it can help employers, what services are available and where to find information on disability issues.

Make information and resources available through a professionally developed and maintained web site. Information on a site should include facts about services, case studies of effective partnerships and postings of jobs and candidates.

These suggestions will not succeed without a plan for continuous dialogue between VR and business leadership to ensure that all parties understand the value of the partnership, the guide advises.

Regular dialogue would also make VR services more appealing and convenient to employers, and parties would understand how VR meets human resource management needs, including services beyond jobseeker referrals.

For a copy of Public/Private Partnerships: A Model for Success, contact Valerie Brooke at (804) 828-1851.

Reprinted with permission from Employment & Training, Vol. 35 No. 48, published by MII Publications (August 23, 2004). © 2004 by MII Publications. (758 - 759)