Educating employers about hiring people with disabilities and training staff at state career centers to better serve this population is the goal of a partnership between UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits program and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Massachusetts Disability Employment Initiative Pathways to Employment project, funded through a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, seeks to improve job placement outcomes for individuals with disabilities age 18 and older. Work Without Limits, a statewide network of employers and partners, and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston are jointly partnering with the state agency on the project.
“The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development was looking for guidance in serving customers with disabilities and they partnered with us and ICI for that expert technical assistance,” said Kathy Petkauskos, senior program director at Work Without Limits, part of the Disability, Health and Employment Policy unit within the Commonwealth Medicine division of UMass Medical School. “It’s a great partnership and we’re excited to participate.”
The project aims to increase employment through expanded access to education and training offered through the state community college system in the areas of manufacturing, health care and hospitality. In Massachusetts, only 33 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed versus 76 percent of people without disabilities, according to the American Community Survey.
Work Without Limits received $175,000 of the grant to develop and deliver educational sessions aimed at two different audiences through March 2018.
Staff at One Stop Career Centers overseen by regional Workforce Investment Boards in the Metro North, North Central and Central areas of the state will receive training from Work Without Limits to build their competencies in serving people with disabilities. One area of training is how to help customers with disabilities understand that working and earning wages could affect eligibility for public benefits, some of which may be necessary due to the individual’s particular condition.
“There is greater accountability and higher expectations for assisting people with disabilities who are looking for work. Career counselors need to consider the unique challenges and needs of this population,” Petkauskos said. “It’s an exciting time for people with disabilities to learn about and consider state-offered training programs that could increase their chances of finding gainful employment. We’re in a time of greater awareness.”
Employers in those regions will have access to programming that highlights the advantages of hiring individuals with disabilities and the resources that are available to ensure both the employer and employee can be successful.
“We will work with the One Stop Career Centers to identify the employers that can benefit from this training. We want employers to recognize that they should, and can, strive for a diverse and talented workforce that is inclusive of people with disabilities. We will provide employers with the information and resources they need to successfully recruit, hire and manage employees with disabilities ,” Petkauskos said.
The grant was announced at a press conference July 21 hosted by the North Central and Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Boards at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in Fitchburg. U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, were in attendance.
This is the second disability employment initiative grant on which Work Without Limits and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development have collaborated. The first grant, of which Work Without Limits received nearly $800,000, is scheduled to end in September and focused on serving customers and training staff at One Stop Career Centers on the North Shore and in two areas of Western Massachusetts.