Working together to help employers hire people with abilities

Rey Cantu sitting in front of computer at workplace
Rey Cantu sitting at his work station – photo courtesy of Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande Valley

Employing knowledgeable and skilled employees who have strong abilities and dedicated work ethics is every employer’s dream. On the flipside, most job seekers want to work for business owners, large and small, who focus on their strengths and commitment to their careers. Making both dreams come true can be possible when employers concentrate on a candidate’s ability, not his or her disability, when hiring new employees. Effective Sept. 1, 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and employees from the former Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) began cementing an already strong partnership that strives for achievement of those dreams as the Business Relations team of the vocational rehabilitation program joined the Texas Workforce Solutions service network and became part of TWC.

The transition to this new agency has been a smooth one as the two agencies and their partners have been working together for years to help connect employers with individuals who have the abilities they need.

The story of Rey Cantu is just one example of this collaborative effort.

Rey Cantu is a young man that has difficulty with his vision and is unable to see at night or in places that are not lit properly. He felt that it would not be possible to get a job because of his disability. Cantu is among the more than 1.6 million working-aged Texans with one or more disabilities.

To help Cantu gain employment, Texas Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande (Lower Rio) and former DARS employees encouraged him to participate in the Work Experience Program with Lower Rio. Through this program, Cantu learned that he is not defined by his disability.

The Work Experience Program is a planned, structured learning experience that takes place with a business partner for a limited time period. After working with one employer for two-and-a-half months, Cantu was asked to stay on full time. He also received assistance with his communication skills and transportation needs, giving him the confidence needed to successfully gain employment.

“The Workforce Solutions Work Experience Program helps people get back into the workforce and support themselves,” said Lower Rio CEO Frank Almaraz. “It may be something as simple as helping to coach someone to have a little more self-confidence, clean up their résumé and be able to present themselves well or prepare for an interview. Just like Cantu, this training can open the doors to a new career for job seekers looking to join the workforce.”

Lower Rio has partnered with Project HIRE (Helping Individuals to Reach Employment) since 2012 to help hardworking individuals like Cantu develop skills for the workplace. Project HIRE is a grant awarded by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities which provides opportunities for people with disabilities to obtain workplace skills and training.

“Rey was able to gain knowledge, practice and understanding of how to complete job tasks through the work experience he received at Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL),” said VAIL Program Director Lidia A. Teran Gutierrez. “It allowed him to receive training that prepared him for the position he was offered. Because of this hands-on experience, Rey has been, and without a doubt, continues to be an asset at VAIL.” Partnerships such as Project HIRE provide an opportunity to encourage an individual’s professional skills, while teaching them to overcome barriers to employment. Project HIRE offers people with disabilities the opportunity for a successful career and financial independence. Businesses benefit from these partnerships through technical assistance and training to learn more about accommodating employees with disabilities.

“Participating in the Workforce Solutions Work Experience program helped me show VAIL that I could do the job. I was able to show VAIL my strengths and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get the job at VAIL in the first place without the help of Workforce Solutions,” said Cantu. “Thanks to everyone for all the help.”

Programs similar to Project HIRE and Workforce Experience help businesses become aware of how to train and retain employees who may have a disability.

On a national level, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2016 creates awareness of the importance that disability plays in workforce diversity. This year’s NDEAM theme is #InclusionWorks and will be observed in October. NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates employers about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.