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Agencies that help the disabled find jobs adapt to recession’s challenges

New Mexico Business Weekly 2009Oct01_NewMexicoBusinessWeekly or online article – Updated: Oct 1, 2009, 3:52pm MDT – Staffing & recruiting

Agencies that help the disabled find jobs adapt to recession’s challenges

Carving the right fit

Raymond Ringer loves to cook.

His favorite dish is chicken and cheese enchiladas, made from his own recipe.

Ringer has worked at fast food restaurants and handed out samples at Costco, but what he really wanted was an apprenticeship with a chef.

Last year, Ringer, who has a learning disability, connected with Goodwill Industries.

Now he’s working with the maven of Southwestern cooking, Jane Butel, in a part-time position she created after the nonprofit reached out to her. He helps with cooking demonstrations, making gift boxes and packaging the spices she ships across the country.

“It only takes me two days to go through a 50-pound box of red chile,” he said.

Butel, who sits on the board of Goodwill, said it’s been a great arrangement.

“He just jumped in,” she said.

He’s got a great knife technique, she added, and in addition to learning packing and shipping, he’ll learn data entry skills soon. One day he hopes to own his own restaurant.

The temporary position will help Ringer build his resume, and it’s an example of how agencies are adapting to help people with developmental disabilities find jobs in the recession. Many nonprofit agencies are working to help clients land part-time jobs that do not draw a lot of competing applicants, and the agencies are doing a lot more networking to highlight the advantages of hiring people with disabilities.

Goodwill placed about 706 people last year, but those numbers will be down this year. The nonprofit strives to find permanent jobs for clients, rather than transitional positions like Ringer’s. But the economy has changed that as companies cut costs and lay off employees.

“I’m encouraging my job developers to think of all kinds of new ways to get people employed,” said Bill Kesatie, the community programs manager for Goodwill. “The old ways won’t work in this economy.”

The idea of “job carving” — working with employers to create jobs to match a client’s skills — is not new in the disabled community.

But Rebecca Pullen, the job developer who placed Ringer, is pounding the pavement more to find those opportunities.

“I stop every person I see who has a uniform, a decal, a work truck,” she said. “I say ‘Hi, are you hiring? You look like a person who hires people.’”

Melinda Garcia, director of employment services at Adelante Development Center Inc., a nonprofit that offers vocational and skills training to people with disabilities, is focusing on working with companies where the nonprofit has placed people before.

“We find if we have a good rapport with an employer, they’ll tend to hire individuals when they have openings,” she said.

These are usually part-time jobs, since many clients can’t or don’t want to work full time and don’t want to lose benefits they might have with the state or federal government. Those benefits often mean employers don’t have the expense of providing health insurance, which can be attractive, said Maralie Waterman-BeLonge, executive director of Community Options.

Agencies like Community Options — which provides services including help finding employment and starting a business (see sidebar, page 13) — try to match clients to jobs based not only on their skills, but also their goals. None of the nonprofits interviewed for this story charged fees to clients or employers for making a match.

“We try to identify what an ideal job for that person is, the dream job,” said Waterman-BeLonge.

One client’s goal is to work at the Library of Congress, she said, so the nonprofit helped him get a job at the Albuquerque Public Library.

The challenge these days is that more employers want workers to multitask. A fast food outlet might want someone who can clean toilets and work the cash register, Pullen said.

“A lot of times, those skills don’t go together,” she said.

Some workers with developmental disabilities do move into more complex tasks.

Community Options client Diane Trujillo started working seven years ago at Thornburg Mortgage in Santa Fe and now works for Thornburg Investment Management. First she stocked break rooms. Now she also assists with meetings and preparing marketing tools.

Job coaches, tax credits available

But many clients need simpler jobs. Amy Preston, regional director of team resources for Ardent Hotel Advisors, hired a young woman through Community Options at the Courtyard by Marriott in Santa Fe who works half days folding laundry.

She can only focus on one task during her shift, but she’s had a great effect on other employees, Preston said. In the fast-paced environment, they have learned patience and how to work with her.

Alice Gándara-Díaz, director of human resources at Princeton Place, a long-term care facility, has hired Adelante clients as unit attendants. They fill oxygen tanks, make beds and pass out trays, which eases the workload for certified nursing assistants.

Many disabled workers have job coaches working alongside them to ensure success. That’s a big plus, said Carolyn Wright, owner of The Photography Studio in Santa Fe, where Community Options has placed several people.

Job coaches are often part of a larger support team, and agencies emphasize that as an advantage to employers who might be leery of hiring someone with a developmental disability.

“Most of us don’t come with a team to make sure we’re successful in employment,” said Waterman-BeLonge.

“They have people managing a lot of aspects of their lives that might contribute to other people not being as successful in entry-level jobs.”

Training funds and tax credits are also available for those hiring disabled workers (see “Tax incentives for employers,” this page).

Butel said the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is covering half her costs for the first two months of Ringer’s pay, since that qualifies as training costs.

That helped her commit to an additional person on the payroll during a slow time for her business, she said.

Tax incentives for employers

There are three tax incentives to encourage employers to hire the disabled and make places of business accessible.

Disabled access credit

Small businesses can get 50 percent of expenditures over $250 and up to $10,250 for purchasing adaptive equipment or modifying equipment and removing barriers to accessibility. The maximum tax benefit is $5,000.

Architectural/transportation tax credit

Any business may take an annual deduction of up to $15,000 for expenses to remove physical, structural and transportation barriers for employees with disabilities.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

Employers can take a tax credit of up to $2,400 in wages paid during the first 12 months for each new hire and $4,800 for each new disabled veteran hire.

For more information:

Industries: Human Resources

New Mexico Business Weekly article .pdf