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Chamber, partners work together for the betterment our economy

October 4, 2021Doug Peters, President & CEO of the Abilene Chamber

If you think back on the history of the Abilene Chamber, you’ll remember that “workforce development,” in a broad sense, is nothing new.

For decades, the Chamber led committees, task forces, and other focused efforts as a means of helping to align business and education and to better prepare our youth and the underemployed for a meaningful opportunity among our workforce.

But for as long as we’ve been doing it, we’ve never done it alone. Thankfully, our great city has various resources that are laser-focused on ensuring Abilene is economically competitive, and that opportunity exists for all who want it.

We like that. A lot.

Especially when the Chamber’s Board of Directors takes intentional steps to promote inclusion and diversity. In fact, one of our organization’s top priorities is to help “develop an inclusive business environment for all,” which is punctuated by October’s designation as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Our good friends and partners at Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas (WSWCT) know the topic well. They have graciously shared with your Chamber that National Disability Employment Awareness Month, led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, has a theme this year of “Americas Recovery, Powered by Inclusion.”  Employers of all sizes and in all industries are encouraged to participate in NDWAM by visiting www.dol.gov/NDEAM.

The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

The Chamber along with WSWCT recognizes the contribution that persons with disabilities make to the workforce of this region. Keep reading to learn more about their program the Student HireAbility Navigator initiative that partners with Texas Workforce Commission and Vocational Rehabilitation Services to provide transitional services to students with disabilities and to educate the community about disability employment opportunities.

Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services supports people with disabilities to prepare for, obtain, maintain and advance in meaningful employment by providing a range of services.  Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors work closely with job seekers to determine an employment goal, and then identify and arrange for services that lead to successful employment.

Karen of Home2Suites offered this when asked about their experience, “This partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation and working with people with disabilities has been so helpful and it has been very rewarding to work and train these individuals.  It also has worked out positively with employment needs as well.”

According to Bill Dean, Student HireAbility Navigator for WSWCT, only 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2020, (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), “This is a labor pool that employers are identifying to address their workforce needs.”

Workforce Solutions provides activities and resources to community and business partners, expanding the role they play in fostering a disability-friendly work culture and to provide a more diverse and inclusive workforce.  Local businesses also serve as work-based learning sites, providing training and skills development for the workforce of tomorrow.  Dunagin Transport partnered with Workforce Solutions to be a work-based learning site and this is what Jeff M. had to say of their experience, The main responsibility for employers working students is learning their capability and keeping them safe.  Helping a young person reach outside their comfort zone to learn a skill is the fun part. You have to invest some time and effort in this program but it is rewarding for all involved.”

Students with Disabilities can choose to work during the school year or be involved with the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program.  Services are also available for adults with disabilities and for those that are unable to maintain employment due to injury or medical issues.

Tresleigh of Baack’s Flowers and More had this to say about the Paid Work Experience, “Getting to be part of this program has been a blessing for us in many ways.  Not only have we met some wonderful people through it, but it’s so wonderful to see people learn new things and get a jump on their future.  It has been a great experience.”

There are also benefits to the employer both in terms of economics and morale, when persons with disabilities are given a chance in the workplace.  Employers can take advantage of the benefits that persons with disabilities can offer.

For more local information and resources contact Bill Dean, Student HireAbility Navigator at www.wfswct.org/463/Student-HireAbility-Navigator.

If you have a program that is working towards inclusivity that the business community could benefit from, send it our way to be featured in a Daily Business Brief!

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