‘Job carving’ brings work to people with disabilities
The autistic young man, non-verbal and unable to function in noisy environments, loves books and movies, and he’s exceptionally capable of organizing items in numeric or alphabetical order.
He’s working these days at a quiet branch of the Washoe County Library where he reshelves videos and books in precise order.
His ability to thrive in a job he loves demonstrates the power of a new concept in employment of the disabled that’s gained modest traction in northern Nevada.
Spearheaded by the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Nevada, Reno, counselors seek to identify the passions of people with disabilities. Working closely with employers, they create positions “job-carving” in their language that meet those passions.
A young woman with Downs Syndrome, for instance, was found to have a passion for board games. Counselors in the UNR program worked with executives of a nursing home to create a position in which the young woman spends much of her workday playing board games with residents of a nursing home.
Scott Harrington, director of youth transition in the UNR program, says job-carving efforts are successful because workers are passionate about their jobs.
“When these people are placed, they stay placed,” Harrington says.
They’re not dependent, he says, on a job coach or a mentor provided by the employer or a social service agency. If those coaches aren’t around, disabled employees sometimes lose their way in the workplace.
But Harrington and other employment counselors who work with the disabled are quick to note that job-carving isn’t a cure-all to get chronically unemployed disabled people into jobs. It’s relatively expensive, requiring intensive amounts of time with disabled workers and potential employers alike, and it simply doesn’t meet the needs of some workers.
Much of the push for customized employment comes from the federal Office of Disability Employment Policy in the Labor Department, where officials believe that job-carving benefits employers who are able to find workers who precisely match their companies’ needs.
Nationwide, unemployment among the disabled is estimated at 44 percent, federal officials say, even while employers often struggle to find workers.
Federal money pumped up the customized employment effort in northern Nevada, where the UNR program worked with about 45 disabled people two years ago.
But the program withered as federal funds wound down, and Harrington today works with a handful of potential workers and potential employers while he seeks grant funding to get back to full steam.
He spends much of his time visiting with employers.
“The business piece of this is very important,” he says. “This is not about hiring for pity. We’re doing it because it can help the business. We have to find out where they could use our help, where they can benefit.”
And that, in turn, requires some creative thinking by the employer and Harrington.
“We can’t think about traditional positions,” he says. And he notes that some disabled workers may need flexible work hours or other accommodations.
But in a region in which labor supplies have been tight for many months, Harrington says the exceptional loyalty of disabled people working in a job that matches a personal passion more than offsets the upfront work an employer puts into job-carving.
Job-carving efforts aren’t always necessary to match disabled people with jobs, says Wendy Firestone, vice president of programs and services at WARC, a Reno-based group that supports disabled people in the workplace and community.
She says about WARC provides support to about 30 people with disabilities who need only minor accommodation by their employers.
“They are working at typical jobs in the community,” Firestone says. “A large portion of people with disabilities can do regular jobs.”
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