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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

[ALI] [Article] Tapping the Untapped Labor Market

Tapping the Untapped Labor Market

Back in 1998, Rockville, MD-based Aspen Systems Company, an information
management company that serves the government and private sectors, located
in Baltimore, was in need of new employees for its 60,000 sq. ft. facility.
"We knew finding good people would be hard," says Andrew McMahon, DC
manager.  

Luckily, McMahon's professional connections led to a meeting with Mary
Manzoni, vice president of vocational services at Columbia, MD-based
Humanim, a non-profit organization that specializes in meeting the needs of
adults with disabilities. Manzoni turned McMahon onto one of Humanim's
purposes, which is training and placing its clients in jobs that match their
skills. "They said they could help fill our positions," says McMahon.

Aspen's DC employs 25 people and handles publications amounting to about
2,000 SKUs for the National Cancer Institute. In need of new employees to
fill positions as stock clerks, the company hired two people from Humanim's
employee base. Both were representatives of the "welfare-to-work" program.
"We were a bit hesitant at first because we all have our misconceptions,"
says McMahon. "But almost every employee we've hired since then has come
from Humanim."

Ready labor

Aspen Systems' experience with Humanim is a good example of how DCs can tap
into a labor pool that is often overlooked. Whether the potential employees
are trying to get back on their feet after a stint on welfare or are trying
to enter the labor pool with some disability, these are people who can bring
skills and dedication to the warehouse.

"This is a labor pool that is 70 percent unemployed," says Wayne McMillan,
president and CEO of the Bobby Dodd Institute, an Atlanta-based organization
that works to provide creative programs of work and life-enhancing
activities for people with disabilities. Yet when people from this group do
find work, they are some of the most dedicated employees available, says
McMillan. 

The problem is that many employers simply don't consider the disabled
population when looking to fill positions. This might be especially true in
fields like warehousing, where much of the work is physically demanding.

Another common misconception is that people with disabilities have a visible
disability, such as being in a wheelchair. In fact, 20 percent of people
with disabilities have a disability that isn't visible, such as a learning
disability or a hearing problem. McMahon puts it this way: "The real
challenge is figuring out what an employee's strengths and weaknesses are
and then handling them correctly."

At Aspen Systems, that meant learning more about the new employees it had
hired from Humanim. "One of the employees was hearing disabled and there
were a few speed-bumps at first. "A deaf employee was a good fit for us
because most of the functions in a warehouse are visual," says McMahon.
"But we had a bit of a problem on our end at first-he could understand all
of us, but we sometimes had a hard time understanding him. Now, most of our
staff has picked up some sign language."

Learning the ropes

Organizations like Humanim and the Bobby Dodd Institute ensure that
employers receive training before hiring candidates from their client lists.
"Humanim offers free disability awareness training to our employer clients,"
says Manzoni.  "We make sure that the employers understand that there are no
guarantees from any source, but that we are there to offer support."

Aspen Systems completed the disability training and came out better for it,
says McMahon. "When we got the staff together, we found that everyone knew
someone who was disabled in some way," he says.

The employee clients served by Humanim and Bobby Dodd also receive training
prior to taking jobs. "We first do a vocational assessment," says McMillan.
"Then we work on skills for entry-level positions. We have a warehouse as a
training facility and we educate some of our clients on packaging,
fulfillment and forklift operation," says McMillan.

Once clients are placed in jobs, if an issue arises, both Humanim and Bobby
Dodd will step in to help. "We keep in close touch with our clients to make
sure that their needs are being met," says Manzoni. "We'll facilitate
meetings if needed to ensure that everyone is happy. Our goal is to provide
a win-win for both the employer and employee."

A positive experience

McMahon says that his overall experience of working with employees from
non-traditional labor pools has been very positive. His advice to others?
"Don't be afraid-people are people. You'll find that everyone you hire has
strengths and weaknesses and these employees are no different." 



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