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Untapped Talent: Hiring People with Disabilities

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Eileen Anderson is the director of Government Relations at the Manufacturer & Business Association. Contact her at 412/805-5707 or eileenanderson@ mbausa.org.

Workforce continues to be a top concern for employers. MBA’s 2023 State Position Papers say “Pennsylvania can strengthen the work force by training youth, adults, and untapped populations who are held back by barriers… .”

Untapped populations deserve a chance for multiple reasons, one of which is Pennsylvania’s demographic trends.

“Pennsylvania lost nearly 40,000 residents to other states from July 2021 to July 2022… . With 23,000 more deaths than births Pennsylvania’s total population loss ranks fourth highest in the nation… . The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) forecast in October 2021 that, due to outmigration and an aging population, the state will lose another 250,000 working-age residents by 2025… .” Nathan Benefield and Andrew Holma, “People are fleeing Pennsylvania at an alarming rate,” February 1, 2023, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Representatives from Giant Eagle and Achieva, who work with the disabled, shared hiring tips and success stories, during the Manufacturer & Business Association’s Untapped Talent briefing on June 8 at the MBA’s Pittsburgh Office in Cranberry Township,

Joe Was, talent acquisition partner for Giant Eagle, described how he approaches hiring and identifying roles the differently abled can fill within the company.

A question posed was “How do you find candidates?” Giant Eagle, who has hired from that cohort for years, is well known for their hiring practices. People come to them or are referred by organizations such as Achieva. Employers can find candidates through community organizations and job fairs.

The first step in hiring is the interview; candidates apply in person, by video or by phone. The goal is to determine what the candidate can do, what accommodation is needed, and where they fit into the stores, warehouses, kitchens and/or convenience stores such as GetGo.

According to Was, “Some on the autism spectrum are very good on detail so they make excellent order pickers for curbside service.”

“With appropriate training the differently-abled can do anything,” he said. “It is a matter of finding the right job, right person, and right skills. Once the right person is hired, they often stick with the job for years.” Was has been employed by Giant Eagle for 19 years.

John Kuhn is a lead employment specialist at Achieva. He identifies what the candidate is looking for and assesses them before they interview with the employer. He creates job matches for candidates in community-based employment.

Clarity in the employer’s job description is necessary. It can state physical requirements, mental capacity, ability to lift 50 pounds etc. Flexibility is key. Often the candidate may be capable to do three out of four requirements.

Kuhn gets to know the candidate and customizes a plan, figuring transportation, benefits, full or part-time hours etc.

Some workers may require a job coach and it is the worker’s responsibility to locate a coach. A coach assists the employee initially on the job. The PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, (OVR), Achieva and other agencies provide job coaches. The goal is always to get the person to work as independently as possible.

Kuhn then highlighted the success story of a young woman who transitioned from a sheltered workshop to a Giant Eagle GetGo, a great accomplishment.

Achieva is a nonprofit disability provider, not a charity, and charges no fees to the employee or employer for job coaching.

Kuhn identified a barrier faced by Achieva. Groups like his are dependent on government funding to pay staffers competitive salaries for their many services. They counsel, coach, provide transportation, and arrange daily activities. Staff shortages limits Achieva’s assistance to the disabled and employers.

Jesse Streeter, regional program relationship manager for the PA Treasury Department, spoke briefly about PA ABLE accounts, which are available for people with a qualifying disability that began before age 26. The accounts can be part of the employer’s benefits package.

Oftentimes disabled employees work part-time hours for fear of losing benefits and state funds granted to those with disabilities. The ABLE program allows them to work full time and save up to $100,000 before benefits are cut.

To learn more, contact Eileen Anderson at 412/805-5707 or eileenanderson@mbausa.org.