Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Project HIRED Finds IT a Good Career for Disabled

ProjectHIREDJeremiah Gaches, Project HIRED Warrior Workforce client and decorated Army veteran, is now able to return to work in an office environment, thanks to support services from Project HIRED and its Wounded Warrior Workforce Service Dog Program. With the support of his canine partner, Rocky, Gaches now lives independently and holds a position through a Project HIRED AbilityOne contract for call center services at the Livermore, CA VA Medical facility.
Companies looking for qualified IT job applicants should actively consider people with disabilities as a part of their applicant pool, urges Project HIRED, a San Jose, Calif.-based non-profit that helps people with disabilities obtain and sustain employment.
"As employers open up jobs and start hiring, they need to look at this population that is being ignored," says Project HIRED Executive Director Gwen Ford. "Some of them have some darn good skills and are very loyal employees. We need to start making sure people with disabilities have access to those kinds of jobs."
Founded in 1978, Project HIRED helps people with disabilities—of all kinds, physical, cognitive and/or emotional—get hired and stay hired. It helps clients develop their resumes and interview skills, and target appropriate jobs. It shops client resumes to a network of employers, and also connects clients to any needed support services.
The organization currently has about 400 active clients. Most are based in and around Silicon Valley, but the Project HIRED also works remotely with clients across the United States and has placed many in such states as Colorado and Virginia. Funded by grants and donations, Project HIRED does not charge clients for its services.
The need is great. In May 2012, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities was 12.9 percent, compared to 7.7 percent among people without disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Only two out of 10 people with disabilities participate in the U.S. labor force, compared to 7 out of 10 people without disabilities. For the disabled, chronic unemployment can be a vicious cycle of homelessness and increasing disability. Project HIRED's goal is just the opposite: Get disabled clients employed long-term to create a cycle of stability.

IT Placement a Focus

Project HIRED places clients in all sectors, but has seen a "big increase in demand for IT skills," says Ford. More companies are hiring disabled people for IT roles because the jobs typically don't require a lot of physical work. In addition, she notes, some Project HIRED clients come highly skilled in IT.
Project HIRED clients have landed jobs in such IT companies as Brocade, Juniper Networks, Oracle and Yahoo—within and beyond Silicon Valley.
"The tech field is growing," says Ford. "And the opportunity is not just a job, but a long-term career. People can go far in those careers." Project HIRED is developing an Injured Veteran Apprenticeship Program as part of its Wounded Warrior Workforce Program, which is designed to assist injured or ill military service members to gain new skills or enhance skills to gain well paying and sustainable careers. This program is due to begin operation in mid-October and will begin by first focusing on high-growth jobs in the tech field.
In addition to working with clients, Project HIRED also teaches employers how to evaluate, hire and manage people with disabilities. It will support employers who have hired a disabled client. "We want employers to be able to keep the person once they hire them," explains Ford.

Veteran-Specific Programs

Injured or ill military services members and veterans comprise approximately 40 percent of Project HIRED's client base. Working closely with the military transition units and VA hospitals and clinics around the nation, Project HIRED runs a Wounded Warrior Workforce program for disabled military service members and veterans that:
  • Offers career exploration and development services
  • Facilitates retraining, job searches, and job retention
  • Provides wrap-around support services
  • Operates a Service Dog Program for qualified military service members and veteran clients (in partnership with local dog training company)
Project HIRED's Service Dog Program matches the clients with dogs. The dog and the client train together daily so the dog becomes a therapy dog matched to the client's need—picking up dropped keys (for a physically disabled individual) or helping to calm an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, for example.
"We had two injured veterans who had pretty much given up hope of ever getting a job," says Ford. "It took us a little over a year to work with them and the service dog, but now they (the veterans) are back to work."

How to Help

Ford urges IT companies to actively consider disabled job candidates for open positions. "Project HIRED will help you every step of the way," says Ford. "We're used to working with tech companies here in the Silicon Valley."
The organization can also train staff how to work with and manage people with disabilities.
In addition, companies and their employees frequently volunteer with Project HIRED (for resume review, mentoring and workshops) or donate items cited on Project HIRED's "wish list" of needs.

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