We are thrilled to kickoff Disability Solutions talent partnership spotlight series that highlights community organizations across the country working with people with disabilities, by featuring the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).
I first spoke with Ken Pierson and Janice John of DETR in early 2014 when Disability Solutions launched the third Pepsi ACT site in Las Vegas (we are now currently working with nine Pepsi locations nationwide). I knew from the start that DETR was going to be one of our leading talent partners. Their team was well prepared, asked the right questions and they were ready to dig in and get to work immediately. I recently caught up with Ken and got to hear a little more about their successes and programs in Nevada.
For the past six plus years, Ken Pierson has been the Business Development Manager with the DETR. Before DETR and throughout the majority of his adult life, Ken has owned and managed multiple businesses, lending him a unique perspective that helps him in his current role. Ironically enough, Ken fell in love with his current job during his own job interview.
Ken spends a great deal of his time helping jobseekers with disabilities seek employment. When he first learned there was a substantial communication and employment gap between the disability community and employers, he was incredibly surprised, as he had hired many jobseekers with disabilities as an employer. Ken reminisces about being an employer, “I was always searching for employees who wanted to work and I found many employees with disabilities who really wanted to.”
A New Frontier
Those were different times, back in the 90’s, and technology has changed since Ken’s day as a business owner. These changes have oftentimes created some unnecessary barriers to employment. One of the biggest hurdles today are application systems, which Ken feels are often counterproductive and can “hinder the employers ability to find the right fit.”
“When I was an employer, someone would walk into any business and ask if we were hiring,” says Ken. “The applicant had the opportunity to present themselves face to face and see the work environment to see if it was a right fit.”
Fast forward to today and you have application processes put in place to collect data and help employers easily filter to the “right” candidates. Employers recognize that this has become a necessary evil, and it is currently up to the jobseekers and community organizations to learn how to successfully navigate through these application systems.
Ken and his team focus a great deal on upfront skills to prepare the jobseeker before presenting that individual to an employer. Ken sees a lack of hard and soft skills in jobseekers – disability or not. “Employer’s expectations are also different from what the jobseeker believes and it is up to our team to work with the jobseeker to assess the skills and bridge that gap on what is needed,” says Ken. “DETR starts with a work assessment to find out what skills may be lacking – what do we need to do to provide that individual with the best training to be successful?”
Pepsi ACT Initiative
Disability Solutions had the pleasure of partnering with DETR in 2014 for the Pepsi ACT initiative and experienced firsthand the preparation taken with their jobseekers. Pepsi was looking to fill technical roles at their Certified Center site, where they refurbish their marketing equipment such as coolers, vending and fountain machines. Pepsi’s local management stressed that they were looking for talent that was ready to work and learn new skills, emphasizing that they can train skills, but they cannot train work ethic.
Understanding the employer’s need and the skills to do this job, DETR screened and prepared their jobseekers to see who would be a great fit. DETR hosted a three-day soft skills class honing in on interview skills and on the jobs skills to make sure they were sending Pepsi the best-matched candidates. Once the jobseekers successfully completed this step, Pepsi invited them onsite to “tinker” with equipment in the training room to see if this would be a good fit for all parties. Pepsi opened the facility with roughly 50% of their new workforce having some type of disability, including 20% being veterans with a disability.
Partnerships in Action
This outcome illustrates the remarkable impact community organizations like DETR and employers can have that truly makes a difference in people’s lives and leads to a mutually beneficially result for all. Ken explains a successful partnership between DETR and employers comes from a “side to side relationship, where the two parties are working together for the common goal of finding the right talent for the right job.”
Often employers are unaware of or do not fully understand the organizations who serve jobseekers with disabilities and are oblivious to benefits available that can help them with recruitment and retention and lead to hiring incentives. Ken encourages employers to reach out to DETR, setup a meeting and hear about the resources they have to offer them.
One tool that DETR uses with employers is an interest interview, in which ready jobseekers sit down with an employer to learn more about the opportunities available. “The interest interview often acts as an official interview leading to a direct placement or an interview down the road,” Ken explains.
Flexibility is key when implementing a hiring initiative. Disability Solutions has had similar success co-partnering open house events with community partners and Pepsi to educate the jobseekers on the company’s opportunities and benefits. Synchrony, another Disability Solutions client and the nation’s largest provider of private label credit cards, often conducts onsite hiring events where candidates can move through the entire application process and receive an offer on the spot.
Standard of Excellence
Ken and the DETR team continue to show success across the state with employers such as Office Depot Max, Starbucks, Eldorado Resorts, Walmart, Pepsi, Panasonic and Nevada’s largest employer, MGM casino. In their work with Starbucks in Carson Valley, they created the first Starbucks Inclusion Academy which has since expanded to other Starbucks locations in different cities. The academy provides six weeks of training to help individuals with disabilities gain meaningful work experience in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, which has led to additional programs in other sites.
DETR also created a working classroom prototype in the back of an Office Max store where jobseekers attended an eight-week training program, learning soft skills and hard skills needed to work in the warehouse and retail stores.
In order to make these programs successful, Ken works with his team to find, train and refer the best talent for those jobs. “If you’re a jobseeker with a disability please reach out to DETR, who will help you with work readiness and interview programs. Be a laborer of research and find the best career path in your region,” Ken adds.
Employers should seek out community organizations like DETR that serve jobseekers with disabilities. Doing so will help companies find top notch, qualified talent and develop a partnership that will consistently refer jobseekers your way. With great organizations like DETR and with great leaders like Ken, the outlook for individuals with disabilities seeking employment has never been brighter.
To learn more about Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) visit: