Decision Vision Episode 118: Should I Hire Someone with a Disability? – An Interview with Bill Schultz, Opportunity Partners
In a conversation with host Mike Blake, Bill Schultz, CEO of Opportunity Partners, demystifies misconceptions businesses have about hiring people with disabilities. He explains why so many businesses, once they get past those misunderstandings and bring on someone with a disability, often expand such hiring. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Established in 1953, Opportunity Partners is a Minnesota nonprofit organization that works alongside people with disabilities to provide job training, employment, and residential support for people to live more independently, succeed on the job and lead lives filled with purpose and meaning.
Opportunity Partners serves people with many different types of disabilities. Some examples include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger syndrome, brain injury, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and many others.
Bill Schultz, President & CEO, Opportunity Partners
Bill Schultz was named President & CEO of Opportunity Partners in August 2020, after serving briefly as Interim President & CEO. Bill joined Opportunity Partners in 2015 as Executive Vice President, Business Development and Operations, overseeing all business services and production operations, identifying new products, processes, and services in community and center-based work.
Bill came to Opportunity Partners with more than 20 years of experience in a variety of business leadership positions and was drawn to the organization for its strong mission and history of making a difference in the community.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:39] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself, and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:12] So, today’s topic is, Should I hire someone with a disability? And in a way, this is an extension of the previous week’s topic, Should I hire somebody with a criminal background or somebody with a prison record, I forget what the actual title was, but you get the drift. And the same sort of concepts applies that we find ourselves in an unusual, if not unprecedented scenario in the workforce where we’re finding ourselves in a shortage of workers. And although this is being felt most acutely in the hospitality sector, it is not limited to that.
Mike Blake: [00:02:03] Over the course of the last 18 or 17 months or so, I think our society is redefining our relationship with work. I think at a micro and macro level, many of us are readdressing priorities. And I think we’re asking ourselves the question, is it worth it? You know, is it worth the effort and the expense to have a two income family? And I think with people now that have had an opportunity, whether they wanted it or not, to work-from-home or withdraw from the workforce for a while in order to meet their family obligations.
Mike Blake: [00:02:50] You know, I think this goes beyond more than simply the more generous unemployment. I think people are simply asking themselves, you know, was it really worth the extra income to give up what I gave up in terms of being with my family, and building the home that I want, and doing other things in my life. I think the answer that some people are giving is no. And some people, I think, are going back to school and they’re retraining for a job they think will suit them better. And I think others will simply exit the workforce on more or less permanent basis, certainly not coming back full time.
Mike Blake: [00:03:26] And as our previous guest, Jeff Korzenik, indicated – I thought that was a very astute observation – the size of the American labor force had already been exhibiting decline since 2010, maybe a little bit earlier. And as so many things in life, coronavirus simply accelerated trends that were already underlying. And so, we’re now finding ourselves as an economy and a scenario in which labor just is not available and plentiful the way that we are used to being. I am 51 years old and I cannot remember a scenario under which it was just so difficult to hire. I’ve been through tight labor markets for sure. But this is a different animal.
Mike Blake: [00:04:14] And so, as a result, I think that decision paths that people would not have ordinarily considered, for example, hiring someone with a criminal record and, in the case of our topic today, should I hire somebody with a disability. I think, whereas employers would just simply not have considered that or not have given as heavy consideration to it. I think we’re now at a point in our economy where, if you want to run your business the way you like to run it, if you’d like to be as profitable as a way and you’d like to grow it, you simply cannot afford to decide right off the bat that you’re not going to consider large segments of the population. And that’s not ideology, that’s just simply arithmetic. When the music stops, there just are not enough chairs to go around. In this case, not enough workers to go around for employers. And, again, we’re just not used to seeing that.
Mike Blake: [00:05:15] So, this is an extension of that topic. Again, I hope you’ll agree it’s a relevant topic. And for those of you maybe who have wondered about hiring people with disabilities, maybe how you do it, whether it makes sense to do it, or maybe you agree with me and you decide, “You know what? I need to -” even if I wasn’t discriminating against the disabled, maybe I wasn’t being intentional about doing it. You know, here’s a stone that can be overturned that may yield some great opportunities. And the goal is to help you explore whether or not that’s the right path for you. And if it is, then what is the best way to pursue that?
Mike Blake: [00:05:50] So, joining us today is Bill Schultz, who is President and CEO of Opportunity Partners. Established in 1953, Opportunity Partners is a Minnesota nonprofit organization that works alongside people with disabilities to provide job training, employment, and residential support for people to live more independently, succeed on the job, and lead lives filled with purpose and meaning. Opportunity Partners service people with many different types of disabilities. Some examples include autism spectrum disorder, Asperger Syndrome, brain injury, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and many others.
Mike Blake: [00:06:28] Bill joined Opportunity Partners in 2015 as Executive Vice President, Business Development and Operations, overseeing all business services and production operations, identifying new products, processes, and services in community and center based work. Bill came to Opportunity Partners with more than 20 years experience on a variety of business leadership positions and was drawn to the organization for its strong mission and a history of making a difference to the community. Maybe we should have had you on our podcast that will be publishing soon on transitioning to nonprofit. And, Bill, I believe you became CEO last year, 2020. Bill Schultz, welcome to the program.
Bill Schultz: [00:07:04] Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mike Blake: [00:07:07] So, Bill, let’s start off easy. I’m sure this is a question that you could answer in your sleep. You must face it all the time. And that question is, make the case that hiring somebody with a disability is a good business decision, not just simply a good social decision.
Bill Schultz: [00:07:26] Right. And I think you made a strong argument. One, just the necessity right now of looking into non-traditional pools that employers might look at. And this is a group that’s often overlooked. And people with disabilities want to work. It’s the vocation that’s in the DNA of our organization. It was started by a group of parents that wanted to have work for their children. So, they bought a house in the small town in Richfield, Minnesota. Why not work with local businesses and brought back work. And then, a few years later, they placed their first person in the community.
Bill Schultz: [00:08:02] Because people want to feel normal and often somebody with a disability is ostracized that way and thought of that they can’t. And we just need to understand they have a wide range of abilities and we need to understand what support they need. They’re not different than you or me. We all have skills and can really thrive if we’re supported in the right way. So, these folks are very loyal. They’re great workers. They care. They can be great teammates.
Bill Schultz: [00:08:33] One of the fun things, too, that we’ll hear is, it also boosts the morale of the other folks that work there. You know, sometimes there’s an individual, sometimes there’s more than one. And I think it’s a feel good thing. And people get to know them and it demystifies people with disabilities because some people will be uncomfortable around them. And once they get to know them as a person, that goes away. And they’ll learn what their interests are and they’ll laugh with them. And it just boosts things that I’ve heard that from employers, that this is an unexpected benefit that we’ve had.
Bill Schultz: [00:09:12] And there’s also some that, you know, you’re going to have other workers that might have a child with a disability, it also gives them some hope because, “Hey, look. There is a future for my child.” Because they may be worried about that and what does the future hold for them. So, those are some things.
Bill Schultz: [00:09:29] But, you know, for the business owner or the manager that is running that storefront, it’s, “I need somebody. I need somebody that’s going to be reliable”, that can get there, they can coach and can do that. There’s other things, too, that we place a lot of people because we’re having a lot of wage pressure. That, I don’t want to pay someone this higher rate to do something more routine or that employee might not want to do these routine things that someone with a disability might really thrive on.
Bill Schultz: [00:10:01] Some people with disabilities in it, we have such a wide variety of diagnoses and just a wide range of individuals and what their characteristics are. They might really thrive in that. So, where one employee might say, “This is really mundane and I don’t enjoy this.” Someone with a disability might find this very rewarding and be very good at it. So, they can parse out those jobs and focus those other individuals that they’re may be paying a higher wage on those higher skilled areas. And let someone with a disability do other things. Like, whether it’s picking up boxes and having them recycled, moving different things about. There’s such a wide range of duties that we do. And those are just some of the benefits, I think, of hiring someone.
Mike Blake: [00:10:45] Now, you brought up something I would not have thought of in a million years. But my observation certainly bears it out. At least Americans love a story where somebody overcomes a disability, to overcome something, right? There was something on the news recently about, I think, a golfer with Down syndrome that is having some success. And it seems like every other month is a great story in ESPN. You know, somebody that maybe was the 15th person on the basketball team had a mental disability and they put them in sort of at the end of the last game of the season or something. And everybody sort of goes berserk.
Mike Blake: [00:11:29] There is sort of that element in contrast with the prior show that we did – I guess really two shows, not last show – on, you know, should we dip into the pool of people with criminal records. You know, there are people that they did something to earn that or to receive that distinction. Whereas, as opposed to people that are handicapped or are disabled, chances are very good that they did nothing to do that. You know, they’re are born with, generally, bad luck, basically. And there’s a very different attitude towards that. And I can see how, under the right circumstances, under the right leadership, that somebody who is disabled on a team can actually become a rallying point.
Bill Schultz: [00:12:25] Absolutely. The other thing is, these folks are really genuine. They’re curious about you. There’s no pretense with individuals. They want to get to know you. And it’s another thing that people, once they get comfortable – and, again, some people are just uncomfortable because they’re unique. And our organization will do training for people and just talk through it. And that really allows people to relieve their anxiety and build that relationship with that person and help support them in their role. Because they’ll need support like anyone else. And one of the things that we’ve seen where people are really successful.
Bill Schultz: [00:13:04] So, we offer job coaching. And that’s one of the things that employers should know, too, that whatever state you’re in – we’re in Minnesota – most states are going to have organizations like Opportunity Partners with job development and they come with a job coach. So, this is a free support that comes with this individual that the business doesn’t have to pay for. And they can help with onboarding and they can help with training. We go out those first few days, we’re there the full shift with them, helping them get onboarded. We’ll create checklists for them. Talk with the manager about getting to know. Because everyone’s different and they’re going to have different behaviors and things like that. So, that’s just a real benefit for someone to onboard that individual and help them be successful. And, also, demystify even for other employees on how to interact with the individual.
Mike Blake: [00:13:54] You know, I’m curious about one thing, because your organizational profile says you work with people who are on the autism spectrum and have Asperger Syndrome. What, if anything, was the impact of Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live monologue in which he disclosed that he indeed has Asperger’s Syndrome? Is that bringing conversations to you? Is it changing conversations? Too early to tell? What do you think about that?
Bill Schultz: [00:14:24] I thought it was great. And, you know, just the buzz around it that, again, it’s just making it more acceptable and letting people know. There’s so many people with disabilities and we have a wide range of abilities. And everybody you work with, there’s likely someone with something that’s challenging them. The folks we support, you know, are just more parent, more obvious, so it’s visible. And Elon just normalized it for people. And also say, “Look. Look what I can accomplish. And I’m on the spectrum.”
Bill Schultz: [00:15:00] And people with autism spectrum disorder, also Asperger’s, which is just typically higher functioning, are wildly successful. And technology firms are discovering this, and there’s lots of them that are reaching out to this pool. Because with some minor modifications like, you know, often a technology office will have a wide open workspace. This individual might have some sensory issues where they need even an office or high walled cube, but they’re fantastic at coding or they’re fantastic at software analysis. I mean, things that other individuals wouldn’t pick out.
Bill Schultz: [00:15:37] So, again, just a wide spectrum of people that come to us, we’ll place them in technology jobs or different things like that that are well suited for their skills and where their interests lie. But there’s also, you know, a lot of traditional programs like post-secondary education isn’t well suited for people on spectrum, so they fall through the cracks. And there’s just such a wide group of underemployed, talented individuals that we really need to figure out a way to support and get them trained. And then, educate employers on how to bring them onboard and help them be a valuable asset.
Mike Blake: [00:16:12] And I can actually attest to that. I have a relative who has been diagnosed of Asperger’s Syndrome and he, in fact, is a software engineer. And they do make accommodations for him. Not overly heavy in my mind, actually. But he is fantastically successful and they’re just never going to let him go. And the good news is that, people with Asperger’s syndrome don’t particularly like change either. So, it’s actually a scenario that works extremely well for them. So, I can tell you this from my own experience of somebody who has weaknesses related to disability elsewhere, interpersonal reactions, relations, that sort of thing. But in terms of his ability to produce code, I mean, he’s a parent. I’m not an engineer, but for all accounts, he’s not good. He’s great.
Bill Schultz: [00:17:08] Yeah. That’s not an uncommon story. Businesses have to be open to it. I think one of the big miss out there is, there’s a liability or there’s expensive accommodations that need to be made. And that’s just not the case. So, I think it’s just learning. You know, obviously, a business owner can just dip their toes in the water and go and talk with an organization and learn more and meet some of the individuals. And, really, I think, get comfortable with that.
Bill Schultz: [00:17:40] I think one of the biggest things is, we support people with the job coaches so we can help people, we can help train them, and be that gap. And maybe people are worried about disciplinary things. We can come in and have the meeting with the manager and the individual and work through challenges if that becomes a thing. Or, “I can’t fire this individual.” “Well, yes, you can.” That’s not a worry. And we can help with that, too. And other organizations will do the same thing. Typically, it’s a process like anybody else, right? You sit down and kind of talk over. “Well, you’re not doing this or we had this incident. We can’t do that.” And we work through improvement.
Bill Schultz: [00:18:18] And one thing that goes back to the point you made earlier, just the challenge. We’re actually finding employers be a lot more tolerant and give more tries on things because of the challenge. And they see that this individual is trying. And it’s just something that we need to work through and help them understand, because it’s often just something new that comes up that was kind of unexpected. And we help them sort through it. So, I think a big thing is just thinking that there isn’t a liability. And, you know, it’s not expensive to bring on one of these people. There’s not a lot of accommodations that you have to make that are going to be hard for the organization to support.
Mike Blake: [00:18:59] So, obviously it’s important to the individual, it’s important to society, and can be a benefit to a company to hire somebody with a disability and give them a job, make them productive, et cetera. Do governments offer any special incentives that you’re aware of to hire somebody who’s disabled? Are government’s helping offset training costs or hiring costs or wages or anything like that that you’re aware of?
Bill Schultz: [00:19:26] Yeah. Well, I know the state of Minnesota does. There’s a tax break for employers that do. So, I just recommend a business owner go out, I think it’s $9,600 a year in tax break, no matter the number that they hire. So, I would just recommend that they reach out to their Employment Economic Office of their state and look and see if they’re doing something similar. We even have counties within Minnesota, too, that will offer something on top of that. So, you can even check with the county in which your business is and see if they’ll offer some kind of grants. Sometimes it’s for onboarding and they’ll be like onboarding grants and then a retention grant that they’ll get a couple of cash payments for.
Mike Blake: [00:20:11] I’d like to ask a question that popped up. And this may be an unfair question, but I think you can handle it. And that is, I have an observation that coronavirus, in effect, made some employees effectively disabled. Not necessarily from a mental standpoint, although that may be the case, but I think they simply became impaired because of demands that were placed on them outside the workplace, simply did not allow them to be their best selves at work, as they ordinarily would have been.
Mike Blake: [00:20:44] And frankly, I am one of them. My work life balance has changed as I have become a homeschooling father and tried to help my wife realize her goals of starting her business. And that just means I cannot work 15 hours a day and accomplish those things. I really can’t work 12 on a regular basis, frankly.
Mike Blake: [00:21:04] And, you know, as I think about our organization and people that have had to kind of step back and others have covered for them, I kind of wonder if the coronavirus experience maybe has made us collectively a little more understanding of individual people’s limitations. Those limitations may happen because of an actual disability that they have or the limitations may be environmental, but the net impact is the same, I think.
Mike Blake: [00:21:36] I’m curious if you think that maybe coronavirus and just seeing lots of people have had their lives upended and, therefore, they’re not able to be their best professional selves. Do you think that’s led to greater empathy towards the disabled that have kind of had to live with having a different baseline, if you will, of performance than their peers?
Bill Schultz: [00:22:00] Yeah. I think it’s probably a mixed case and it kind of depends on the individual, not the disabled individual, but the other individual. Because what I’ve seen from coronavirus is, and to your point, it can make people more empathetic to others and the challenges that they’re facing and see that. But I’ve also seen fatigue with corona and a lot of people hitting the wall and saying, “I’ve already got so much capacity, I need to do a little self-care. And I need to dial back a little bit on how I’m supporting others.” So, I’ve seen a little bit of both of that.
Bill Schultz: [00:22:41] So, I think one thing that’s helped us a little bit is actually some of the social unrest that we’ve seen with some of the different – well, In Minnesota, specifically with George Floyd and Daunte Wright right. But it’s across the country, unfortunately. That we’ll see a lot more talk around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And some organizations will put people with disabilities in there. And we’re trying to get more people to think about that, because I think that’s really an important thing to help open people’s eyes more so.
Bill Schultz: [00:23:20] Then, COVID is creating, “Oh, my gosh. I’m not thinking about that.” And that’s something that we, as an organization, should really think about, is, how do we do this? Because when they’re trying to do a diversity, equity, and inclusion, it shouldn’t be to do check boxes because they see the value that these individuals bring in different life experiences. And they’re going to add value or they’re going to make the organization stronger.
Bill Schultz: [00:23:41] I equate it to the United States. I think one of the reasons we’re so strong is we’re not homogeneous. We’re a melting pot of people from all over with brilliant entrepreneurs from around the world. And it makes us a great country. And I think a diverse organization, you’re going to get the same benefit. And seeing that being pushed forward, I think, will help people open up to people with disabilities and think of them as that way, too. And, of course, people that have intellectual developmental disabilities or physical disabilities come in all colors as well.
Mike Blake: [00:24:20] Sure. So, you’ve been with this organization for six years, presumably, or five years and change, maybe, I’m not sure the exact months, but are you aware of any data that measures how well disabled or employees with disabilities have performed relative to their peers that do not have such disabilities? They tend to perform as well, a little worse, a little better, pretty much the same? In your experience, kind of what have the results been?
Bill Schultz: [00:24:55] Yeah. I don’t know if there’s analytics around it, but I can say that the best way to equate it is all around individuals. And I’d say, by and large, they’re generally the population. They have people that are great and people that have different struggles and just need to find the right fit. Sometimes they go into one specific job and, you know, you might try out that, “I want to be a lawyer, but, gosh, I’m a terrible lawyer. And, really, I want to go be a chef.” So, it’s the same kind of thing of finding the right fit for the individual, whether they have a disability or not is really where we see it.
Bill Schultz: [00:25:28] We do see more employers opening up, so we’re definitely seeing a huge impact or a huge growth with people being placed on the community. So, that’s certainly in the data. And we see more and more of it. There’s just more demand. And we really are working with individuals to find that. And now, obviously, with employers. Obviously with COVID, a lot of businesses shut down and some jobs were lost. But that’s reboundingly crazy, like it is around the country.
Bill Schultz: [00:26:06] Especially, so we place a lot of people in, like, fast food, or dishwashers, or housekeeping, cashier stocking. I think one thing you’ll see a trend of that’s higher in someone with intellectual developmental disability than maybe your typical person that might be in this position is longevity. So, that’s one attribute that I think you’re going to see more loyalty there. And you also see a lot of reliability.
Bill Schultz: [00:26:36] I think one thing that employers need to understand and to think about is, typically, the folks we place don’t work eight hours a day. There can be income limits based on their benefits. And that’s something that the employer can always work with a job coach and say, “How many hours can this person work?” Because there’s often a misunderstanding by the person that has a disability or their guardian and to which how much they can make. So, maybe they can work 32 hours a week, and they just need to work through that.
Bill Schultz: [00:27:07] The other thing is, a lot of our folks don’t necessarily drive. Some people do. It depends on where they are within that range of ability. So, they’re taking public transportation or sometimes the state has a transportation, and that system can have some tolerance to it that, you know, they might have to show up a little bit early or a little bit late.
Bill Schultz: [00:27:29] And just so the employer educate themselves as to what’s happening. So, an appearance doesn’t look like, “Oh, my gosh, this guy is late again.” And it could be that, you know, he’s setting up a ride with the local state agency and those drivers, they got to figure out the route or whatever it is. So, they can talk with that job coach and really help sort those things out. So, I think something just for people to be aware of is, typically they’re going to be part time. I would say on average it’s 20 hours a week. But that can be also really helpful.
Bill Schultz: [00:28:03] Because a lot of times, you know, if I’m at a fast food restaurant, my busy shifts are this window. And I only want you to work this hour and these hours. And I don’t need you otherwise. And most of the folks aren’t going to ask for benefits because they’re getting the benefits. So, that can be a benefit for some business owners.
Mike Blake: [00:28:26] So, is there anything that the disabled tend to bring to the table because of their experience, their life experience, that may distinguish them from more conventional job candidates. And you mentioned longevity as one. Are there other ways that, in some ways, maybe hiring somebody with a disability may result actually in a superior employee on average?
Bill Schultz: [00:28:57] Yeah. I think, again, we’re just talking about individuals. So, there’s a wide range of that. But, again, I think the one thing that you might see is, some of the tasks that someone you’ve hired off the street is really not very productive at it because they’re really bored with it. And so, they’re going to be slower. Where you can bring in someone with a disability that they gravitate to that responsibility and they’re going to be just incredible at it.
Bill Schultz: [00:29:26] We also do what’s called support employment teams, where we’re the employer of record. And a lot of other organizations will do this. We call them support employment teams. Lots of organizations call them enclaves. So, they come to a business. The organization will be paid by the business. And then, we pay those individuals. But we show up and do the work.
Bill Schultz: [00:29:48] And we work, for example, at one of the plants for General Mills here in the Twin Cities. And this is hard work. So, we’re repackaging and making mixes for baked goods, frozen baked goods. So, it’s a cold environment, fast paced, heavy boxes. And you go in there and they are replacing temps that they hire with us. Because the quality of temps, we outperform them and we’re more reliable. So, all of those things can be attributed to someone that they hire an individual. Because it’s well suited. The folks that are there work really hard. And I mean, Mike, if you went there, you would be exhausted. And were there six hours a day, five days a week. So, I think those things are just considerations for businesses.
Mike Blake: [00:30:39] So, you mentioned something that I’d like to dig a little deeper into, because I think it’s important. And you tell me if it’s not, obviously. But one sort of subtext of what you’re describing is that many employees with a disability have a a support system around them that deeply wants them to succeed in that job. I mean, that’s their purpose in life. You ain’t doing it for the money. You’re doing it because you think it’s important, I’m sure. And your colleagues think that it’s important.
Mike Blake: [00:31:18] And, you know, there are a lot of nondisabled employees that would benefit from the same thing. That would benefit from focus, and paying attention, and showing up to work on time, and basic rules, and also work etiquette. And, also, when things aren’t going well, how do you you sort of handle that? Who do you vent to, et cetera? And it just strikes me that the benefit of having just that kind of support structure must be a massive advantage.
Mike Blake: [00:31:55] Imagine if as a manager, you know, if I had an employee that I wanted to cultivate and keep on the right track, in a professional sense, I would love to go home with that employee and sort of be around them 24/7 or have my structure around them 24/7. I cannot. But somebody with a disability may very well have somebody like you in your organization that does that. And what an awesome benefit.
Bill Schultz: [00:32:23] Yeah. True. I mean, to your point, there’s two things. One, so we’ll place someone in an organization and the manager will see what we’re doing for that person. We bring along. We help them onboard. We’ll go in and check on them occasionally. We’ll check with the manager. How are things going? What do we need to work on? What do they need to work on? Help the manager understand the individual and how to best coach them. If something comes up, we’re there.
Bill Schultz: [00:32:50] And we’ve had managers say, “Hey, I’ve got this person that could maybe use your services or the services.” So, within the the state of Minnesota, that individual just needs to go to the unemployment office – what is it? – Extended Employment Office here and demonstrate the need, whether it’s a disability or just the need for support, and they can often qualify for a certain number of hours of service to help that. So, that does happen.
Bill Schultz: [00:33:22] And we, obviously, offer support for people that are living in their home. So, it’s not just employment, but they need help organizing their bills. Because we’re trying to keep people in their homes. That’s the most cost effective way for a government. You know, if someone’s not living in a house or an apartment program where they’re paying paying a higher rate for that. So, we do a lot of that support as well. Just whether it’s socialization, managing their medical appointments, medications, bills, all those different things. You know, we try to encompass the full life, if that’s needed for the individual. Just help them be successful. Just a little bit of coaching and support goes just such a long ways in making that individual successful.
Mike Blake: [00:34:02] As an aside, I just have to say, you said something about how important it is to keep people in a home. I’ve read numerous studies that the biggest inflection point to preventing sort of a disastrous social outcome is making sure people stay in a home. Because once somebody is homeless, it’s at least ten times harder to kind of reverse that and get them off that track. So, good for you on that.
Mike Blake: [00:34:30] So, I’m going to change tack on the question here, because I want to cover both sides of this issue here. And what I want to ask is, what defines or what characterizes an organization that maybe is not a good fit for somebody with a disability? And I’ll preface this. That may be a confusing question.
Mike Blake: [00:34:58] So, to make it a little bit clearer, you know, I’m sure that you don’t have 100 percent or 1,000 batting average. You don’t have 100 percent success with every candidate. And I’m sure that in every case where there has not been success, I’m sure it has not always been the candidate’s fault. There may be some organizations that simply don’t have the infrastructure, culture, understanding, whatever it is, to properly onboard, manage, and cultivate somebody with a disability.
Mike Blake: [00:35:29] So, that’s a long winded way of simply getting to the question of, you know, what’s a warning sign of an organization that might have some work to do on itself before it really would be a good place to find a professional or a working home for somebody with a disability?
Bill Schultz: [00:35:47] Sure. I kind of see that in two questions. So, I want to answer the first part. I think when you’re looking at an individual with a disability and what might not be a good fit, it’s like any position you’re going to hire for anyone. And does that individual have the right skillset to meet the needs of the job? Because you could hire somebody and it’s like, “I need you to be an engineer.” And if they don’t have a background in engineering, they’re going to fail.
Bill Schultz: [00:36:14] So, if you’re going to hire someone with a disability that maybe has a mobility issue, and you’re in a warehouse environment with forklifts flying around, and they might be crossing that traffic, that might not be a good fit for the individual. But there’s also going to be a job coach that’s going to say, “Yeah. Probably not a good fit for this individual.” So, I think that’s one thing, is just, it’s going to depend on that person.
Bill Schultz: [00:36:39] One of the things that we’ve seen where, I think, businesses are successful with, one, having an open mind and flexibility around the individuals. And we see this grow over time because businesses will try to, typically, be either jaded. They had a bad experience, and it didn’t work out, and they won’t give it a second try. It’s just like, if I had a bad employee, I’m not ever hiring another employee again. But that’s not going to work for your business.
Bill Schultz: [00:37:02] So, I would say, you know, open your mind and just work with that organization, the job coach, to understand what it needs to support that person. Because we’ll see that be successful. And then, that business will hire more because they can see the success in it.
Bill Schultz: [00:37:20] Another area, this is an example of a fast food, where we have someone working at a well-known fast food place and wildly successful. This individual has some specific behaviors that would be triggered. But the manager understood those. He knew how to de-escalate things. It never happened in front of customers, but they could handle it well. Well, this manager went on vacation. They had somebody come in somewhere else. This person had that trigger. It showed that behavior to that manager. And the manager said, “This is intolerable. You’re fired.” So, they fired somebody that worked there for years just because they didn’t understand.
Bill Schultz: [00:37:57] So, there wasn’t proper training on the hand over is one thing that we’ll see where you’ve got a good employee, they just act in a unique way in certain situations. And that person knew how to handle it and this person didn’t. And the way they reacted was to terminate the employee.
Mike Blake: [00:38:14] So, that’s interesting. So, it sounds to me that, in particular, if you are an organization that maybe doesn’t have a lot of experience or history with hiring people with disabilities, it may be a good idea to pave the way for that with some sort of training, I guess, right? Because you do have to manage differently. You may even need to alter your culture to some extent.
Bill Schultz: [00:38:42] Yeah. We’ll do training. Sometimes they’ll just want to have the direct manager do it. We also did a grant initiative to help understand where are some of the barriers. And one of the things we learned that’s really helpful – and maybe you’ve had this experience – so you go on to a new job and you’re trying to figure out things. Where’s the coffee maker? What’s the culture like? What if this happened? And your relationship is just with your manager, and you want to have that relationship.
Bill Schultz: [00:39:13] So, if you can bring on somebody with a disability and it goes with any employer and have like a mentor for them that’s not their manager, they have someone to go to, you know, they can ask any kind of question to and also just another support for the individual. That really help them be successful.
Bill Schultz: [00:39:29] One of the things we also did was, we had funding where we paid the wages. So, one of the biggest barriers is employers haven’t done it. And there’s a risk of, “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” So, we would say, “Okay. Here’s, basically, an internship and we’re going to pay the wages for this individual for three weeks. You try it.” It doesn’t work out, they just walk away. And we had, I think, 80 percent of the people were hired after those three weeks.
Bill Schultz: [00:39:57] So, it’s just getting over that initial concern. And, really, we need to demystify that, if you hire someone with disability, you can’t fire them because of discrimination. That’s just not the case. And, again, usually the organization is going to come with a job coach. I would certainly recommend that. I think it just is going to make the individual and the business successful. And they can help you remove that person if it’s just not going to be a right fit, and they can find something else.
Mike Blake: [00:40:24] What’s a favorite success story that your organization has had with an individual that it’s just been a great experience? Maybe you have a ton of them you can’t pick, but I hope you can pick one because I would like to give our audience an understanding kind of what the ceiling looks like.
Bill Schultz: [00:40:42] Well, holy cow, there’s such a wide range. We have somebody that’s a certified nurse assistant at the VA. I think that’s been a real success. We placed people, again, with autism and maybe they don’t need as much support, in technology jobs. And, you know, it’s funny because they’re making way more money than their job coach is making, which is fine.
Bill Schultz: [00:41:08] I think one of the success stories that I like is, we have a lot of people that come to us just for job development and will go out in the community. We have other people that come – we have locations – and they’ll come to us for work and they work for us or they come for enrichment. And we had somebody that came in to us, really severe autism, and basically wouldn’t even make eye contact with people, and just had his nose in a book. A big guy, he’s like 6’4″, a couple hundred pounds, not very verbal. And we just worked with him over the years. And he wanted to work. His dream was to work at Potbelly was really his goal.
Bill Schultz: [00:41:48] And we worked with him and just slowly developed these skills where he could interact with people and got him, you know, more and more skills. And then, we were able to to get him a job at Potbelly, where he worked cleaning the area where you eat. So, that’s just one of the great stories, I think, because it just shows anybody with the right support can be successful. It just depends on where they’re starting from. And that was just a great story to see because he came through so many challenges. And the perseverance of our team to get him there and fulfill his goal of working at Potbelly was really exciting.
Mike Blake: [00:42:25] We’re talking with Bill Schultz, who’s President and CEO of Opportunity Partners. And the topic is, Should I hire someone with a disability? So, another question I’m sure that our audience would like to get an understanding of is, what are some best practices in terms of working with an employee with a disability? We talked sort of in generalities in terms of being flexible. I’m sure patience is part of it. But I think those are features of a company. But in terms of best practices and for day-to-day management to maximize that person’s value and performance, do you have any best practices you can share?
Bill Schultz: [00:43:11] Sure. I think that the biggest thing is, they’re coming with a job coach. Be open with the job coach. There’ll be some different corporate policies that, either we wouldn’t be able to access their schedule or get access to them on site or talk with their manager, because I think that’s just so successful. We can say, “Here’s John, and John’s going to have these kind of behaviors or challenges. And this is how you might handle this situation. What are the things you want, John, to do? Let’s go over that.” They will develop that checklist for the individual and work with them on those things.
Bill Schultz: [00:43:45] Then, say, “Okay. If John’s going to have downtime, how does he handle downtime?” Because John might not know what to do if there’s not. So, he needs some kind of direction. So, they’ll work through those learning things. So, I think it’s really important to know that working with a job coach is just going to steepen your learning curve so much and make that individual and that business more successful in doing that.
Mike Blake: [00:44:11] Kudos to you, by the way, for using steeping the learning curve correctly. Most people don’t. That drives me crazy. So, well done. You get a Decision Vision gold star. So, you’re in Minnesota, do you work across the country or are you regional? And if so, are there other organizations in different parts of the country that can help with more localized potential opportunity matches?
Bill Schultz: [00:44:40] Yeah. As a matter of fact, we’re just in Minnesota, but there are all kinds of organizations just like ours across the country, great organizations. They can just search disability organization and they will find those. You know, Google will be their friend.
Mike Blake: [00:44:59] Now, we talked a little bit about, you know, what kind of environments may not be optimal for hiring somebody with a disability. And I’m curious, I think a lot of us, just because they’re visible, we tend to associate the disabled with food service, hospitality, retail to some extent. Is that by accident or are there certain industries that tend to be a better match than others?
Bill Schultz: [00:45:31] Well, those are pretty common. It’s across the board, though. You know, it’s retail. We have an I.T. tech specialist that works for the Minnesota Department of Health. We have people that work for the Transportation Department. We have people that work at Lane Bryant or a rehabilitation center, retirement communities. Boy, it’s all over the place. But restaurants, convenience stores, stocking, manufacturing is really pretty common, so all kinds of different manufacturers, industrial things, where there usually is some kind of support. And, again, doing those tasks that they don’t want to have those higher paid skilled workers doing so they can off board that work and really focus those people on doing those things.
Mike Blake: [00:46:30] Bill, we’re running out of time and I have questions I’d hope to ask, but we’re not going to get to. But if somebody listening has a question that they want to address or maybe go deeper than we are able to in a question we did cover, are you willing to talk to them? And if so, how can people contact you for more information about this topic?
Bill Schultz: [00:46:48] For sure. Just have them reference my name Bill and email at info@opportunities – that’s plural – .org.
Mike Blake: [00:46:57] Very good. Well, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Bill Schultz so much for joining us and sharing his expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:47:05] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.