As we face an uncertain future in our jobs due to the impact of the pandemic, millions of us have adopted a new mantra: Recover, Adapt, Advance.
The effects of the disruption are deep, forcing unemployment to skyrocket in less skilled jobs, while leaving many white-collar jobs almost untouched. The speed of change has been devastating, driven by a long trend toward digital transformation and wildly accelerated due to COVID-19. The result? A global skills-gap wide enough to drive a truck through.
The episode features Rachel Payne, Didlake Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy and David Hunn, President of SkillSource interviewed by John Jacobs Founder of Broadreach SMI.
Published: October 22, 2021
John: Good afternoon and welcome to this, the 9th episode of New Frontier organized by the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. I’m John Jacobs, your moderator or host for this session for the series. We have a great discussion ahead for you today. And what I’ll do, as I do at each of these, I’ll take us through some relevant bullet points so that we have a common understanding of the topic. And that’s just one slide. And then, I have one slide, and it’s not too many slides. And then, we’ll begin a panel discussion. I’ll tell the audience that we are taking questions So, please feel free. If you nav down to the bottom of your screen, there’ll be a pop-up where you can place a question or a comment in the chat section. So, please feel free to do that. So, let me go ahead and do that. And then, I’ll introduce our panel. Just give me a sec to share my screen, and we’ll do that through the magic of technology.
Great. Okey-doke. So, The New Frontier: Investment & Growth in Prince William County, Virginia. This topic today, a very important one for our economy, for our labor market in the United States. Reskilling & Upskilling: Finding Your Way to Secure Future. And here are those bullet points. I’ve been inundated with the bullet points today. But I think the topics justify this focus. I’ll just rattle through these or please read along. Upscaling versus rescaling. This is definitional. So, defining upscaling versus rescaling. Upscaling refers to the process of investing in employees by training them on new skills. Rescaling focuses on creating new skillsets so that individuals can qualify for new positions or even new industries. An interesting stat here from the World Economic Forum. Fifty-four percent of workers will need significant upscaling by 2025, and this largely due to advances in technology. Automation and artificial intelligence are two examples of that.
The industry sectors and this is, again, relevant, the industry sectors most impacted by the pandemic are among the least paid across the economy. And it’s put the most… Sort of, the worst-case scenarios are the sectors that were most impacted. And you can see some relevant data there. Leisure and hospitality, the wholesale and retail sector, and agriculture. And then, you can see these unemployment rates. And these are actually unemployment rates from April of this year. So, even when we came off the back of the shut-downs, still, these sectors remain very high unemployment. And then, you can see the corresponding hourly rate of also reported from…this is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor as of September of this year. Conversely, there are two sectors here, just to get some comparison, the info services, and financial sectors, and they are $44 and $40 respectively per hour. So, in order of magnitude, are higher in their hourly wage.
A quick stat, 2018, almost 8% of U.S. workers held more than one job from which they derived 28% of their income through that second position. That’s a lot of work for folks. And that, sort of, leads to a conversation about underemployment. Twenty-six percent of Americans live with a disability. That’s 27 million Americans who live with a disability, 1 in 4 Americans. And that turns out to be very important for this conversation today. Labor force participation rate. And we’ll get into the definition of that. One of the panelists is gonna help me on that one. But labor force participation rate for those with a disability, 36% versus the participation rate of those without a disability, 61.6%. So, an almost 2X or 50% of those with a disability participates in the labor force today. This is, again, a September stat from Labor and Statistics.
Okey-doke. Enough torture of the data. Note, we’re not done yet torturing. This slide is very important for those who want to get access to really great resources and information. And I’ll just [inaudible 00:04:32] for a sec. And it will be in the presentation, of course, when we have it on demand. The two panelists today have their websites, Virginia Career Works, Didlake, NVCC, Northern Virginia Community College Workforce Training program. It’s the Chamber, the NOVA Chamber of Commerce, CompTIA, which is, of course, famous for IT certifications plus a myriad of industries, tech industries, and Virginia Cyber Skills Academy. So, those are great resources to refer to. And so, take note.
So, on today’s panel, we have David Hunn, Executive Director, Virginia Career Works, the northern region, NOVA region, and Rachel Payne, Vice President, Advocacy & Public Policy with Didlake.org. And we have the actual people here. So, exit this screen now. And there they are. Hello, David. Hello, Rachel. How are you?
David: Thanks, John.
John: Let me, just for the audience, say an abbreviated version of your bio. So, they know who is on here today. David Hunn, Executive Director, Virginia Career Works, which is a business-led organization providing critical employment and training services across the region. Virginia Career Works operates five one-stop employment centers for adults seeking employment and those seeking to build new skills. VCW or Virginia Career Works provides services to all populations, veterans, emerging entrepreneurs, small business owners, older workers, adults with disability, young workers seeking first-time jobs, and those returning to work, amongst many others.
Rachel Payne, again, the Vice President, Advocacy & Public Policy with Didlake. Didlake is a nonprofit that is creating opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. Rachel’s responsible for the oversight and management of public policy and advocacy functions. Rachel has actively supported individuals in the workplace through rehabilitation services and teaching others how to do just the same. Rachel holds a master’s degree in human services counseling and a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology. That’s you guys. Thanks for joining us today as panelists.
David, let me begin with you, if I may, and ask you this question. I took people through a lot of stats just now. But what are you seeing as…? I mean, we talk about labor force displaced [inaudible 00:07:01] the back of COVID, a still-elevated unemployment rate across the country. What are you seeing from those workers coming into your centers or working on your website?
David: Well, thank you, John. Thanks for the opportunity to be with you and your viewers today. We’ve been on a roller coaster. The Northern Virginia economy, we were at a height of unemployment in April of last year at over 10%, the highest in my lifetime, working in this region. And then, it dropped down to 2.3% in January of this year. With the COVID inflection rates increasing and the like, we’re now out about 3.4% as of August. So, we’ve been all over. To your question though, the largest displacement has been what I would call public-facing jobs and industries, much like your slides such as food establishments, restaurants and bars, hotels and travel accommodation businesses, nursing and social assistance settings, retail trade, along with the arts, the entertainments, and the recreation businesses. So, it’s been a… For a region that thrives on tourism, on going out to dinner, on going out, it has been a real hammer to us.
Those occupations that you asked about, within food and beverage, as an example, it could be the servers themselves, the cooks, the food preparation workers, the retail sales workers in malls and in stores, personal appearance workers, tour guides, travel guides, you know, with the national zoo closed, the animal care and related service workers, all were either laid off or lost tremendous amounts of their hourly opportunities to work. With the limitations on educational institutions, we saw cutbacks in preschool, elementary, middle, and secondary schools, not to mention special ed institutions, as well as I mentioned the nursing residential care and social assistance settings. All of those have just seen tremendous cutbacks. Now, maybe the good news is that much of that has been recovered. Of those 90,000… I should say the 70,000 job losses that we saw, much of that has come back, close to 60 to 70%. But even still with the vaccination rate still fluctuating, not everyone is back to full steam. And now, we have the irony is that so many employers, particularly in Northern Virginia and Prince William County, cannot find enough workers. They’re not able to attract back the workers that they had before. And we’ll get into that in your conversation today. I’ll go ahead and turn it back to you.
John: No, that’s great. I appreciate the overview. Rachel, we saw at the top of this discussion the statistic that one in four Americans are suffering from a disability of some sort. And then David mentions, sort of, the disparate way, the weighting of sectors being impacted not in an even way. Are those workers with disabilities, have they been more severely impacted because of where they are working in the economy?
Rachel: Actually, what I can say about that is you gave some statistics on labor force participation rate and unemployment rate. And, actually, what we’re seeing right now is that the current labor force participation rate for working-age people, so that’s 16 to 64, with disabilities is actually higher than the pre-pandemic level labor force participation rate. And so, not exactly sure 100% why that is. For me, I’m hoping that there’s more… Employers are seeing the value of a diverse workforce and being inclusive of all people, including those with disabilities. So, I think that having more opportunities is having an impact on that. So, I think it was about 2 percentage points higher for September of 2021 over September of 2019.
John: And just for the audience’s sake, the labor force participation rate includes those working, those seeking work, those who have just been laid off. Rachel, that’s basically the crowd, right?
Rachel: Yeah. And so, pretty much, it’s all of the individuals who are connected to the workforce. So, they’re temporarily out of work but they’re still connected. They’re not completely disconnected and separated from the workforce.
John: Which is different than unemployment work.
Rachel: Yeah. Impermanently disconnected.
John: Right. So, for the sake of this conversation, say we’ll focus on labor force participation rate.
John: Although even though it’s nominally better. We saw that 2X behavior where those without disabilities are twice as likely to be within the labor force participation crowd, right?
Rachel: Exactly. I think it’s probably about 55% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that I’ve recently pulled. The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities working age is 36.4%. And for people without disabilities, it’s 76.5%.
John: David, let me skip to this question for a sec. And tell us about Virginia Career Works, the services you offer, and how you offer those services.
David: Well, thank you. That’s a great opportunity. Well, we’re a public service. We’re a taxpayer-funded function. The northern region, we’re one of 14 local workforce areas in Virginia. So, most of our funding comes from the U.S. Congress down to the governor of Virginia and then down to the local governments. In our case, we represent three counties, Fairfax County, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties, and then four cities, Manassas Park, Manassas, Fairfax, and [inaudible 00:13:26]. All told about 2 million residents and tens of thousands of employers in the region. The real goal, John, is to bring employers and job seekers together.
So, we have, as you referenced, five workforce centers. These are bricks and mortar centers that anybody can use free of charge. Our largest center is in Woodbridge on Minnieville Road. And on our website, someone can find a map and call a number, and we’d welcome anyone to come in. So, our goal is to really assist that job seeker to either, as you call it reskill, or to upskill. And we have various ways that we can do that. We can provide a training voucher for someone who wants to gain new credentials, new skills. And that voucher can be used… It’s a free voucher that can be taken to either Northern Virginia Community College, George Mason University. We have over 70 public and private training providers that are eligible to receive those vouchers. And really, then, it’s up to the job seeker to find the time and to take on that activity to retrain.
We also have career counselors that can meet with people, help them with their resumes. We work so closely with employers, as well. We can, again, try to facilitate that connection. We can’t believe how many employers are reaching out to us now saying, “Can you help us find this type of person for this job that I can’t seem to fulfill on my own?” It’s really an opportunity for us to really bring the community together to facilitate that hiring process. We have incentives, as well, for employers, to hire individuals that might be harder to reach and harder to serve. But altogether, that’s how we really crystalize our services on behalf of the region.
John: And Rachel, maybe just tell us a bit about Didlake and its mission and the services that you folks offer.
Rachel: Right. Thank you, John. And, again, I didn’t get an opportunity to say thank you so much for having Didlake in this panel discussion.
John: My pleasure.
Rachel: So, Didlake is a nonprofit rehabilitation services organization, as you mentioned in my bio, that we are creating opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. And we’ve been doing this for almost 60 years now, based in Manassas and Prince William County. But we serve all over Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and a small part of Pennsylvania. And so, at the core of who we are is a rehabilitation services organization. So, what that means is we provide day support services, community engagement, and supported employment services to individuals with disabilities. And in our last fiscal year, we served and supported and 1,300 individuals. And we are also an employer of people with disabilities. We have employed last fiscal year over 1,600 employees. And 81% of our employees are individuals living with disabilities. And the large majority of our employment opportunities are through the AbilityOne program, which is the largest source of employment for people with disabilities by providing products and services to the federal government. And that program trains and employs more than 42,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities in this country.
We also have commercial contracts and commercial businesses. We do document imaging, photo imaging. We have three UPS stores. And all of the profits from our businesses help create opportunities for people with disabilities. And I would like to mention that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. And, again, I’m happy to be part of this panel to help educate and bring awareness to the contributions and needs of America’s workers with disabilities.
John: That was great. Thank you very much. Let me ask you, again, a definition. Help me define the word disability because I suspect it is a rather broad definition. But help the audience understand what that means.
Rachel: Yeah. No problem. Like you mentioned earlier, about 26% of Americans, adults, are living with a disability. That’s one in four adults in this country living with a disability. And it is really broad. and there are multiple, different definitions of disability for different reasons. We have a different definition for Social Security disability, for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the AbilityOne program I mentioned earlier. So, there are different definitions. But in a very general sense, disability is defined as a physical or a mental impairment or mental condition that has a substantial impact on one or more of the major life activities or functional areas of a person’s life. So, this includes mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, seeing, self-care, or the ability to work. Some specific disabilities or conditions include deafness, hard of hearing, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, and other mental health or psychiatric disorders.
So, again, that’s just really, kind of, clinical and straightforward, that definition. But, again, it’s really important to understand that it is broad and I say it’s important to understand how disability impacts a person. So, in a broader sense, like, we, kind of, think about disability as, you know, a person having a varying degree of functional abilities that that impact has on their ability to move, communicate, understand information that can impact their ability to access services or, like, going to the doctor, it can impact their ability to participate or engage in their community or with other people or obtain and maintain employment. So, yeah, it’s pretty broad.
And I do also like to mention that it’s important to understand that not all disabilities are visible. So, you know, like if someone is deaf or hard of hearing or has Down syndrome, those are things that people, kind of, pick up on. But not all disabilities are visible. For some people, especially when it, comes to mental health or psychiatric disabilities, you may or may not know that, if they don’t disclose it. And this week is actually Invisible Disabilities Week. So, you know, we try and bring awareness to those different topics.
John: And just quickly, David, your organization also serves those with disabilities, correct, in some of your programs?
David: Absolutely, we would, yes. And probably at a different level than what Rachel’s organization would. But we certainly have a number of different programs. One of them is the called the Ticket to Work program where we’re helping individuals, adults, who are on Social Security Disability transition back to full-time work. Ideally, we are working with them to make more money than their disability payments. And it has a small impact on the Social Security Trust Fund as we try to bring people back into employment. So, you see employment networks all around the country doing that type of work. In fact, we have our own employee in our organization who is a junior accountant with us that we’re quite pleased to have her working. And we’re able to use technology and a variety of other means to really have her as a productive member of our organization. It’s a very… I don’t want to say simple, but it’s a very gratifying process to make that whole system work.
John: And you bring up a topic of accommodations when you mentioned that you have this employee. And you’ve made some changes to empower them to do the best job that they can do and to meet the needs of the role. So, Rachel, may I ask you for employers who are watching this, what are some common accommodations that they might need or want to make to get a really good employee to join their organization?
Rachel: Yeah. So, I think this would apply to any employer. But just so everyone understands, so, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the ADA. So, those employers are required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it’s not gonna cause undue hardship. But there are plenty of different types of accommodations that are free or cost very little. So, even for a small employer, it would still, I would think, classify as, you know, it wouldn’t be an undue hardship.
So, some examples include making existing facilities accessible, job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, assisted technology such as screen readers, listening aids, iPads, tablets, text-to-speech software, Also, acquiring or modifying equipment. Updating policies. To me, that’s one of the easiest things. So, if you have a policy for a flexible work schedule or a policy around allowing a service animal. Also, having qualified, certified interpreters for someone who may be deaf or hard of hearing. The Job Accommodation Network, which I think you might have listed in the resources, is an amazing resource. And they say that, typically, accommodations are gonna be a one-time cost. And that one-time cost is typically $500 or less.
But, again, when they did some surveying of employers, they found that most employers reported paying less or paying nothing at all for the accommodations that they provided. Again, an accommodation can be changing a work schedule. I’ll give an example of my mom. She had breast cancer. And when she was going through her chemotherapy, she would have those appointments on Fridays. And she would have a flexible schedule to be able to just work half a day on that Friday and manage that time throughout the week and so that she could go to her appointments. So, again, when we think about disability, it can be pretty broad. And cancer is something that under ADA can be classified as a disability. And so, thinking about what employers can do to educate themselves around accommodations, particularly around individuals that may have a temporary disability and they are trying to stay at work or either return to work, it’s very, very important.
John: You know, it’s interesting because if one doesn’t suffer from a disability, it’s how pervasive disabilities really are in society. And your point about unseen, invisible disabilities. Is that the phrase that you use?
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah.
John: I find that fascinating and, you know, just the level of, sort of, empathy just required and that it goes a long way. And it’s also, there’s temporary disability, right? I was on the phone the other day with somebody from MVCC. And I was out with my daughter at her cross-country meet. Our kids are the same age. And he had just played soccer with his daughter and then did turn or something. And he’s moving around in one of those scooters. And Wade had his leg up on the scooter. And he tools down the road. Is that a disability?
Rachel: It could be, you know, depending on the impact to that individual. And I do want to point out that not all individuals who live with disabilities are necessarily impacted or will need accommodations at work. So, you know, it can just really vary, based on that person. And, again, someone may have a condition that, in certain, you know, work environments or certain situations, there can be a really significant impacts because of their disability. And they may need accommodations. And that’s why it’s so important to have policies and procedures in place for employers around that process of requesting the accommodation. Again, it could be something very, very simple. It could be something a little more expensive like restructuring a workspace. It may cost a little bit more or take a little bit more time to look into making that accommodation. But there are resources out there. There are tax credits. If people are interested, they can go the irs.gov to look at the work opportunity tax credit and also the…it’s called the Disabled Access Credit. And that’s around providing credit, tax credit, for making spaces accessible. And also, there’s a barrier removal tax deduction. And those are all federal.
John: That’s great. That’s interesting. And it seems to me that with the 50% delta difference between, you know, those with or without disabilities who are participating in the labor force, when you look at just the sheer demand for workers now that crossing that bridge, bringing those together, that’s a pretty clear opportunity. Yeah?
John: And David, you know, we talk about, you know, in the summary of the description of this webinar… Oh, by the way, audience folks, we are getting a few questions. If you have questions, please go ahead, the bottom of your screen it says, “Q&A,” Q&A. Just go ahead and pop a question in there or a comment, as you like. David, we talked about skills gaps. And then, at the top, I had those bullet points you saw some sectors. some are well-paid. Some are not are well-paid. But are you experiencing…? Is there a synchronization between one employer’s need on skills and what employers are coming to be reskilled with?
David: Well, let me try to see if I can think that through there, John.
John: I know that was not an easy one. That was a tough one.
David: If there is synchronization, I would, I mean, we would argue that there are more jobs available now in Northern Virginia than there are people. And interestingly now, where we’re seeing the disconnect with employers is that so many of the demands, employment demands, for employers are either very high-skilled, which require either further education beyond high school or multiple certifications and/or experience, but also, then, as a result of the pandemic, many entry-level jobs that people simply don’t want to go do anymore, whether it’s in food service or hospitality. And it’s a variety of reasons behind that, whether it’s people worried about their continued health while we’re working our way through the pandemic and the vaccinations, or whether they’ve been able over the past year-and-a-half to save up money and reduce their debt. So, they can rethink their whole way that they want to consider going about making a living.
There’s reference to the great resignation trend. Well, there’s also three other Rs that are being referenced, as well, that are the great reshuffling, and the great reset, not to mention the great rudeness as we see how certain people behave on airplanes. And that’s all referenced in a recent “Atlantic” magazine article. But I think this whole last 18 months or more has really forced so many people to rethink what is it that they want to do in their life and the work that they want to do. Now, I mentioned in terms of the jobs in Northern Virginia, so many of them will require more education. And that gets into the vouchers that I referenced earlier and going back and gaining new skills. When we look at jobs that are being advertised now, Northern Virginia Community College issues a quarterly report. It’s really a great resource for those in our business. And, you know, their most report from July would suggest that there are 16,000 jobs available right now that would require some level of security clearance, whether it’s a top-secret, secret, or above. Many coming out of the military will already have that.
Another popular certification is a project management certification, a PMP, project management professional. Over nearly 10,000 jobs are available now for someone with that certification. And that can be accomplished by a boot camp and a few months of training and passing a certification test. Other certifications you had mentioned earlier, CompPS security, that’s up nearly 3,000 jobs require that. We see continued demand for registered nurses, RNs. That typically would require a two-year degree from Northern Virginia Community College or a four-year degree with a bachelor’s of science in nursing. So, you could go down that list. But we would say those job opportunities are really focused in technology, professional business services, healthcare, and information technology particularly on that. And then, subsequently, around finance, any type of what you would say would be an office setting where you’re typically not interacting with the public not on a frequent basis. That’s what I would see.
Now, we have employers coming to us, as well, looking to upgrade the skills of their current employees. and that’s a program that we can fund. We call it incumbent worker training. And many employers are doing that now. And it could be trades-related employers. But we’ve also worked closely with commercial movers. We’ve worked with technology companies. We are able to share the cost of the training because if they make their workers more competitive, the business itself will be more competitive and will be available really to compete for other contracts or larger contracts and the like. That’s really the spirit by which we take that on.
John: Thanks. I remember when we prepped for this, you even mentioned near-term opportunities like folks getting the CDL, their commercial driver’s license.
John: Because there’s a lot of ships out there with a lot of containers. And they can’t go anywhere.
David: Oh, my gosh. You know, it’s interesting. You know, so many of the job seekers that might have utilized our centers, they need to find tomorrow or next week. They can’t really take off six to nine months to a year to really go back to a more formal education program. But at the same time, it’s ironic. But, you know, in North Virginia I would follow the mantra that the more you learn, the more you will earn. And I think that’s gonna be true nationwide as well. But sure, we’re seeing commercial driver’s licenses being extremely in demand where anyone that can pass through that, if they’re able to drive a very large truck, whether locally or nationwide, they’re gonna make money that can support their family for a long time. And we think that this is gonna continue going on going forward.
We see other healthcare entry-level trainees, including a certified nursing assistant or a licensed practical nurse, even a lobotomy technician. These are relatively short-term programs at the community college or other training providers. I was contacted this morning by a firm in Reston that is trying to hire pharmacy technicians. And they’re gonna be giving a $3,000 hiring bonus if they can find the right person. And, of course, that’s not a long-term training issue, as well. It’s someone who is interested in the industry and is willing to put in the time as well. But there are other types of examples. Bookkeeping, some of the trades certifications around heavy equipment operating, First-aid, OSHA requirements, these are all things that can get someone into the workplace pretty quickly.
John: And it’s interesting because there are those who are not in the workforce who want to get back in the workforce. And there are entry roles. There are doors open, right, that come with training support for, kind of, certification, as you’re pointing out. But once you’re back in it, you know, sort of, that’s the key is to get into the flow again if you’ve been outside the labor force. So, that first step is really important to get back in. Conversely, if you’re in a position that you really don’t see a lot of growth for you for that role, there seem to be so many programs about for training and certification for the advancement piece. Then, you mentioned a great point about in-0house training, I’m sorry, the upscaling element, sorry the… Yeah, within their current workforce. And there have been very notable examples. I think, yeah, it was Microsoft. Well, we had big consulting firms like Accenture and some of the others who are putting in $900 million, over $1 billion. Some of the banks are reinvesting significantly in the training of their employees up and down the job spectrum, right?
David: That’s right.
John: So, there’s lots of reinvestment happening there. Oh, I’m sorry.
David: May I pick up on that, just real quickly, John, and it’s so interesting. I mean, the world has changed in how education can be financed. Virginia has been a leader in moving towards free community college. And it’s not quite there yet. But it’s available now for targeted programs and individuals at certain income levels. and I encourage anyone to take a look at what’s called the 3G program with the Virginia Community College system, as well as the training that my organization can provide. Looking at what large employers, they’re even using that as a recruitment tool where Starbucks, Target, Walmart, they’re now proposing that if you come to work for them, they will help finance your college education, probably not all at one time, but that’s a world of difference from where we were just a few years ago pre-pandemic.
John: And, Rachel, on the other side of the equation, is this topic I mentioned earlier of underemployment. And it seems ironic that having just had the conversation of great demand for workers that a lot of workers experience underemployment. How do you define underemployment? And what do you think creates that, particularly for those with disabilities?
Rachel: So, you know, underemployment can impact anyone. You know, parents who have college graduates who have a nice bachelor’s degree in, you know, narrative fields may come back home and work in an entry-level retail job, and they’re underemployed for whatever reason. But, hopefully, that’s starting to get pushed out a little bit. But in terms of people with disabilities, underemployment significantly impacts people with disabilities before the pandemic, and I’m sure probably still now. I don’t have the exact numbers but it’s much higher than people without disabilities. People with disabilities work part-time at much higher rates than people without disabilities.
People with disabilities are often underemployed because of the amount of hours they work, their pay, and their likelihood of being promoted. And oftentimes, as well, they may be overqualified for a job. And that creates an underemployment issue or situation. So, they may be overqualified because of years of experience or their education. And I’ve actually worked and known people on the autism spectrum, for example, who have undergraduate or graduate degrees working entry-level retail jobs and for years. So, not just, kinda, starting out, but this is just their work history. It’s just, you know, year after year after year, job after job after job that they are overqualified.
And, again, this can happen to anyone. I just gave an example of some people that I know on the autism spectrum. But it can happen to anyone with a disability. Think about our military veterans who are injured or acquire a disability during their service and cannot get a job or one that matches their level or years of experience when they’re able to get back to work. And, you know, some things that impact this are the… I think some people with disabilities might not know the resources that are out there that can help them obtain and maintain employment. So, like David mentioned earlier, my organization works with and supports individuals primarily with significant disabilities. So, a different type of individual comes to Didlake than may come to the Virginia Career Work Center or any other workforce center out there. But, you know, in reality, there are a lot of resources out there.
But people just don’t know about them such as the state vocational rehabilitation services. So, in Virginia, it’s called DARS, or places like Virginia Career Works. There’s also fears that people with disabilities might have like fear they may not be hired at all, I think, that goes into why they’re not participating in the labor force or why they may be underemployed. They may feel like, “I’m not gonna get that higher-level job.” And so, there’s just some deep-seated fears that also have an impact on underemployment for people with disabilities. Also, the fear that they may be treated differently by colleagues and supervisors or, you know, I may have this entry-level position. I don’t want to go after a supervisor position because I have a disability. And maybe people won’t take me seriously.
John: You touched on, and I think it’s important to bring that to the forefront, what are some of the mistaken assumptions, inaccurate assumptions about those with disabilities in the workplace. And I’m just… I don’t know, and to me, perhaps, it depends on the type of disability or how it manifests itself. But can you talk to us about there’s I think it’s employers need to be sensitized to those things? What do you know about that?
Rachel: So, so much comes down to education. I think the more employers understand and society, people just in general, understand about the disability, the better we’re all gonna be. I do a lot of presentations, speaking engagements, education to employers about what it means to live with a disability. And there’s just a lot of bias, ignorance, discrimination, ableism [SP] out there. And I think a lot of it’s because people just don’t know and understand. And so, like, ableism, for example, it’s the discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that people with typical abilities are superior. So, it’s just this mindset. So, if we think about, like sexism, any of the isms, sexism, ageism, racism, ableism is in that same bucket. And there are a lot of stereotypes. Some of the inaccurate assumptions made about people with disabilities is that they have to look a certain way to be disabled, or that they need to be cured, or they need to be fixed. You know, I’ve worked with people… Again, disability is such a broad spectrum. And everyone’s experience is different.
So, for me, you know, knowing people and working with people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who are on the autism spectrum to them, a lot of their experiences are, “My disabilities makes me who I am.” So, they see that as part of their identity. Now, you have someone else who many have, you know, a very significant intellectual disability that impacts so many areas of their life. For someone who has a significant physical disability and they say, “I would not have asked for this. So, I would not have wanted this.” So, the experience for that person, it just varies from person to person.
And so, you know, just some things that I think is important for people to understand when it comes to ableism and things that we say that can be hurtful to people and that feeds into those inaccurate assumptions are statements like, “Oh, you don’t look disabled.” So, again, we talk about hidden disabilities or invisible disabilities. There’s still an impact to that person, whether you can see it or not, or, you know, another thing that is, kind of, a pet peeve of mine is talking to a person with a disability like they’re a child, you know. I work with adults. and so, I’m gonna talk to them like they’re an adult. Irrespective of their ability to verbally communicate, I’m gonna find a way to communicate with them in the way that they can understand and I can, hopefully, understand them back.
There are also assumptions that people with disabilities can’t learn or do a job like a person without a disability. And that’s not true. Someone may or may not need an accommodation to do their job. But disability alone doesn’t prohibit a person from being able to successfully perform a job. David gave an example of a coworker. I have an example of a coworker at my office who’s our receptionist. And he’s blind and he’s hard of hearing. So, he has accommodations. He has hearing aids. And he has a device that he wears around his neck that is Bluetooth and live, kind of, streams the sound from the phone to his hearing aids directly. He answers the phones. He accepts packages. He accepts visitors and directs them to where he needs to go.
And he does other projects as needed. And some of the supports that he has and his accommodations he’s found himself. So, it’s really cool to think about, you know, someone who is significantly impacted by their disability in various ways can still be very, very successful at their job with the right accommodations and also having people around that understand and accept. So, again, we’re a disability services provider. But we still have people come work for us that they don’t have any background in rehab. They don’t really understand we give them that training when they’re onboarded. But I think education is just key so that we can dispel those myths and misunderstandings.
John: Well, thanks for that. Thanks for that. I think right now we’re gonna turn to some of these questions, if I may. Let’s take a look here. Here is a question. Are the training vouchers the same thing as the scholarships that went out late last year to get a new skill or a trade? And maybe David, could you hit that one?
David: Right. And that references… I know Miss Mason has asked a few questions, as well, about the 3G program. And so, you know, last year we started to see so many funding availabilities. So, not only from the start but from private philanthropy. So, the training vouchers that I referenced are similar to a scholarship. And they could get used as such. But it’s more income-based rather than merit-based. So, individuals that are eligible for our programs are either someone who’s just their job… We call them a dislocated worker or someone with low skill and low income. So, generally, and frankly, we’ve been seeing many more of those types of job seekers, those with low skills, really looking for their first entry point in the workplace. And that’s where we would really begin working with entry-level skills, certifications, and the like. I hope that answers Ms. Mason’s question though.
John: And the G3, can you do…? What are the three Gs? Did I have this backwards?
David: No, no, it’s there. Boy, I think it’s get a skill, get a job, give back. I think those are the three Gs. and really, what it’s intending is that this is, for certain training programs, typically in healthcare or technology, through the community college and you meet certain income levels, your training will be free. And the expectation then is that you’ll give portions of your time back, whether it’s through community service or the type of work that you would work. I think it’s a play-off of the National AmeriCorps efforts that…
John: Oh, AmeriCorps. Right.
David: Yeah. But it’s very innovative. And depending on what Congress does with the reconciliation bill that’s under consideration, there’s talk at a national level of free community college. So, whether that goes forward this year, Virginia has really been very aggressive and the Virginia General Assembly and the governor have been very aggressive in moving forward. So, clearly, they see, whether you’re in Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads or Southwest, the more skills you have, the more you can offer an employer. And, hopefully, the transition to employment will be that much faster.
John: Here is somebody asking a question. I’ll just read this question. Somebody’s asking about the contact information at the Woodbridge Resource Center. David, that’s your organization.
John: And I want to give the audience…it’s at 13370 Minnieville Road in Woodbridge. And the website for David’s organization is vcwnorthern.com. And then Didlake is didlake.org. And so, you’ll have lots of resources on those sites. I think at the end of the day, I mean, let’s have a closing question for both of you if I may. What is a reasonable hope, expectation from a reskilling, upscaling perspective say five years out, five years from now? And, Rachel, I’d like you to take that from a workers with disabilities angle. David, from where we are now, five years from now, what’s a reasonable hope and improvement of the situation?
David: Well, as a region, we’re recovering from the worst job loss, period, ever in our lifetimes going back into the early ’60s, if not the ”50s. So, our hope, my goal would b that you’re gonna continue to see marginal growth in job growth. We’ll see population growth, as well. But I hope the message that your listeners are hearing today, John, is that Virginia has turned into a…has really emphasized it’s a knowledge-based economy and that we’re not really in mass production any longer as other parts of Virginia might still be. And so, if you want to be able to provide for your family, to be able to have a reasonable standard of living, you really want to move towards some of the higher-skilled employment opportunities of which there are so many. I would say anyone that’s listening today if you are looking for work or up and looking to reskill, it’s better to do it here in Northern Virginia or Greater Washington than almost any other place in the nation and as far as I’m concerned.
And part of that is the ability to move around transportation-wise, the cost of housing and rent. I mean, there are challenges, clearly. But there are certainly so many more opportunities here than we might even see in other parts of Virginia. So, five years out, I would hope that someone today might have made a decision to make a change in their living circumstance or their educational circumstance. Maybe they’ve taken advantage of the G3 program or one of our training vouchers. And they’ve made that move up into a better-paying job that they’re more satisfied in and that they can grow from there.
David: And Rachel, what do you look to, or what’s your comment or observation or hope five years out from now?
Rachel: I would say, definitely, five years from now, a reasonable hope for workers with disabilities would be mainly that employers and businesses really look at being as inclusive as possible. And so, I know, kind of, right now, the hot topic is diversity, equity, and inclusion. And several of myself and coworkers sit on D&I committees in the state or chambers. But it’s amazing how many companies actually don’t have disability in their diversity statement or as a part of their diversity programming. So, my hope would be that employers would really make sure that they’re including people with disabilities. People with disabilities are a largely untapped source of talent that really should be included in the workforce for all organizations.
And so, my hope is that companies and organizations adopt those practices, that they’re educating and training their workforce in the benefits of people with disabilities. It isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a good business case. There’s a lot of whitepapers, a lot of research that’s gone on over the past several years, many years, actually, about the business case for employing people with disabilities. So, my hope is that we can continue to educate and spread awareness so that the workforce, they know that there’s a place to go and that employers can also be inviting and inclusive so that we can raise that labor force participation rate, so we can help get closer and closer to what it is for people who are living with disabilities. That would be my hope.
David: That’s wonderful. Thank you both. Those are realistic hopes. And I want to thank this panel for this great discussion. The audience, I want to thank you as well. This video, this webinar will be posted on the Prince William County Department of Economic Development website tomorrow. So, look for that there. And I wish you all a great rest of your afternoon. Thanks very much, folks.
John: Thank you.
David: Take care.