The ability to find opportunities amid challenges is a common theme for success. For area business leaders, a major challenge is finding reliable employees in our current labor market with a local unemployment rate of 2.6 percent. Many businesses are discovering an opportunity in their workforces by recruitment and employment of people with disabilities.
The key to success in this endeavor is collaboration among area employers and providers of disability services. The economic principles of supply and demand apply to labor as much as any other commodity. Disability service providers can help “supply” qualified, capable workers to meet the “demand” of area employers based on each business' needs. Old National Bank and Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana are just two examples of what each side can contribute to the supply-and-demand equation.
Old National Bank was committed to corporate values of diversity and inclusion even before tight unemployment rates. Based on those values, Old National started unique internship and mentorship experiences for people with disabilities and bank executives and associates. Old National also has hosted meetings between business leaders and former Walgreens executive and disability inclusion pioneer Randy Lewis to learn about Walgreens' experience with inclusive hiring and explore the reasons why hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense.
Easterseals Arc and other disability organizations offer different approaches to helping local businesses explore intentional inclusion of people with disabilities. Easterseals Arc has found that providing no-risk opportunities to help ensure a good fit before hiring works well for both “supply” and “demand.” These opportunities include job shadowing, internships and Employment Readiness Academies (18-week hands-on work rotations at local businesses). Easterseals Arc worked with Chuck Surack to start these concepts several years ago at Sweetwater. Building on success there, Easterseals Arc has been able to work with many businesses across all industries to find new opportunities and win-win solutions.
Old National and Easterseals Arc are not alone in seeing the benefits of greater inclusion. Old National, Surack and Greater Fort Wayne Inc.'s Eric Doden have developed a business-to-business approach to help local employers explore options for including people with disabilities in their workforce. This innovation, housed at Greater Fort Wayne, will help local businesses as well as all disability organizations striving to increase opportunities for employment.
We are grateful to our local business leaders and know more success will continue. Through collaboration, our community will grow stronger as we embrace the opportunity to tap into everyone's talents and meet the challenge of fulfilling our hiring needs.
Donna Elbrecht is president/CEO of Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana. Dan Doan is president of the Fort Wayne region for Old National Bank.