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Business advisory councils in the rehabilitation process.

Projects With Industry (PWI) programs funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration are required to have a Business Advisory Council (BAC) functioning in a leadership capacity to the project. These BAC's may differ in terms of numbers of members or types of industries represented; however, the BAC generally reflects the local community and its labor market.

The National Center for Disability Services in Albertson, New York, has three funded PWI projects.

The first is a recently funded national program with five satellite sites located in independent living (IL) centers. The BAC's at these sites are just getting organized. However, there is general excitement on the part of both business and IL staff about the potential success of working together.

The second project, Twin Forks PWI, which is located in the most eastern portion of Long Island, provides placement services in a rural setting. This project has developed an advisory council that consists of primarily small employers. Although small in number, these employers actively assist project staff in acquiring employment opportunities for their consumers, despite a very high unemployment problem. By working together, they have scheduled meetings on the employment requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and agreed to make personal contacts with small business people who are unable to attend meetings but who need to understand ADA and be open to hiring people with disabilities.

The third project, Metro PWI, operates in the New York metropolitan area serving an urban and suburban population of people who are disabled. This project has a BAC that has been in operation for many years. The general membership of close to 300 representatives of more than 150 companies is active in both hiring people with disabilities and in providing leadership and direction to the staff. This council provides input on new employment opportunities, training curricula and equipment, labor market trends, industry hiring standards, and direct assistance to consumers experiencing difficulty in obtaining employment. The active employer representatives provide opportunities for field trips to their facilities, provide practice interviews, and serve as mentors, technical reviewers, guest lecturers, and staff advisors.

This BAC is organized to include an executive committee, subcommittees for each training area, a special placement committee for consumers experiencing difficulty in obtaining work, and a general advisory membership group that meets for purposes of awareness training and employment of people with disabilities.

Consumer involvement has increased in recent years as graduates of the center's programs have been named by their employers to serve on various BAC committees.

The center, through its PWI projects, provides employer services and support both locally and nationally. At the local level, services include placement, followup, and technical assistance on accessibility, reasonable accommodations, and disability awareness. At the national level, the project utilizes the network and services of the center's Industry-Labor Council (ILC), which is a membership organization of over 181 major corporations and labor unions. ILC membership services include an information hot line, monthly mailings of relevant books and articles, accessibility surveys, membership service meetings, conferences, and seminars. ILC members have taken a leadership role in establishing the five national PWI satellite site BAC's.

Project staff and business advisors provide ongoing technical assistance to other projects, employers, and interested parties. Technical assistance has been provided to large and small employers, rehabilitation professionals in both the private and public sectors, and professionals in the field of special education, who are responsible for assisting in the implementation of successful transition from school to work practices. Participating employers sharing their knowledge and experience with other employers are a vital key to the success of the PWI partnership.

In March 1992, Mr. David Engel, as the chairperson of the National Center's Metro Projects With Industry program, was invited to testify before the Select Education Subcommittee, Education and Labor Committee, United States House of Representatives. Mr. Engel encouraged the expansion of the PWI program throughout the nation. He has been actively involved in every aspect of a PWI program and is the Vice President of Finance for Bertan Associates, Inc., of Long Island, New York, an electronics manufacturer of a high-voltage power supply. His company employs over 120 people in such jobs as electronic assemblers, electronic technicians, engineers, and support staff. Through its involvement in the Projects With Industry program, this firm has employed over 20 PWI job applicants.

Mr. Engel told the Committee that labor projections indicate that the growth of American business will be not in the large multinational firms, but rather in the small to medium-sized companies. It has been noted that small to medium-sized companies have been the hardest to reach with information on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the "how-to's" regarding employment of people with disabilities, because they do not have layers of management staff who can attend or travel to meetings and conferences or have the support training staff of the larger companies. Mr. Engel believes that the PWI program provides an ideal mechanism for such outreach and involvement. He stressed three major points.

One is the experience that business people acquire by participating on a Projects With Industry Business Advisory Council. They gain knowledge and insight into the needs and issues of employing people with disabilities; at the same time, they are able to impart their expertise and technical knowledge to the rehabilitation staff. By being involved in such areas as development of training curricula and planning Business Advisory Council awareness meetings, the PWI directly affects the operation of a company. The workshops and conferences provided through the Business Advisory Council are applied, practical and realistic.

He gave as examples workshops that he and his colleagues benefited from, including "How to interview a person with a disability," "How to work with an interpreter to share or obtain information from someone who is deaf," "How to cost effectively remove barriers to employment,'' and the basic requirements of ADA.

His second point was that, through his active participation in a Projects With Industry program, he has had the opportunity to impact directly on the quality and quantity of services that are available to people with disabilities and to assure that the outcome of these services is employment. He stated that as a business person involved in corporate finance and a taxpayer, he is concerned with the bottom line. "PWI, with its indicators and standards, is one human service that is truly cost-effective the return on this investment is paid back in actual dollars. As a taxpayer, I can support programs like this. I can justify the dollars spent," he said.

An example of this active participation by Mr. Engel and his colleagues is the electronic technician training program offered at the center. Mr. Engel and several corporate representatives identified a shortage of trained electronic technicians existing in one local area. Through their efforts of preparing a training curricula that would graduate qualified people, assisting in providing technical reviews to assure that the training program was meeting industry standards, and providing opportunities for employment for the graduates, they successfully demonstrated the value of business participation in the rehabilitation process. This type of activity can only take place at the local level, since it is specific to the needs of the local business community.

Mr. Engel's third point was the flexibility of the PWI program. He described it in terms of being able to respond to labor needs as they develop, thus permitting rehabilitation and business and industry to meet the future employment needs of people with disabilities in a timely and cost-effective manner.

An example of this flexibility is the work of a newly formed Center Business Advisory Subcommittee working toward the development of a laboratory assistant training program. Over the past 2 years, several major clinical, research, and testing laboratories relocated to the Long Island area. These companies brought their employment needs to the PWI Advisory Council and stated that they had identified a labor shortage of people trained in laboratory assistant work. With corporate knowledge and expertise, their contribution of equipment, and assistance in obtaining private support, this training program is planned to open in January 1993.

It is difficult to measure the benefits provided to rehabilitation by corporate involvement and a Business Advisory Council. Projects With Industry measures involvement through the amount of time business people spend working with the project's staff, the dollars saved by corporate contributions of equipment, and the increased number of job placements that occur due to the efforts of Business Advisory Council members in providing access to the hidden labor market. Beyond that, the active involvement of the corporate community leads to an overall community level of acceptance of ADA and its requirements.

In 1991-92, the center placed over 250 people into jobs in the New York metropolitan area. This was despite a growing recession and increasing rate of unemployment. Without the Business Advisory Council and its leadership and commitment to employing people with disabilities, this task would have been impossible.

Ms. Housman is Vice President of the Career & Employment Institute of the National Center for Disability Services, Albertson, NY.
COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
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Article Details
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Author:Housman, Roberta Y.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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