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The role of the entrepreneur in job placement.

Employment represents the most widely accepted barometer of adulthood and success in American culture. It is the focus for much in government policies, the rationale for at least one cabinet level department (Department of Labor) and numerous federal programs, and is the measure of success in virtually all areas of life. In many ways, employment is the rite of passage, the "walkabout" for young Americans. Unemployment, unfortunately, is no stranger to workers with disabilities. Despite widely publicized efforts of major corporations to hire disabled people, for decades the unemployment rates for workers with disabilities has remained several times the rate for nondisabled people (Gentile, 1977; Rumberger, 1985; Mirga, 1985; Harris & Associates, 1987; Edgar, 1987; Olson, 1987a).

Lessons from the Literature

A review of recent literature yielded a common thread in entrepreneurial and small business endeavors in the field of vocational rehabiliation. Vandergoot and Wenzel (1990) emphasized the need for "marketability" training. McLoughlin, Garner, and Callahan (1987) suggested the need for rehababilitation counselors to view employees as customers. A new study by Wehman, Kregel, Sharer, and Hill (1987) found that employees preferred collaborative efforts with rehabilitation counselors on the job site. In fact, most successful programs identified in the literature had a formal marketing plan, as well as formalized systems of support for employees (Richman, 1982; Banzhaf, 1987).

The Workplace of the Future

The workplace of the 21st Century will require workers and managers to perform many of the functions of the entrepreneur. For the 43,000,000 Americans with disabilities, most of whom are unemployed and underemployed (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990), the need for innovation and creativity in job placement will become increasingly evident in the years ahead. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses will provide the bulk of employment growth into the next century (Solomon, 1989). Employees will need to be able to respond to the leadership styles of the entrepreneur.

As these influences begin to change the work force and jobs of the future, the preparation of workers to fill those positions will also become quite different. In the future, the emphasis will be placed more on developing transferrable job skills rather than on the narrow specialization that has been typical in training programs of the past (Daggett, 1984).

These changes are pervasive and require a purposeful response from job placement professions who attempt to assist people with disabilities in securing and maintaining quality, challenging employment. As the 21st Century approaches, it is incumbent upon rehabilitation professionals to critically examine existing job placement practices and consider lessons from the workplace of the future. This article describes a model for job placement for the 1990's and its application to the field of rehabilitation.

The Role of the Entrepreneur

The entrepreneur, according to Webster (1980), is simply: "... a person who organizes and manages a business undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of profit." An entrepreneur starts an enterprise, assumes the risk, defines the business, and reaps the rewards (profits).

This section will define the characteristics of an entrepreneur and relate those characteristics to the field of vocational rehabilitation. Solomon (1989) described five distinguishing characteristics. An entrepreneur: (1) is a risk-taker, (2) seeks freedom in worldfie decisions, (3) is willing to dream dreams and see them through to reality, (4) is responsive to market conditions, and (5) provides service to diverse segments of society.

Risk-Taking. The entrepreneur will carefully examine each opportunity, evaluate the degree of risk, and make a reasonable decision. Often the challenge to "fly in the face of convention" is all that is needed to motivate the entrepreneur to leap into an enterprising adventure. Enthusiasm, self-confidence, hard work, and honesty combine to make the formula for a successful small business.

Freedom-Seeking. Freedom is the yardstick of success for many entrepreneurs. The ability to try out new ideas, follow one's instincts, and watch ideas become reality are aspects of freedom which draw entrepreneurs into the rapidly growing world of small business. Evidence of the changing values of workers and the predisposition of workers toward greater independence and control over their own work production is no more evident than in a study comparing Fortune 500 companies with Inc. 500 companies. Even though the smaller but faster-growing Inc. 500 companies lagged far behind the larger established companies in pay and benefits, employees were significantly more likely to be challenged by their jobs, to develop a sense of accomplishment, and to reap the rewards of their efforts (Hartman & Pearlstein, 1987).

Dreamer of Dreams. The entrepreneur is also disposed to dream dreams, to think globally rather than incrementally. Stephen Covey (1989) described effective people as those who see the desired end and work to make it a reality. He found that such successful people were more concerned with understanding and internalizing information than being understood. Entrepreneurs dream dreams, and then get to work to make those dreams a reality.

Responsive to Market Conditions. The surge in the number of new businesses in the United States is a valuable source of stimulation to the national economy. Without the shackles of large corporate structures, these companies can easliy adapt with new and better products for consumers. They can also customize services and products to suit local tastes and demands.

Entrepreneurs such as Steven Jobs, who created Apple Computer in his garage, deliberately choose the risks, insecurity, and long hours of being their own boss to avoid dependence on a corporation, government, or other bureaucracy. In 1986, after leading Apple to become one of the fastest growing and most successful companies in history, Jobs left Apple and began NeXT, a firm committed to networking the process of learning through emerging technologies for higher education. Although the exception, his experience defines the classic entrepreneur in terms of the preeminent desire for independence and freedom. Making decisions and having genuine ownership in the service or product that is delivered contribute to the pioneering spirit (Solomon, 1989).

Provides Service to Diverse Segments of Society. The entrepreneur does not limit or narrowly define his or her potential audience. The entrepreneur envisions potential customers in every segment of society.

Application to the Field

In its Program for Acquiring Competence in Entrepreneurship, the Center on Education and Training for Employment identified nine classifications of entrepreneurs (Ashmore, 1989). Examples of how these classifications apply to rehabilitation professionals are described in the following section:

1 ) Team Players. Rehabilitation as a profession requires extensive networking ability and the ability to utilize the skills of employees and partners to expand their business and productivity.

2) Self-Employed Persons. The geometric increase in the number of private rehabilitation firms during the 1980's attests to the allure of the entrepreneurial lifestyle and the inherent power of market incentives. As the field of workers' compensation began to require a new cadre of experts in vocational evaluation and rehabilitation, the field responded. The same incentives need to be applied to job placement.

3) Inventors. The ascendence of assistive technology in the rehabilitation field has provided fertile ground for inventors. Inventors are equally important in terms of systems analysis (Senge, 1990) and the redesign of human services in rehabilitation services. Entrepreneurs are disposed toward the creation of organizations which design, develop, produce, and market new and innovative products and services. Those who conceptualized the notion of the sheltered workshop, independent living, and supported employment were inventors and entrepreneurs in their own right.

4) Pattern Multipliers. These entrepreneurs know how to utilize a model that has been created by someone else and design their own enterprise, such as a franchise. Many existing facility programs in the rehabilitation field (i.e., Easter Seals, GoodWill, etc.) have demonstrated the ability to expand horizontally and vertically to meet the needs of clients.

5) Economy of Scale Exploiters. The design and development of itinerant service delivery models, specialization within the field of rehabilitation by disability group or rehabilitation function, and individualized case management are examples of creative, entrepreneurial strategies applied every day in rehabilitation systems that reflect the exploiters of opportunities generated by economy of scale issues. More recently, a renewed emphasis on interagency agreements and contracts for services between and among providers, school systems, and divisions of vocational rehabilitation illustrate this entrepreneurial type.

Application to the rehabilitation field is less evident in classifications 6-8.

6) Acquirers. By introducing new management, a previously owned business can be taken over and remade with new ideas to become more successful.

7) Buy-Sell Artists. Through purchase of a business, improving it and selling it, a sizeable profit can sometimes be realized.

8) Speculators. The secret to this person's success is primarily the purchase of property, antiques, art, crops, or other items and then reselling at a profit.

9) Internal Entrepreneurs. While working with an existing organization, these entrepreneurs are able to develop and implement new ideas. Since the business is not owned by them, there is little or no risk, but also little or no opportunity for making profits from their ideas.

Strategies for Job Placement

The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) improved employment opportunities for people with disabilities by describing reasonable accommodation in detail, introducing new concepts such as essential job functions, and delineating expectations for recruitment. Innovations in the workplace such as shared jobs, flextime, and access to job coaches have served to open doors to many people with disabilities. Specialists need to change the way they represent people with disabilities and their approach to employment if they are to capitalize on these relatively recent changes in the workplace (Wagel, 1988).

Incentives Strategy

Financial Incentives. Monetary incentives for hiring disabled workers have been available to employers since the 1960's. They have been designed to encourage employers to take the additional time needed for people with disabilities to reach a competitive level. This "on-the-job-training" incentive usually takes the form of a 50 percent wage reimbursement for a limited period of time (3 to 6 months) followed by a 25 percent wage reimbursement for an additional 3 to 6 months to employers. Employers sign a "good faith" statement showing an intent to hire the worker on a permanent basis following completion of the on-the-job-training subsidy. Economic conditions or a client's inability to perform the job adequately can relieve the employer of this commitment.

The Targeted Jobs Tax Credit (TJTC) allows employers of individuals who qualify as members of "targeted" groups to take a tax credit for the initial period of employment. Targeted groups include economically disadvantaged people, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or General Assistance recipients, disabled people certified by state vocational rehabilitation agencies, and economically disadvantaged youth enrolled in a Cooperative Education program. Successful employment tenure is unlikely, however, without corresponding programmatic incentives.

Programmatic Incentives. Programmatic incentives such as follow-along counseling, onsite training, transportation, task analysis, pretraining, vocational assessment, and specific skills training enhance the "marketability" of each client (Vandergoot & Wenzel, 1990).

The Competence Strategy

Approaches to job development traditionally center around the theme of "good citizenship," as reflected in programs like the United Way. These approaches implicitly focus on limited competence of the applicant and subtly communicate the need to compromise performance standards rather than reasonably accommodate to achieve optimum performance. If small businesses (the engine of growth of the American economy) are to employ vastly increased numbers of people with disabilities, the philosophy must shift to one that represents people with disabilities as fully capable to perform the essential job functions described in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Placement personnel should endeavor to place clients in positions where clients work with nondisabled peers, and where clients are paid for productive work. Specialists need to understand that people with disabilities cannot only perform essential job functions but that their contribution enriches the work environment and performance of their entire work force. White (1989) found that integrating people with severe disabilities in the workplace had a greater impact on the attitudes of co-workers than did awareness training or school classroom integration. The same study indicated that morale may be impacted favorably when people with disabilities work with peers without disabilities.

The Choice Strategy

McLoughlin, Garner, and Callahan (1987) suggested a need to change the way placement specialists develop jobs. Traditionally, rehabilitation counselors have sought to identify a particular job that matches the skills and interests of the applicant. McLoughlin, Garner, and Callahan also suggest that in place of providing services to a single applicant, a multiple applicant approach should be utilized. The employer retains ownership in the selection process (something critically important to the entrepreneur) and the applicant competes for the position with a group of equally qualified applicants. A major benefit of this approach is the transference of responsibility for the decision from the rehabilitation counselor to the employer who makes the selection and to the employee who accepts the position.

Customer Service Strategy

To the entrepreneur, the customer is pre-eminent and the entrepreneur responds quickly and carefully to meet the customer's needs. In job placement, the traditional approach views the person with a disability as the customer. The effective job placement specialist needs to see the employer as an equally important customer. While this notion represents a departure from accepted practice, a view of the employer as the customer has the potential of multiple placements over time. As customer satisfaction with initial job placement increases, the investment of time and effort for repeat placements will decrease. In addition, the credibility of job placement specialists' services will be established. The placement specialist needs to work cooperatively for the best interests of the participating business. Increased business volume, improved morale, and more efficient business operations should be the placement professional's common goal with each business. Certainly, a growing business is more likely to continue to employ disabled workers than one that is experiencing serious difficulties. Providers should be cognizant of the business's philosophy and long-range goals. Nothing should be done that reduces business for a participating employer.

The Value-Added Strategy

Historically, the public service provided by rehabilitation has not been viewed in terms of its market value. Employers and clients have viewed such services as an entitlement, something that can be accessed at any time with little responsibility or obligation. Rehabilitation counselors provide much more than the front-end placement services of private employment agencies. Recruiting and training of quality dependable employees, consultation to the firm regarding job credits, and advocacy to the worker in terms of financial and personal management are only a few of the activities which add value to the employee, the employer, the taxpayer, and the community. The specialist with a commitment to adding value will carefully assess the investment of time and energy required to work effectively with specific businesses and specific clients and choose wisely where that investment will be made.

Dealing with Failure and Adversity

A common criticism of the entrepreneurial model is that such an approach requires a heavy, front-loaded investment of time and energy and at the same time fails to adequately consider the consequences of failure and adversity experience in the workplace by vocational rehabilitation clients. Several studies describe placement programs with the capacity to "recycle" clients through different stages of support when failure or adversity occurs (Moon, Goodall, Barcus & Brooke, 1986; Wehman, Kregel, Sharer & Hill, 1987; Gardner, Chapman, Donaldson & Jacobson, 1988). Supported Employment provides numerous examples of creative alternatives to traditional training and placement, particularly for people with chronic mental disabilities and DSM III classifications. Furthermore, the vocational rehabilitation system is designed around the concept of individualized services. As clients progress through the 15 status codes there is ample opportunity to redirect clients, modify services provided, and monitor growth toward independent successful employment. For example, a health-related interruption of employment (status 24) signals the counselor to not only become involved for monitoring purposes but to consider alternatives in training and return to more intensive needs of support or training (status 10) or receive guidance and counseling to deal with the interpersonal and intrapersonal consequences of interrupted employment (status 14). This capacity of the vocational rehabilitation system has been a hallmark of its success during the past two decades and will serve the field regardless of the job placement model adopted.

A second defense to the issues of failure and adversity, however, is even more compelling in the view of the authors. By front-loading the investment of time, resources, and energy, the entrepreneurial approach sends a clear signal to prospective employees that their needs and their goals for a successful business are of equal value to the goals and needs of the prospective client. With creative effort, flexibility, and improved customer service, the entrepreneurial approach establishes credibility for employees and provides placement specialists with the opportunity for second and third placement opportunities.


The 1990's will be a decade of labor shortages (Mirga, 1985), a development that should only serve to improve opportunities for people with disabilities to enter the workforce. A window of opportunity currently exists that has not been present in our society at any previous juncture. The entrepreneurial approach will not replace thoughtful and thorough vocational evaluation or rehabilitation counseling. It may, however, serve to enlist as allies those employers responsible for the largest number of new jobs being created in the economy-- the small business entrepreneur.

To achieve this result, flexibility in the way services are delivered must be provided by policy makers. Retooling and training of placement specialists will become increasingly important, particularly in the application of the incentives, choice, customer service, and value-added strategies of job placement.

The entrepreneur is often thwarted by institutional policies and procedures that fail to consider exceptions to the rule. While the vocational rehabilitation system is designed to move clients through the system based on individual needs, incentives for rehabilitation counselors to creatively pursue job placement, be rewarded for their efforts, and receive recognition need to be developed. Incentives must be offered to rehabilitation professionals for establishing innovative and collaborative ventures with private business.


1. Americans with Disabilities Act. (1990).

2. Ashmore, M.C. (1989). The Power of the Entrepreneurial Vision. Vocational Education Journal, 28.

3. Banzhaf, K. (1987). Building effective partnerships: A win-win approach. Module 11. Job match: Together for good business. Washington, DC: Administration on Developmental Disabilities (DHHS).

4. Covey, S. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people.

5. Daggett, W.R. (1984). Strategic vision and planning: Keys to educational improvement. National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

6. Edgar, E. (1987, December). A longitudinal follow-along study of graduates of special education. Presented at the 3rd Annual OSERS Transition Project Directors' Conference, Washington, DC.

7. Gardner, J.F., Chapman, M.S., Donaldson, G., & Jacobson, S.G. (1988). Toward supported employment: A process guide for planned change. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

8. Gentile, F.D. (1977). Getting Unstuck. Journal of Rehabilitation, 43, 29-30.

9. Harris & Associates, Inc. (1986). The ICD survey of disabled Americans. NY: Louis Harris & Associates.

10. Hartman, C. & Pearlstein, S. (1987, November). The joy of working. Inc. Magazine.

11. McLoughlin, C.S., Garner, J.B., & Callahan, M. (1987). Getting employed, staying employed. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

12. Mirga, T. (1985). At-risk youth seen as posing threat to nation. Education Week, 5(10).

13. Moon, S., Goodall, P., Barcus, M., & Brooke, V. (Eds.). (1986). The supported work model of competitive employment for citizens with severe handicaps: A guide .for job trainers. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University.

14. Olson, L. (1987a). Broader approach to dropouts urged. Education Week, 6(25), 5.

15. Richman, C.S. (1982). Small business enterprises for workers with disabilities, p. 122. Washington, DC: National Institute of Handicapped Research (ED).

16. Rumberger, R. (1985). The growing problem of youth unemployment (p. 8). Denver, CO: Business Advisory Commission. Education Commission of the States.

17. Senge, P. (1990). The learning organization made plain. An interview with Peter Senge. Training and Development, pp. 37-44.

18. Solomon, G.T. (1989). Entrepreneurs: What they're really like. Vocational Education Journal, 42.

19. Vandergoot, D. & Wenzel, V. (1990). A research based innovative placement program. American Rehabilitation, 16(3) 2-7.

20. Wagel, W.H. (1988). Project act: New opportunities for people with disabilities. Personnel, 9-13.

21. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition (1980).

22. Wehman, P., Kregel, J., Sharer, M. S., Hill, M.L. (Eds.). Competitive employment for persons with mental retardation: From research to practice. Vol. 11. Richmond, VA: Rehabilitation, Research & Training Center.

23. White, S. (1989). The effects of supervisor training and integration on employee morale and attitudes toward persons with disabilities in the public schools. Dissertation, Montana State University, Bozeman.

Dr. White is Director of Pupil Services and Mr. Bond is an Education Resource Specialist with Natrona County Schools, Casper, WY.
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Author:Bond, Michael R.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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