Founded over 50 years ago in Northern California, PRIDE Industries is one of the country’s largest employers of people with disabilities. It seeks out contracts for facility maintenance, commissary, landscaping and other services with both public and private sector employers and hires individuals with disabilities to fill them. It also places them in private sector jobs.
“We currently have about 5,600 employees, and about 3,200 of them are people with a range of disabilities from intellectual and developmental disabilities to mental health, hearing and sight impairment,” said Vic Wursten, PRIDE’s Senior Vice President, Rehabilitation Services. Jobseekers with disabilities come to the organization through state vocational rehabilitation agencies, disability services groups and the Veterans Administration.
Moving workers into the community
For many, employment with PRIDE is a stepping stone into the private workforce – more than 300 private companies have hired workers through PRIDE. “Our focus really is to take a person with disabilities, provide them with pre-vocational and transitional skills training necessary for them to be successful in their jobs, find the right employer match and then provide support post-employment to make sure that they are successful. So it’s a continuum,” Wursten said.
“On average, we place about 500 to 600 people each year into community employment, which means they are in an integrated work environment and they are competitive in that they make the minimum wage or better,” he added.
PRIDE’s recent work with Amazon illustrates the range of services it provides to ensure job placements are successful. The organization contracted with Amazon last July to eventually provide 2,000 people for its California sort center and Prime Now locations.
“We identify the person with a disability who might be a good fit, and then do simulated work environments to make sure there is a competency level that will allow us to train them and make them successful in employment. We do all the background and drug tests, then move them to the Amazon facility and provide the job coaching support they need after they are hired,” Wursten said. The costs of the training and the after-employment support are covered in part by Amazon and California’s Department of Rehabilitation.
PRIDE can provide similar training and support for anyone it places. Their initial training focuses on soft skills, making sure the job seeker understands the importance of coming to work every day on time, of learning to take instructions from supervisors and of working well with their co-workers.
In addition, PRIDE offers basic certificated vocational training for construction, electronic manufacturing and warehousing and logistics as well as CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard) certification for custodial trainees. It is currently developing programs for call centers and certified nursing assistants. PRIDE can also work with employers to create internship opportunities, so as people finish their training, they move into short internships at those companies.
By earning these certifications and gaining experience working at entry-level jobs, employees with disabilities build resumes that include the training and experience required to help them find better jobs in the community either with or without PRIDE’s assistance.
PRIDE employs coaches whose role is to give the newly-placed people with disabilities the assistance they’ll need to be successful in their new positions. Sometimes a job coach may spend two to three hours a month with the new employee just to make sure they and the employer are happy. Other times, the coaches may work with the individual one-on-one over a period of a few weeks to make sure they understand the job tasks and are able to complete them.
“We always act as an intermediary between the employee and the employer. This allows us to mitigate any issues that come up. Rather than firing someone because of a workforce issue, the employer can come to us so we can work with the employee to ensure success in terms of long-term employment,” Wursten said.
Highly-rated, loyal employees
While many companies have realized the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, others still harbor some misconceptions. “Many people think there’s a safety issue, but that is absolutely incorrect; the numbers prove they are very safe workers, “ Wursten said. Businesses may worry about the cost of accommodating employees with disabilities, but more than half of all job accommodations cost nothing and the rest typically cost less than $500. Tax incentives like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which can provide a business with a tax credit of up to $9,000 for two years, can help offset any additional costs.
Potential employers may also be concerned about the job performance of someone with disabilities, but after a training period, those employees have job performance ratings and retention rates equal or higher than coworkers without disabilities.
Other businesses may wonder how a person with disabilities will fit into their workplace, but Wursten said companies who have hired them find their inclusion to be a very positive experience for everyone. “They provide a different level of diversity,” he added.
In addition, unlike many workers from temporary agencies, people with disabilities will not be looking for new jobs. This means employers spend less on training. “These are individuals who have struggled to find employment and meaning in their lives, and paychecks provide them with an incredible amount of self-satisfaction,” Wursten said. “The disabled workforce is very loyal and very happy to be working.”
(*Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Washington D.C.)
By: Mary Lou Jay