Governor Christie announced that New Jersey is an Employment First State.  You may wonder exactly what that means. So did I and what I found out is pretty exciting. The Employment First initiative comes from the National Governors Association (NGA) under the chairmanship of Governor Jack Markell (Delaware).  His publication “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities” provides a blueprint for States to improve employment for citizens with disabilities (http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/CI1213BETTERBOTTOMLINE.PDF).

Here are some of the recommendations made in the report:

  • Make employment of people with disabilities part of the state workforce and economic development strategies
  •  Measure service outcomes and return on investment (the report states that supported employment returns $1.21 for every $1 spent)
  • Engage the business community in a long-term partnership
  •   Communicate to the business community that people with disabilities make good employees and are valuable members of the workforce
  • Improve access to State government jobs
  • Access federal funds to expand career services
  • Increase VR and other funding to enhance quality services and outcomes
  •  Promote self-employment options
  •  Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential

Here are some of the interesting facts from the report:

  • “…in 2011, when unemployment was above 9%…one-third of US companies had positions open for more than six months that they could not fill.”
  •   “Walgreens … has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase at a distribution center made universally accessible and more than 50% of whose employees are disabled [sic].”
  •  “…more than 600,000 scientists and engineers currently employed in the United States have disabilities.”
  •  “Some of the top innovators in the United States have disabilities, including the chief executive officers of Ford Motor Company, Apple, Xerox, and Turner Television”
  • Although the majority of people with disabilities express the desire to work, only about 20% are working and in 2008 (for example) the federal government spent $300 billion to support working-age people with disabilities.

So what is happening in NJ?

This week I had the first of what will be ongoing meetings with the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD), the Assistant Commissioner for Workforce Development and the Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in the LWD.  As I learn more about their efforts I will share that information on our blog. Here’s the first:

The Department of LWD is piloting a program called “Talent Networks” in industries that are expected to experience steady growth (e.g., Financial Services, Health Care, etc) and pay good wages and benefits. The Talent Networks are “strategic partnerships of industry employers, government agencies, educational institutions, and professional and nonprofit community organizations”.  The work of these Talent Networks is to identify the hiring needs of the industry, identify and/or develop training or academic programs to prepare a skilled workforce, and to connect this workforce to employers/jobs.

If this pilot project is successful the LWD hopes to replicate it throughout the State.

More to come. In the meantime I would encourage you to read the full report – great information.

One response to “NJ an EMPLOYMENT FIRST State

  1. Melissa,
    This is very exciting and informative news! The National Governors Association (NGA) on a state level is needed to better current and past efforts of employing people living with disabilities. I welcome Governor Christie’s initiative on New Jersey as an Employment First State! As a family member, and a caregiver of my sister living with disabilities and personally living with a disability, and working to help people ultimately strive toward achieving independence through competitive employment this emphasis on work is so refreshing. I also feel validated in my current position as the Co-Chair of the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma. I am encouraged by the future possibilities as an Employment First State! The proclamation regarding employment does more than suggests that earning wages should be culturally valued and an expectation of all people. This recovery oriented principled stance by Governor Christie should further dispel the notion that people living with disabilities cannot work.
    All stakeholders, such as psychiatrists, family members, social workers, vocational specialists (employment/education), nurses, support staff (receptionists), legislators, residential staff, and service recipients should embrace work among people living with disabilities. The time is now to unconditionally embrace best and promising practices for the sake of the individuals we serve. For us to be mindful and vigilante in delivering quality services and to not selfishly put policy, regulations, and attitudinal barriers in the way of people accessing employment. For example, the noted, “Talent Networks” is an innovative initiative that needs collective support. Whether or not an agency is non-profit or for-profit agencies should demonstrate “adherence” to the state’s mission of Employment First! I view this initiative as recovery based within a balance of as needed and flexible clinical services allowing people to exercise their right as an individual in the “worker” role. Let’s dismantle the themes, such as
    1). “I can’t look for work today. Staff wants me to attend group.”
    2). “It took a long time to get on social security; I’ve been told I shouldn’t work.”
    3). I can’t work I’m too sick.”
    4). “I can work, but I don’t want too, have social security, live with a parent, other one died.”
    5). “I drive my own car, I volunteer (serve on a committees and boards), I have social security and rental assistance. Yeah, I’m tight on money, but I’m good as I am.”
    6). “I drive my own car, I have a degree, volunteer a lot, have social security, live with family- I keep busy.” Work is too stressful.
    7). “Couldn’t get my medication straightened out. I left the job.”
    8). “Our agency is not obligated to do work related activities. We don’t mention work to “our clients,” (want good “billable patients”), if they leave, not in our (agency) best interest.”

    We should be looking forward to hearing more about Labor and Workforce Development Meetings!
    –George H. Brice, Jr.

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