NOTE: 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
By Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD)
Throughout its 100-year existence, the nation’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) program has continually adapted and evolved to meet changing public needs. This spirit is certainly evident today, as state VR agencies respond to the rapidly shifting employment landscape triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Driving Ohio’s VR’s response is its “dual-customer” approach to workforce development. For example, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) is leading the way in providing continued service to both individual job seekers with disabilities and the state’s essential businesses, such as hospitals, grocery stores and pharmacies. Many of these essential businesses now have an increased demand for workers.
One of the first things OOD did as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated was have its five regional business relations specialists reach out to its more than 500 employer partners to identify urgent staffing needs. This allowed the agency to quickly develop an “Urgent Jobs List,” centralizing openings with essential businesses. This list indexes employers by category first and then job type. Job examples range from patient transporters at hospitals to forklift operators at warehouses to production assistants at a large hand sanitizer manufacturer based in the state.
The list includes direct links to each company’s application portal and is now updated weekly and sent to job developers throughout the state, who provide one-on-one assistance to job seekers with disabilities.
“These are actual companies and actual jobs,” said Kristen Ballinger, OOD’s Deputy Director, Employer and Innovation Services. “We created a new list with new opportunities and a new focus on essential businesses, but fortunately, we had the talent sourcing process already in place to facilitate its use.”
Key to OOD’s ability to move quickly was its own staff’s smooth transition to teleworking. Most of OOD’s employees were already working with mobile technology, including laptops and smartphones. This made their ability to communicate with employer partners uninterrupted for the most part.
Steps are also being taken to assist individual VR customers in navigating changes in the job application process stemming from the pandemic. For example, most interviews are now being conducted remotely, so this might involve helping people become familiar with the different technologies being used.
OOD also continues its work preparing Ohio’s future workforce, through the provision of pre-employment transition services, known as Pre-ETS. With schools and colleges closed, provision of PRE-ETS for students with disabilities becomes more difficult to implement. OOD is thinking creatively about how to ensure students with disabilities continue to benefit from job exploration and counseling.
OOD’s innovation approach to services reflects the state’s commitment to advancing the employment of its residents with disabilities. For example, OOD Director Kevin Miller serves as an appointed member of the Governor’s Executive Workforce Board, which advises Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation about emerging workforce issues. In January 2019, one of Governor DeWine’s first acts as governor showed his commitment to individuals with disabilities by issuing an Executive Order to establish the state government as a model employer of people with disabilities.
Now, through the efforts of OOD during this unprecedented COVID-19 emergency, the state is serving as a model provider of employment and workforce services as well.
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