During this past year, I was invited to participate in a State Leaders Innovation Institute
(SLII). The purpose of the SLII is to improve employment opportunities and outcomes of Minnesotans with disabilities. Our group is examining strategies for changing the fundamental landscape of Minnesota’s workforce development system by connecting policies to State and local economic growth and development goals.
The SLII is a project initiative of the National Technical Assistance & Research (NTAR) Leadership Center
and John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The project objectives for NTAR are sponsored by the Department of Labor’s Office on Disability Employment Policy
In early 2008, NTAR selected three states, including Maryland, Connecticut, and Minnesota, on a national competitive bid basis to participate in an intensive 15-month Leadership Institute. These three states were chosen "to become national leaders in pioneering new approaches and promoting the Employment
of adults with Disabilities
by enhancing partnerships with statewide workforce and Economic Development
efforts." The NTAR Leadership Center is providing research, training, and technical assistance to support each state with its unique project objectives, initiatives, and systems change challenges.
Minnesota’s Leadership Team is working to develop new opportunities and better integrate adults with disabilities within high growth business sectors in our State’s economy. Specifically, our team is brainstorming new pathways into the workforce by building on recent efforts to increase job awareness, skills, opportunities, and outcomes of adults with disabilities within the State's manufacturing sector. Our team’s ultimate goal is to adapt and migrate these policies and practices to other high growth sectors to connect job seekers with disabilities to integrated, high-demand employment at competitive wages and benefits.
Minnesota’s team chose to breakdown its project workscope into manageable parts. For this reason, three work groups were launched with overlapping but discrete functional activities. Our first work team, the Regional Planning & Prosperity Group, is examining strategies to transform Minnesota’s Workforce Development and Human Services Systems through a new vision, better policies, improved use of funding, and promising practices that lead to increased employment in the workforce. This group’s core charge is to study and recommend policies to increase expectations, strengthen communities, forge critical public and private partnerships, leverage and integrate available funding, and promote community and business practices that increase employment and prosperity for all.
Our second work team, the Workforce & Economic Development Integration Group, is studying new ways to transform the "generic" workforce development system into a more accessible system with policies and practices that emphasize "universal design." This means a creating a workforce system that automatically includes Minnesotans with disabilities and works to link all labor resources within regional economic development and workforce sectors.
Our third work team, the Value Proposition Group, is working to craft leading edge communication strategies to transform current views about the inclusion of people with disabilities in Minnesota’s economy. A "value proposition" is a business or marketing statement that summarizes the sum total of benefits a customer receives through the use of a product or service. Accordingly, our group’s charge is to build a strong business case for the inclusion of adults with disabilities as real economic assets in Minnesota's workforce.
A core value driving the workscope of all three work groups is maintaining a "demand-side perspective." That is, identifying critical State and regional economic development issues and engaging business leaders in partnerships to address current and future workforce development skills and needs. A second value is the importance of including all available workers from the supply side regardless of age, race, disability, gender, or sexual preference. Said simply, all means all.
I happen to be a member of our third work team–The Value Proposition Group. This team includes a passionate, creative group of individuals who are working together to craft an overarching vision and communication strategy for Minnesota’s workforce and economic development systems. Our charge is huge and the team has not nearly completed its work. However, we recently issued a paper articulating Minnesota’s Value Proposition for its workforce and economic development systems. Although a "work in progress," I am proud to share the team’s value proposition with my readers below.
Minnesota’s Value Proposition-
"We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper."
We start with an assumption: that self-interest is everyone’s primary inducement to act. This is true for individuals, institutions, organizations and businesses alike. It’s a basic economic precept, articulated best by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: an individual pursuing his (her) own self-interest tends to also promote the good of the whole community. If the assumption is true, then the value proposition must reflect that truth. A demand-driven initiative that seeks to enhance competitive employment for people with disabilities should appeal to self-interest, not altruism.
This leads to five additional observations about an environment in which people with disabilities seek employment freely and businesses feel comfortable hiring them. We imagine an environment in which self-interested parties acting individually and together to achieve the goal of increased employment for people with disabilities. In this ideal environment the prevailing characteristics are:
Economies (or communities) in which businesses thrive and employees succeed.
Workplace flexibility (or customization) that maximizes productivity.
Work that transforms lives and economic performance.
Work experiences and evolving attitudes that change the workforce.
Hiring policies that distinguish but embrace "qualified" workers (who meet specific and rigid job requirements) and "quality" workers (who might not meet rigid qualification tests, but who demonstrate flexibility, skills, strengths, trainability and eagerness to work).
These policies would bring new workers into the workplace rather than erecting barriers that keep them out.
Our final assumption is that demography – an aging workforce, soon to retire in large numbers – will persuade businesses that many of their future employees will come from previously nontraditional populations, including people with disabilities. Demand for workers from populations that are currently under-represented in the workplace will certainly increase over time, and employers will certainly come to realize that it is in their own self-interest to seek out employees from these populations.
But the workforce development system should not simply sit on the sideline and wait for this to happen eventually. We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper.
This is the organizing principle of our work.
Minnesota’s Value Proposition Work Team includes:
Jeff Bangsberg, Member - Minnesota’s State Rehabilitation Council
Steve Ditschler, Chief Executive Officer, ProAct, Inc.
John Fisher, MN Department of Employment & Economic Development
MaryAlice Mowry, MN Department of Human Services, Director, Pathways to Employment
Don Lavin, Vice President, Rise, Inc. & Minnesota’s Employment First Coalition