Maine needs a business-led approach to hiring people with disabilities

By Jim Baumer, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 31, 2013, at 2:21 p.m.

I read the BDN’s Jan. 21 editorial highlighting the importance of employing people with disabilities with interest. I concur that finding pathways to work for all of Maine’s citizens, including those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is essential in moving Maine ahead. The devil is in the details, though, and it’s often those pesky details that are missing from broad-based pronouncements. They sound good, but the challenge comes with implementation.

The Maine Business Leadership Network is committed to becoming an important one-stop resource and network for employers seeking pertinent disability hiring information. As director, it is one of my primary goals that we become the place where member businesses come together to share information and best practices on common disability employment issues. We believe that when it comes to talent and skills, businesses know best.

I laud state lawmakers like House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, for submitting legislation that makes the transition from welfare to work a priority for all Mainers, including people with disabilities. Government agencies have been working on welfare reform and similar legislation for quite some time. The results have been negligible at best, as people with disabilities are still employed at less than half the rate of the general working age population. Each time a person with disabilities accesses the economic benefits that come with full employment and succeeds is a positive win for Maine’s economy. The Maine Business Leadership Network is committed to helping Maine businesses help more Mainers succeed.

The Maine network, launched in August 2012, is an affiliate of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, a national non-profit, non-partisan, business-to-business network promoting workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are included. The national group serves as the collective voice of more than 50 business leadership network affiliates across the United States, representing more than 5,000 businesses.

Affiliates are guided by a lead employer in the region or state where they are located. In Maine, our lead employer is Procter & Gamble/Tambrands in Auburn. They play a key role for our organization, leading the peer-to-peer or business-to-business approach unique to the networks and exemplifying best practices. Our approach is to share these best practices with member businesses across the state.

For the past year and a half, Procter & Gamble’s Tambrands plant has been hugely successful modeling their FlexiCenter after the Walgreens inclusion practice of hiring of people with disabilities. They have been pleased with the resulting benefits.

Given Maine’s aging population and other demographic challenges to our current and future workforce, people with disabilities represent an important pool of talent. Those businesses that recognize the Walgreens model as an effective tool in recruiting and retaining talent will see positive benefits to their bottom line, including lower absenteeism and increased employee loyalty.

The Maine Business Leadership Network will be coordinating a number of events for businesses in 2013, including training on specifics related to hiring people with disabilities. In addition, we’re developing a speaker’s bureau on pertinent topics of interest to Maine’s business community.

During April and May, we’ll be offering regional disability summits across the state in Presque Isle, Bangor, Portland, Lewiston and other communities. These will be great opportunities for businesses to network with their peers and hear how successful businesses are including people with disabilities in their workforce and learn why hiring people with disabilities makes sense for their business.

Through our partnership with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, our primary affiliate partner, our organization stands at the vanguard of a push to address Maine’s skills gap and other workforce challenges.

The Maine Business Leadership Network recognizes that people with disabilities are a key workforce demographic, and we’re working to coordinate available resources, highlight key businesses, and collect success stories. We are also creating a how-to hiring toolkit for our member businesses.

By working in tandem with Maine businesses, I’m confident that we’ll develop more sustainable, enhanced opportunities for qualified people with disabilities, including their entering and succeeding in the workplace.

Jim Baumer is the director of the Maine Business Leadership Network. He’s also a workforce consultant and a successful author of three books. He can be contacted by email at director@mainebln.org.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/31/opinion/contributors/maine-needs-a-business-led-approach-to-hiring-people-with-disabilities/ printed on July 31, 2014