If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together*.

Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week with cancer survivor Matt Campbell. ComSonics and the National Employment Team.

Matthew Cambell Comsonics


VR Workforce Studio Podcast
Rick Sizemore, vrworkforcestudio@gmail.com rick.sizemore@dars.virginia.gov
540-688-7552 @vrworkforce

WWRC Foundation Lynn Harris, Foundation Director, lharris@wwrcf.org  540-332-7542 540-430-4490.

National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials Cherie Takemoto, PhD Project Director/Senior Research Analyst ctakemoto@neweditions.net 703-356-8035 ext. 107  @RSA_NCRTM

Miss Wheelchair Virginia,Vicki Varner, Radio Personality,Disability Advocate/Spokesperson: vickivarner11@gmail.com

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services

Rehabilitation Services Administration  

Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy

Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center   540-332-7000 or 800-345-9972
Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board, Debby Hopkins. 540 442-7134 Ext.105 dhopkins@vcwvalley.com

Comsonics Pam Snyder @ComSonics

Transition Curriculum nextup@transitioncurriculum.com  713-574-2221

Webinar Series: Career Tech Education for Students with Disabilities. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is a viable option to prepare high school students with disabilities for the future. Changes in the Carl Perkins Act brings a stronger focus on he needs of students with disabilities. This five-part webinar series examines programs, practices and partnerships among CTE and special education practitioners.

National Apprenticeship Week Logo Resources from the NCRTM on Apprenticeships. This updated list of resources in the NCRTM includes an Apprenticeship Implementation Guide and Paid Work Experience Implementation Guide from the Jobs Driven Technical Assistance Center (JD-VRTAC) and more links and resources from the Department of Labor and Workforce GPS.

New from NCRTM. Don’t forget to check out our October newsletter with video success stories in VR and a feature on the VR Workforce Studio to celebrate National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.

The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.  WWRCF publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio Content for the podcast is provided to the WWRCF by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.

*Show title reference also recognized as an African proverb and used as a theme at the recent Net Summit

Transcript for Episode 74

Speaker 1:  VR Workforce Studio. Inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.

Speaker 2:  Listen to our amazing stories.

Speaker 3:  Feel the joy and share in our inspiration.

Speaker 1:  We’ll also meet the champions of business at industry.

Speaker 4:  I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that some of our best employees have disabilities.

Speaker 1:  And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work.  Now, here’s the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore.

Speaker 5:  Begin countdown.

Rick Sizemore: Welcome to Episode 74 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast, with our focus on National Apprenticeship Week. Pam Snyder is with us. She’s the Corporate Director of Human Resources at ComSonics, located in Harrisonburg. They provide a variety of state-of-the-art electronics manufacturing services across multiple industries. We’ll talk to Pam about how apprenticeships are helping build their talent pipeline. Debby Hopkins joins us for that conversation, as well as one of ComSonics apprentices.

This is a phenomenal story. Matt Campbell happens to have a disability, and in the midst of his vocational rehabilitation training, took a detour off the career pathway to battle cancer. Now, not to give away the punchline of the show, but let’s say, cancer: zero, Matt: one. We’ll talk with Matt about his job at ComSonics, his apprenticeship, industry-recognized credentials. This story will absolutely leave you speechless.

Also on today’s show, CSAVR’s Kathy West-Evans joins us with David Leon to discuss the NET Summit and how they’re bringing VR and the national business community together in some exciting ways through the NET Summit, one held recently in Baltimore, Maryland. Of course, Cherie Takemoto joins us for the National Clearinghouse update.

Let’s get started with Matt Campbell, electronics technician apprentice at ComSonics. Welcome to the podcast, Matt.

Matt Campbell:  Morning, Rick.

Rick Sizemore:  Tell us about your job at ComSonics.

Matt Campbell:   I am an electronics technician at ComSonics. I work on line equipment, various types. Line extenders, power supplies, from time to time radar guns, if they do come in. It depends on our customer, what our customer requires, and what we output, and how many units we output.

Rick Sizemore:  What were some of the credentials you earned through the training here at Wilson?

Matt Campbell:  I have received my CompTIA computer certification for computer repair, my MT1 manufacturer’s credentials.

Rick Sizemore:  How did getting an MT1 prepare you for the job that ComSonics?

Matt Campbell:   Along with my computer repair, it prepared me in terms of the different electronic equipment that I would work on. AC and DC electrical circuits, fine measurements, soldering skills greatly helped me realize my potential in the manufacturing and computer repair field.

Rick Sizemore: So many people want to go to college. They talk about the four-year degree. Yet, when I hear you describe the skill sets that you have, it looks like you’re on the career path that is going to really ensure that you always have a job.

Matt Campbell: That’s what I wished to achieve with the apprenticeship. Actually been a great experience taking classes at MTC, Massanutten Technical Center. Along with the time I’ve had here at Wilson, it’s greatly improved my life. Five years ago I was stuck in community college, had nowhere to go, had no direction in life. It’s all really changed within the course of three years. It’s been an incredible experience.

Rick Sizemore:  Tell us about what it was like leaving Wilson to battle cancer.

Matt Campbell:   I was born with a condition called Wiskott–Aldrich syndrome, which attacks the immune system and the bloodstream, destroys the bloodstream and blood cells. I’ve had two bone marrow transplants, and the doctors told my parents, “Listen, Matthew is going to have another cancer at some point in his life. We don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen at some point in his life.”

It was very hard to just get up and go while I was so far ahead, and I felt like I was doing a disservice to everybody who’s been supporting me all this time, just by getting up and leaving. I felt really bad. I would have worked through cancer.

Honestly, the first person who realized I had the cancer, or the first person who noticed it, was my instructor Matt Hooven. He looked at me and he’s like, “Matt, you don’t look right. You don’t look right at all.” I say, “Matt, what do you mean?” He’s like, “What’s that lump on the side of your neck for?” I’m like, “I don’t really know. It’s been there for a couple weeks.”

That night I called my physician up in Georgetown University Hospital where I had all my treatments as a child. She scheduled an appointment. Then I called my mom, and of course she was worried. Made a bunch of emails, bunch of phone calls, and one of those was to you, the text message I …

Rick Sizemore: Right.

Matt Campbell:   Yeah. It was a rough couple of months.

Rick Sizemore:  Let’s spring forward.

Matt Campbell:   Spring forward. Yeah, let’s get away from that.

Rick Sizemore: No, no. You got to hear the rest of the story. You go through that entire treatment series, and left Wilson. Then one day I’m in my office, and you just pop in.

Matt Campbell:   I do. Didn’t expect it.

Rick Sizemore: “I’m back.”

Matt Campbell:   “Hi, Rick.”

Rick Sizemore: You remember that day, don’t you?

Matt Campbell:   I do. I was wearing one of my grungy band t-shirts. I just walk in, and he’s like, “I know you from somewhere.” I say, “Yes. Yes, you do. I’m Matt Campbell.” It was nice.

Rick Sizemore: It was a triumphant return.

Matt Campbell: It was in a way, yes.

Rick Sizemore: You kept moving forward. You got the job at ComSonics, which is obviously going very well. Tell us about apprenticeship.

Matt Campbell:   The apprenticeship … We had tour groups coming in through the manufacturing technical program towards the end of our tenure there, and they realized the potential in me and a bunch of other students who would be able for apprenticeships. One of those students is Laura Williams. From what I hear she’s doing wonderfully at our manufacturing center for PCB boards, and that sort of thing.

Rick Sizemore: We’ll include a link to a video with Laura, shot at ComSonics. That’ll be in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Please check out that video. Incredible story.

As ComSonics continues to partner with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehab Services to look for great job candidates, Pam, welcome to the podcast. We’re excited to have you join us. What’s it like out there trying to find a qualified pipeline of talent?

Pam Snyder:  Probably the most difficult that I’ve experienced in my entire career, which has been a very long career, actually, every employer out there is grasping for the same handful of candidates that are available right now. This low unemployment rate is very, very challenging for everyone.

We’ve had a longstanding relationship with Wilson Workforce, worked a lot through DARS over the years, and so we’re just very excited for, especially, the MT1 program that you’re offering here. When you said it sets the standard, it absolutely sets the gold standard.

Rick Sizemore: ComSonics was awarded a Champion’s Award yesterday.

Pam Snyder:  We were. We were recognized as one of four businesses of the year at that celebration yesterday.

Rick Sizemore: Why apprenticeship?

Pam Snyder:  We have been working on this for a long time. We have a small HR department. We’re all centralized out of the Harrisonburg facility. It’s something that we felt added value, not just to the company, but to prospective employees or incumbents, actually.

For us it’s an opportunity to provide a career pathway. It provides on-the-job training for new employees or incumbents. They come out with skills training, on-the-job training, and no debt like a college degree would leave very many.

We’re very committed to education. We have been for years, and we want to make a variety of educational pathways available to our employees. The apprenticeship just is another pathway for that on-the-job training for our employees. We’re a hundred percent employee owned company. We like to provide careers for folks, not just a job.

Rick Sizemore: What was the process of setting apprenticeship up like? Tell us about the process of setting up this apprenticeship. Was it challenging?

Pam Snyder:  Again, it was, because we have a small HR department, and it does require a lot of time. The interesting thing, and I think the intriguing thing about the apprenticeship program is that we can model it to meet our needs at ComSonics. We don’t take a package off the shelf and just plug everyone into it. We were able … It does take time certainly to get it established, to decide what our curriculum will be, what are the skills we actually want to take?

There’s such a time commitment with the apprentice, also, so really spent a lot of time looking and working with people like Debby Hopkins. Identifying what our true needs were, what our goal was with the program, and then identifying the curriculum and the on-the-job training that we wanted to provide in order to adequately and effectively train our apprentices.

Rick Sizemore: What would you say to another business that was thinking of trying apprenticeship, and especially with an individual that has a disability?

Pam Snyder:  Absolutely worth the time and energy for establishing the apprenticeship program because of the excellent training that they got through this MT1 program. That we knew the candidates that we were looking at already had a great foundation with the skills and the education, it readily prepares them for the jobs that we have in the apprenticeship program that we’ve established.

We have a long history of working with both WWRC and working through DARS over the years. Again, we’re looking for abilities and we’re looking for talents. Then we’re able to bring those folks into ComSonics and give them the rest of the education training they need to be successful. That’s what it’s all about. We just want our candidates and employees to be successful in their roles.

Rick Sizemore:  Debby Hopkins is with the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. She has set up tons of apprenticeships all across Virginia. What happens when you combine vocational rehabilitation and apprenticeship?

Debby Hopkins:  I feel like this is a one plus one equals about a hundred in this labor market, because we do have such low employment. We do have federal contractors who are looking specifically for people with disabilities. We have an opportunity now for a great program like Wilson’s training to be combined with apprenticeship pathways.

Going from that excellent base of training through a structured training program, it’s just a wonderful combination. This inclusive apprenticeship idea has really resonated across the nation. I’ve spoken at six different conferences in the last year about this subject, because so many companies and other vocational rehab centers and other DARS types of agencies around the country, all sorts of nonprofits, they’re interested in how this can be put together.

The secret sauce is that you have to start with a program that’s fantastic. Starting with the Wilson program that was already so carefully based on the industry need for these manufacturing credentials, and not just the credentials, but the soft skills, the attitudes, the teamwork, all of those factors are built into this program. They’re earning more than a credential. They’re really workforce ready. That was a huge part of wrapping this pre-apprenticeship designation around this.

Rick Sizemore:  We certainly want to thank all of our friends at the Manufacturing Skills Institute and the Virginia Manufacturers Association for helping to create that MT1, which is being used all across the country to get folks skilled up for those jobs in manufacturing.

Debby Hopkins:  Absolutely. The research that they put into determining what training … All of those modules, the MS and the MT1, are extremely valuable. They’re based on solid research and now quite a bit of experience behind it.

Matt Campbell: Going through vocational rehab and going into ComSonics was an incredible journey of becoming independent, becoming the man I want to be. Really just putting myself out there in terms of finding work, and accomplishing what I want to accomplish in life, and getting to a point where I can be happy and secure. It was incredible, going from part of the collective into being somebody that I feel like I can improve society.

Debby Hopkins:  Employers need to pay attention to forward-thinking companies like ComSonics. They’re a national organization, they are hiring for abilities, and they’re thinking out of the box. They’re investing in apprenticeship programs, they’re investing in training, and I know that they are thrilled to have Matt and Laura.

Matt Campbell:   I just hope to make everybody’s life easier in the best way I could, just to improve my community and give back to people in the best way I could.

Rick Sizemore:  Matt Campbell is an electronics technician and an apprentice at ComSonics in Harrisonburg, where Pam Snyder is the corporate director of human resources. Debby Hopkins is with the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board focusing on apprenticeships. Thank you all for being on the podcast.

Matt Campbell:   Thank you, Rick.

Pam Snyder:  Thanks. Pleasure to be here.

Debby Hopkins:  Is an absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you, Rick.

Rick Sizemore: Conversation on apprenticeships and the National Employment Teams summit continues after this.

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Rick Sizemore: We’re so excited on this episode of the VR Workforce Studio to welcome Kathy West-Evans and David Leon. Kathy heads up the National Employment Team and David Leon is with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, both just back from the National Employment Team summit. Kathy, can you give us a little overview of the summit?

Kathy West-E:  Thank you, Rick. It was a great opportunity to bring together our lead points of contact working from business from each of our 78 agencies across the country. Baltimore hosted us. We were at the Training Center and had a chance to meet with our partners at CVS and Starbucks, and see the training that we’re doing, where individuals are gaining skills and moving right into great careers with company partners.

Then we spent a day talking with each other, all 85 participants, about how we can continue to build our team, look at the dual customer strategy, share resources across the state, and move forward for future careers with our business customers and our individual candidates.

Rick Sizemore: It sounds like this is a key strategy in the success of Vision 2020.

Kathy West-E: Absolutely. 2020 is really based on the dual customer strategy. Understanding how we serve both individuals and business, and how we position ourselves as a connector between that talent and those opportunities, and how we do that with partners, as VR agencies, we’re learning every day. How do we support each other in this endeavor?

Rick Sizemore:  Tell us how this summit evolved and what its major goals were.

Kathy West-E:  The summit evolved because it was a need that was expressed by our individual points of contact around the country. This is a relatively new area of focus for vocational rehab. We were able to get new legislation that supports VR in doing this work, and now it’s really about continuing to build that capacity.

There’s no better way than getting together, and networking, and sharing models, and really building that team so that, as business reaches out, we’re able to pull a team together behind the company no matter what state they have their footprint in. We’re all moving forward in the same direction. It was really a need driven by our teams.

Rick Sizemore:  What were some of the key takeaways from the summit?

Kathy West-E:  I think the key takeaways are continuing to grow as we’re in this workforce partnership. VR is being seen as the lead on disability employment. How do we take our lessons learned and work together with our workforce partners? Then, also, the expanding business-based training options that are out there, so pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, internships, on-the-job training. How do we continue to grow and help businesses understand what’s available and do that with our partners?

For me, Rick, that includes the VR-operated training centers, because we’re all part of one VR. How do we use that across the country, and continue to grow what we’re doing with supportive staff at the counselor and mid management level, continued supportive leadership, and continuing to grow our resources? I think it really is a future look at where we want to go, which fits great with Vision 2020 and beyond.

Rick Sizemore:  David, what did you see as some of the key takeaways of the conference?

David Leon:  Some of the things that really stuck out to me that were very important and I appreciate how they were highlighted, included the different way to look at business and employment engagement, and being able to work across multiple levels of the VR agency to accomplish that goal, and bring in more of our community partners when appropriate.

As a direct result of my experiences at the summit, we had a couple of meetings the following week. In the past, we would have made them a VR-focused meeting with the employer. Instead, we brought in a few of our partners who are involved in statewide Ticket to Work activities.

One of the things we found was that our business engagement staff can work more directly with our Ticket to Work partners to provide more effective and increased opportunities for that employment and employer engagement across the state. Just seeing the collaboration and the willingness to share ideas across states.

I met so many amazing VR professionals who are committed to this work. I had a fantastic time and learned more than I thought I could learn in two days.

Rick Sizemore: Kathy, the NET has evolved some powerful key partnerships with national leaders like CVS and Starbucks. What would you have to say about that outreach?

Kathy West-E:  Our whole focus in the dual customer is changing the way that we do business with business. I think the key thing behind the NET is we started out by asking business what they needed from us, and understanding that you’ve got to begin with the end in mind. As we’re helping individuals plan careers, we really need to understand what that career looks like in the business world.

The key partnerships are really evolving because we’re listening to business. We’re not just looking at a job, we’re looking at a relationship with a company that goes across the lines of business and allows us to understand the needs of how you might enter a career and start with the company, how we can support them in retaining valued employees. How they continue to grow and change the culture of their company so that as more diverse people, including individuals with disabilities, are coming to the workplace, that they’re in a position to really support that innovation, that growth, and that inclusion.

Those partnerships … We’re going as fast as we can, Rick, and as David said, there’s a lot of demand for great candidates. We’re reaching out and pulling our partners in with us, and really wanting to develop that talent pipeline with a company that meets their needs because that results in careers and longterm employment for these individuals.

Rick Sizemore: That is so exciting. WIOA, in so many ways, has helped our VR program across the country. One of the things that I believe is just essential is that sixth measure of business engagement. You said start with the end in mind when you begin talking to business about what you need, you open doors of opportunity and you create opportunities for consumers. It’s exciting to hear about that alignment.  What’s ahead for the National Employment Team, or the NET, as we approach 2020? How can people stay in touch with this powerful force in vocational rehabilitation?

Kathy West-E: We’re going to continue supporting the growth of this, Rick. We’re all part of this. We’re in this together. We have a number of partners that we’re working with. We’re looking at how we bring this piece into the education for counselors before they join VR, so that we can talk about the strategy.

It’s more than job placement, it’s the relationship, as you and I have always talked about, and really continuing to grow that look at business. So that, as we’re developing staff, they understand that the vocational rehab side and the medical aspects, how services relate to reducing or eliminating barriers for individuals in the workplace. They’re doing that with the perspective of business included. I think we have to continue to grow that because we need the capacity to continue serving business and individuals, both of which, the demand is growing.

With the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act, that amended the Rehabilitation Act and we were able to get some key pieces in legislation that support our work with business and looking at the core measures in Indicator 6. I think it’s exciting to see it evolving, and it’s very much a field-driven initiative.

Rick Sizemore:  There’s an exciting initiative underway with CVS to produce yet a second Disabilities in Abundance video. You’ve been very involved in that.

Kathy West-E:  They’re growing as a company. They were at the table with us in 2004 when we first started designing what we now call the National Employment Team. We’ve grown with their feedback, and I can’t say enough about them as a company partner. Individuals with disabilities want to work with companies that are disability friendly, like CVS.

This video features a number of CVS staff. It features staff who were hired, employees who happen to have disabilities, from various areas around the country in various types of positions, whether it’s retail, distribution, management, pharmacy tech. A number of individuals talking about their own experience, and how the company has supported them, and how the VR system has been there in partnership with CVS to provide that support.

Rick, I saw you on the video, as well. We have a lot of partners at the table, and it’s great to see everyone together.

Rick Sizemore:  Thank you so much for your time today. Kathy West-Evans heads up the National Employment Team, David Leon from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Thank you both.

Kathy West-E:  Yes. You too. Thank you so much.

Rick Sizemore:  It’s time for a National Clearinghouse update with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome, Cherie. What do you have for us in the Clearinghouse this month?

Cherie Takemoto:  As you know, career in technical education is a building block for apprenticeships. I’d like to feature a series of five webinars from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition on this very subject. That is in collaboration with the Association for Career and Technical Education and Penn State University’s Workforce Education Program.

There are changes in the Carl Perkins Act, and that means an increased emphasis on students with disabilities. The five-part webinar series examines programs and partnerships among career tech ed and special education practitioners that support students with disabilities.

Then, just for you, Rick, and just for this program, I’ve updated the resources from the NCRTM on apprenticeship. The resources include step-by-step implementation guides for apprenticeships and other paid work experience programs, some webinars, and some very nice links to resources from the US Department of Labor’s Workforce GPS on Disability and Apprenticeships.

I want everyone to check out our October newsletter that shows success stories in VR, including a feature on the VR Workforce Studio.

Rick Sizemore:  Thank you, Cherie. You can find links to all of the resources in Cherie’s report as well as the newsletter in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.

I’d like to thank all of today’s guests. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show as much as we have. It means the world to us that you take time out of your busy schedule to listen to these podcasts.

Here’s Lynn Harris, the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.

Lynn Harris:  The Foundation is so pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives by helping them gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry.

We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible. Aladdin Foods, Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, the Council of State Administrators of Occasional Rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Hershey Company, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, United Bank, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and Wells Fargo.

If you’d like to join us in supporting vocational rehabilitation, you can find out more by visiting us at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.

Rick Sizemore:  Thank you, Lynn. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore, inviting you to join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.

The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes to the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.

We leave you with these thoughts and reflections from the 2019 NET summit held recently in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leah Lobato:  Leah Lovato 00:00:29:22], in the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. The NET Summit is an    amazing event to be able to network with our partners across the country. Really about the partnerships. Everything we do with business around the support of individuals with disabilities, it’s about the partnerships.

Jenny Piatt:  Hi, this is Jenny Piatt. I’m the Bureau Division Director for Michigan Rehabilitation Business      Network. Our mantra has been, both here from our business partner, Starbucks, yesterday, and also in Michigan, I think really applies here to the whole NET team. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.