VR Workforce Studio Podcast Episode 88
The veteran, the apprentice and that armless guy; plus Kathy West-Evans and Marty Holliday
For more information about Work Talk, contact Marty Holliday at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-357-0651
Singing VR Workforce Studio
Veteran: I was gung-ho in the military. I loved it. But when I got out, I was just directionless.
Announcer 1: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Veteran: I’m a supervisor.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because it’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 88 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast as we celebrate Veterans Day and National Apprenticeship Week. Also, on today’s show, we have two top workforce professionals. Kathy West-Evans, the director of business relations for CSAVR, who leads the National Employment Team is with us to discuss their upcoming summit. And something I’m really excited about. Good friend of mine, Marty Holliday host of the Work Talk podcast, who is also the executive director at the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Investment Area, here to discuss disability employment.
Rick Sizemore: DARS the foundation and the team here at VR Workforce, join Americans at home and abroad to acknowledge and celebrate those who protect our freedoms and keep us safe. We offer thanks and appreciation to our brave and dedicated veterans and those in our vocational rehabilitation community who assist veterans on the career pathway, following military service.
Alfred McMillan: I was gung-ho in the military. I loved it, but when I got out, I was just directionless. I ended up just straight or not following the law. It was like jail sentences. My disability mainly is depression, mental health challenges, anxiety disorder, PTSD. Right up I finished the class at DARS, I was hired at Liberty University. I consider myself a general of the battlefield because I’m in charge of the retail side of our business. I feel honored because it’s been a lot of hard work. Job readiness classes, small skills classes, and getting work experience and training and things. I’m seeing how our people make an honest living instead of trying to hustle and scrape up something. I just wanted to come home and do the right thing and take care of my family and be a productive citizen, which I knew I could be.
Kathy Hayfield: I’m Kathy hayfield, Commissioner of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Join us as we celebrate the impact of disability inclusion on our workplaces and our communities. Learn more at vadrs.org.
Rick Sizemore: In our big inspiration showcase we welcome George Dennehy. Recently featured in the VR national Anthem the Lead On. Which is getting a lot of attention these days with the 100th anniversary of VR, the 30th anniversary of ADA and just last month, the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment. George is so much more than a singer and guitarist. And VR has helped him shape what is now a great career. We’re so delighted you could join us today. Over the past few years, your career has skyrocketed as you share your own story of vocational rehabilitation.
George Dennehy: Yeah. For the last eight or so years, I’ve been just traveling full-time, doing music, and giving keynote speeches all over the country and all over the world as well. And yeah, it’s been amazing just to just share my story, share my experience. Just share what it was like to deal with the challenges I’ve had to deal with and then overcoming those challenges and then kind of living with this mindset of anything’s possible. Living with this mindset of, “I have dreams, I have hopes that I will achieve despite my challenges.” And a lot of cases, even because of my own challenges, I can achieve the dreams that I want to achieve. And it’s been a fun ride and really just so rewarding emotionally just to be able to share that with all kinds of people all over the world.
Rick Sizemore: Having accomplished so much in your own life, what did it mean to you to have this key role in performing Lead On VR, especially considering the message you’re delivering?
George Dennehy: It was such an honor to just perform the song because A, it’s just a beautiful song. It’s beautifully written, beautifully orchestrated. It’s just a great song. And B, number two, the song is so empowering and it’s such an encouragement to just people all over the place and then people with different challenges. It’s so encouraging for me as somebody with my own challenges that there’s so much possibility and there’s so much to be done that we might not even realize sometimes.
Rick Sizemore: Now I want to point out that the guitar people hear and see on that music video, it’s actually you performing, no gimmicks, no studio tricks. And people regard you as a great guitarist in your own right. Now, aside from that, many are fascinated with the fact that you play the guitar with your feet. What do you want people to know most about your performance in Lead On VR, and to know about you as a guitar player?
George Dennehy: I wanted it to sound good. And I wanted me playing the guitar to sound good. And that’s kind of what I always tell myself is, “Before anybody sees that I’m playing with my feet or they’re amazed by that, I just want them to be able to say, me playing with my feet aside, does it sound good? Does it sound like good music and good guitar playing?”
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the part of the joy of this song. If you didn’t see the video, you just sound like a good guitar player. George, the video sheet music soundtrack all available at vrworkforcestudio.com for people who’d like to feature the video or their local talent performing song. You are becoming widely known in our VR community because of the video and your story. For those who’d like to follow you, where can they find you?
George Dennehy: Yeah. Yeah. If anyone wants to get in touch with me or just to keep up with what I’m doing or anything, I have a website and YouTube page and I’m pretty much on every social media platform there is.
Rick Sizemore: Just type it in, you’ll get George.
George Dennehy: Yes. You just type in that armless guy.
Rick Sizemore: George, you are that amazing armless guy. It has been such a pleasure to have you here on this CSAVR showcase interview. Best to you and your family as you continue performing and inspiring others all across the country. Thanks for being on the show today.
George Dennehy: Yeah. Well, thank you, Rick, for having me on the show and just learning to drive with VR and learning to overcome that challenge. And yeah, VR holds a really special place in my heart. And I’m just excited to be able to talk more about the song and to keep growing with you guys.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, it’s time for our National Apprenticeship Week spotlight. 2020 marks the sixth annual National Apprenticeship Week. November 8th through 14 National Apprenticeship Week it’s a national celebration. It gives businesses, communities, and educators, the opportunity to highlight their apprenticeship programs and apprentices as they demonstrate the value apprenticeship programs offer business, career seekers and the community.
Speaker 6: Every employer out there is grasping for the same handful of candidates.
Speaker 7: We can model the apprenticeship program to meet our needs at ComSonics.
Speaker 8: Electronics technician at ComSonics. I work on line equipment, line extenders, power supplies, radar guns.
Speaker 6: Federal contractors are looking for people with disabilities.
Speaker 7: We’re looking for abilities and we’re looking for talents.
Speaker 8: Going through vocational rehab and going into ComSonics was an incredible journey of becoming independent.
Speaker 7: They are career ready. They’re ready to come into the workplace and work. So this has been a phenomenal opportunity.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our CSAVR showcase interview with the director of business relations for CSAVR. Cathy West-Evans leads the National Employment Team, joins us now to discuss the NET’s upcoming virtual summit. Welcome to the podcast, Kathy.
Kathy West-Evans: Thank you, Rick. I always appreciate having time with you.
Rick Sizemore: Congratulations to you and the NET team on the array of accomplishments in 2020, which seemed to really bring life to vision 2020. You must be thrilled.
Kathy West-Evans: The National Employment Team is an incredible team of people. And in all of the challenges that we faced in 2020, they are so creative. We’ve shifted to working in a new platform, working with our business customers, preparing people for careers and really making those connections. We’ve shifted training to a virtual platform. And in the midst of all of the challenges, we’re seeing some great results.
Rick Sizemore: Isn’t it amazing to see the innovative strategies that have emerged during this crazy time?
Kathy West-Evans: Absolutely. You know the saying, with every challenge comes an opportunity. With platforms like the talent acquisition portal, we’re shifted quickly there. A lot of businesses are reaching out because it is the only fully accessible platform. We’ve taken some great ideas from our teams in the field, and we’re doing reverse career fairs. We’ve got businesses joining us for conversations about the future of business. And it’s just great to see that. We’ve also done virtual windmills, train the trainer sessions and have filled two of those and are looking at a third one early next year. So, again, it’s a creative team of people. That’s what VR is all about.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. National Disability Employment Awareness Month seems to be the perfect backdrop to recognize the substantial impact of the NET in connecting VR to the business community.
Kathy West-Evans: Absolutely. And we’ve got several business partners that we’re joining to be part of their platform. So I think in the shift of everything that’s happening nationally with discussion on diversity, it’s so exciting to see companies really understanding the intersectionality between diversity and disability and really including disability in the discussions with race, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. And really coming to full understanding that this is a diversity of group that any one of us could join at any time and how do we really support each other.
Kathy West-Evans: So it’s exciting to see that dialogue and to see the outcomes. Of course, we continue strong partnerships with companies like CVS, who you’ll see here at the conference and UnitedHealth Group. And I could go on and on rethinking the way they do business and the way that we do business with them. And what’s exciting to see that they’re part of the solution with us, exactly how we envisioned a dual customer strategy.
Rick Sizemore: And the NET has an upcoming virtual summit. What’s in store this year?
Kathy West-Evans: After experiencing so many virtual platforms, we’re excited to be working with the YesLMS group and really thinking about how we make this a productive dialogue. So we’re bringing our team together from around the country and some of our key partners at the national level to have some dialogue around hot topics. And right now we’re really focusing on defining what those topics are. So is it, how do we shift to a virtual work from home platform? How do we approach businesses differently? Having business join us to talk about their challenges of the future. And really, again, learning from one another. So it’ll be exciting to see that dialogue and to use that feedback from our customers as we continue to move forward and look past 2020.
Rick Sizemore: As the NET continues to get all this national publicity, which has been substantial recently, it’s been exciting for me to see the growth on social media and the outreach on Twitter and Facebook and all the platforms as you engage the business community.
Kathy West-Evans: We’ve got great people working on our side to really put together those stories and share information out across our platform and then our team sharing that at the state and local level. So it is exciting to see that. I agree, Rick. And, again, that message is focused on talent. It’s exciting to see, again, people recognizing the talent pool.
Rick Sizemore: Thank you for being on the show today, Kathy.
Hey, thanks, Rick.
Announcer: CSAVR showcase interviews are brought to you in part by VR Workforce Studio and the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. For more information, visit them @wwrcf.org. CSAVR and vision 2020 today, tomorrow, and together.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’re in for a real treat with our next guest as our studio unfolds to podcast royalty with Marty Holliday. Just a few short years ago, Marty was in the audience at one of our live podcasts and connected with another great partner of ours, Doug Forester and the magic ensued with a startup of a great workforce podcast called the Work Talk podcast, which you can find anywhere just with a quick Google search.
Rick Sizemore: Marty Holliday, the host of Work Talk is also the executive director of the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Area. Great to have you on the podcast, Marty.
Marty Holliday: Well, thank you so much for having me and asking me to come up and talk to you today.
Rick Sizemore: I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. We’ve talked about this for a while.
Marty Holliday: We have.
Rick Sizemore: I was a guest on Work Talk last year, and certainly enjoyed talking with you and a lot of the other partners from the New River/Mount Rogers area. Let’s get started with CPID, which we’ve talked about at length on this podcast, is winding down. And you’ve done some amazing work through CPID with vocational rehabilitation.
Marty Holliday: We were able to partner with the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, both on the, I believe round four of the Disability Employment Initiative and then on the CPID project. And on both of those projects, we learned a lot. Honestly, as title one providers, it was our habit to anybody with a disability, “Wait a minute, let me call up the VR rep.”
Marty Holliday: What we’ve learned is, number one, individuals with disabilities are quite frankly just individuals and what is it that they need in order to get employment and gainful employment. So with CPID, it was heavily focused on developing those career pathways. And we’ve been able to take that and really dissect that down and have developed in our region three very well mapped out career pathways in manufacturing, healthcare, and information technology. Now information technology is of course, an industry that stands on its own, but it also is in almost every other industry.
Marty Holliday: And how we’re able to use that information now is we can see where entry level positions are. We can see how an individual can move from one occupation into the next higher occupation and the skill sets they’re going to need to have, and/or certifications they’re going to need to have in order to move either A, up the ladder or B, across in a particular industry. So that now we can just focus on what someone is capable of doing. You wipe out all your other thought processes, because it’s really, “Here’s where you are now. And if you want to be here, here’s what you need to be able to do.” So you are always just focusing on the ability side. And so it’s a certification. It’s this particular skillset. You eliminate all the other noise around what you think someone can or cannot do.
Marty Holliday: And individuals can actually see that for themselves. And we’ve even had companies because we used companies to help us vet the information. “Here’s what we’ve dissected out of what we’ve learned through a variety of avenues. Is this right?” So after a couple of companies assisted with helping us develop these pretty detailed career pathways, they became so interested that they’ve asked our team to come in and do that for their internal company so that they themselves could see how someone could move from one occupation to the next. And, again, then you are always just focusing on the requirement of that occupation.
Marty Holliday: And if you understand the requirements of an occupation, you can also be able to identify where accommodation can actually happen, should an individual need accommodation. But one of the things we’ve also learned is frequently when we’ve come into this arena and thought about an individual with a disability, we’re often picturing in our head those things that can be seen and can be identified because I’m looking at a person or I’m hearing them talk.
Marty Holliday: But what we’ve learned is for many people, their disability is well hidden. So, again, you eliminate all of that noise. And so we’re doing a little bit better job just because we’ve taken the things that we’ve learned in those projects and widening them out a little bit. And we continue to use the team members that were in those projects to inform and to create partnerships throughout the region, to serve all individuals with barriers. And that’s kind of where we’ve moved to, is if we say that our task is to serve individuals with barriers to employment, it really doesn’t matter what their barrier is.
Marty Holliday: Because frankly, if they don’t have any barrier to employment, they don’t need to come into the system. They’re able to do what they need to do without us for the most part.
Rick Sizemore: Right. Right.
Marty Holliday: So we are always serving individuals with barriers. And if you just use that as your terminology, then it never matters what the barrier is. And I think that at the end of the day, we’re serving individuals with barriers, whatever they are better than we’ve ever done. We have a long way to go because we’re still having to learn to get past the things that we perceive rather than known. And some of it’s just our own fear that we’re going to not be suitable to meet the needs of the individual we’re trying to serve. But I think we’re beginning to get past that now. It’s kind of an exciting time for us.
Rick Sizemore: What an exceptional perspective on the disability conversation. I’m fascinated with your use of the terminology sort of removing the white noise from the conversation and really drilling into can the person do the job? Because we hear employers and business owners and industry reps say that to us all the time. We really don’t care about the disability. We only want to know if the person can do the job. Do you have a favorite story that comes to mind that would illustrate that point?
Marty Holliday: Sure. So we had that one of our providers was working with an older youth. So the young man I believe, was in his early ’20s. And, again, when we talk about disabilities that can’t technically be seen, he was somewhere along the autism spectrum. And so his social skills were what you would expect. Although truthfully, if you were just sitting one-on-one with this individual, you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on it. It wasn’t until he got into larger crowds.
Marty Holliday: And we had a company, a manufacturing firm that had a position. This young man was quite intelligent, was a fast learner. Had exceptional communication skills that were beyond talking necessarily, communication of a conversation. But he had great reading skills and whatever he read, he could retain. Matter of fact, I would say he was probably pretty close to having a memory that once he read something, he could probably regurgitate it to you back just exactly like it was written and had some pretty phenomenal math skills.
Marty Holliday: So they had a quality position in their company that they struggled with and the provider, the service provider went to them, said, “Well, would you take this individual on and we’ll do a work experience?” So the company got to for all practical purposes test drive this young man without any cost to themselves. And we did it as work experience because we just felt he could use the work experience we were hopeful that maybe a job would show up at the end, but no matter he would gain skills that he needed. And they loved him-
Rick Sizemore: That’s great.
Marty Holliday:… loved him. He is still there. It’s a couple of years down the road.
Rick Sizemore: Hard to fill position, and they found a great employee. And he now has family sustaining wages.
Speaker 7: Right. And he was able to fit into that. He wasn’t on the main floor. He was in quality control. So it was a good place for him, for his own, quote-unquote, “disability.” But really what it was, was we all have work environments that we don’t perform well in. And I don’t care who you are, we all have those. So it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for all the people we serve. And I think once we get past the point of looking at what somebody can’t do and focusing on things they can, and where is that good fit, we will serve all of our job seekers with barriers to employment so much better.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. I’ve started using the phrase, “The person who happens to have a disability.”
Marty Holliday: Yes. There you go. That’s a good one.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. Marty Holliday is the host of the Work Talk podcast, exceptional leader in Workforce Development. Heads up the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Board. Thank you so much.
Marty Holliday: Well, thank you for having me. It was great being with you.
Rick Sizemore: Debbie Hopkins, Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board, a key partner of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services with a National Apprenticeship Week update.
Debbie Hopkins: We’ve been very successful in Virginia. There are apprentices in electricians, mechanic, manufacturing, education, bus drivers, just about any profession that you can think of. We have Hershey who is a wonderful example of an apprenticeship sponsor who has numerous occupations, ComSonics, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Blauch Brothers, Cargill, Design Electric. You can look at the Virginia Department of Labor registered apprenticeship site, and all of the occupations are listed there as well.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse update with Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hi, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well, the US Department of Labor just announced the sixth annual National Apprenticeship Week. That’s November 8th through the 14th. And I’ll bet you’ve got some cool resources for us in the Clearinghouse about apprentices.
Cherie Takemoto: I have a whole slew of resources, but I’ve put them in a handout called Resources from the NCRTM on Apprenticeships. There are free webinars, toolkits and other resources on the topic. And I’d like to also share one of my favorite of those resources, which is a website on apprenticeships and customized training from WINTAC, And it just has all kinds of nice videos and information and things to start on this topic.
Rick Sizemore: And if you’re new to the show and you’ve not checked out the Clearinghouse, it is a go-to for anyone in our VR community. We celebrate the great work that’s going on, out at the Clearinghouse. Cherie, what did you think of our tribute to veterans?
Cherie Takemoto: Absolutely. Veterans all deserve all the tributes that we can give. And saluting our veterans with disabilities, we have workforce GPS links to all kinds of resources and where to get started. And for those who don’t know about services for veterans in the VR program, they have links to that. Also, on December 17th, Project E3 we’ll have a webinar called Serving Veterans with Mental Health Issues. And that will be from a veteran’s and it features how system collaborators and community partners apply a veteran’s transferable skills to employment opportunities. They also offer CRC credit.
Rick Sizemore: We always appreciate your report, Cherie. Cherie Takemoto directs our National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. See you next month, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Okay. See you then.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, 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. ABLEnow, Bradford Staffing, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, CVS Health, The Hershey Company, and United Bank. You can find out more by visiting us @wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes and distributes 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 consideration.