Episode 90 VR Workforce Studio
Tragic accident reshapes Rob’s career of service from the military to vocational rehabilitation
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Robb Corbett: I don’t believe I would handle the accident as well as I did think that extra resiliency,
Rick Sizemore: It prepared you for a new fight.
Robb Corbett: It did. Yeah. It’s just a different animal.
Announcer: 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.
Happy New Year and welcome 2021. As we bring you the story of Rob Corbett on today’s show. Rob was on a career track in the military, working as an investigator with the department of defense. Life dramatically and suddenly changed in a snowboarding accident. Rob is standing by and to talk with us about how vocational rehabilitation opened a new career pathway for him. Not only in his recovery from the accident, but helping him find his way into the classroom and the manufacturing technology training program as a certified instructor. We also talk with Jim Leech who started the MTT program as part of the career pathways for individuals with disabilities grant, which just concluded. And we’ll also have a chance to talk with Kate Kaegi from CPID about the impact here in Virginia.
Rick Sizemore: And now let’s welcome Rob Corbett, The Manufacturing Technology Training instructor from the Wilson workforce and rehabilitation center. Welcome to the podcast, Rob.
Rob Corbett: Yeah. Thank you for having me, Rick. It’s a pleasure to be with you today and share my story.
Rick Sizemore: I had the great honor of hearing you address a leadership group a couple of years ago, and your story was absolutely spellbinding. If you wouldn’t mind, take us back to the time when you were in the military, heading for a job as an investigator and things changed because of a tragic accident.
Rob Corbett: From 2012 to 2016, I became a special agent with the Air force office of special investigations. So they submit to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. And I went through the whole 1811 pipeline and became a special agent. And then I finished out my military service working with them. So I was a DOD component, but I was also a federal criminal encounter intelligence investigator. I went on an evening impromptu snowboarding trip with a friend of mine, one evening in December. My wife, she was getting ready to have our youngest child in eight days. She had scheduled a cesarean section. So, we were waiting on that and it was my last outing before jumping right back into everything in life that keeps us busy and all the important things.
Rob Corbett: I’ve been snowboarding for 23 years at that point and just had a fall that… It wasn’t out of the ordinary, and I fractured by fifth and sixth vertebrae in my neck. Yeah. And from there, the journey restarted. I had all these plans.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. You were on track that changed dramatically.
Rob Corbett: Exactly. And I look back on it and I look at my military experience, and the deployments, and the training, and the schools, and the experience all together. And I, I look at the resilience and the adaptability that gave me… I don’t believe I would have handle the accident as well as I did. It was not to say that there’s not rough days, but I think that extra resiliency and then adaptability made it a little bit easier of a transition, especially later on.
Rick Sizemore: It prepared you for a new fight.
Rob Corbett: It did. Yeah. It just a different animal. It’s…
Rick Sizemore: Well, you were involved in this career, you had a sledding accident or a snowboarding accident. You wound up in a wheelchair right at a time in your life where your family is just beginning. Take us back to the time when that happened. And you realized that vocational rehabilitation might provide a path forward.
Rob Corbett: I thought at first I said, Rob, your background is in criminal and counter-intelligence investigative work. Why don’t you try to go back to work in that realm? So I did, I put in, and I got a contracted position as an Intel analyst, about a week into it. I said, this isn’t going to fit my new lifestyle.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Rob Corbett: This isn’t going to fit me being in a wheelchair, and having limited mobility. And two, this is kind of different than what I knew. So, that threw me off a little bit. And it scared me away from vocation for a little bit. But I had a great team at Wilson Workforce and my occupational therapist and my physical therapist. And after going there for outpatient services and seeing the clients, seeing the people that go through the center, it inspired me.
Rob Corbett: And I was like, you know what, Rob? Like, maybe your path has to change a little bit and maybe this is where you need to be. And I felt like where I was going to give the biggest impact was to find a position as an instructor at Wilson Workforce. And so I pursued it and I, I threw everything at it that I could. I had no prior teaching experience, but what I did have was this Jack of all trades master of none, a conglomerate of experience throughout my career in the military. And, the stars aligned, and I ended up qualifying for the co-instructor position for manufacturing technologies.
Rob Corbett: And I’ve been there for about year and a half, and it’s been a great fit. It really has aligned with my investigative mindset, my research mindset. From taking that from more of a human level to more of an engineering level, breaking down electrical systems and the way mechanical systems work and researching all these things. It, kind of, fit. At first I didn’t think it would meld together as well as it did, but it’s been a journey. I’ve had to relearn some things, I’ve had to adapt to be able to teach the curriculum and things, but it’s worked out well.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about your recent experience in terms of gaining your certification to teach MT 1.
Rob Corbett: Yeah. So it was in the works for a little while, and of course COVID hit and it threw a little bit of a wrench in the plans, but the goal was to go through the train the trainer course, through manufacturing skills Institute MSI and become an actual certified MT 1 instructor.
Rob Corbett: And after going through about three cohorts of assisting with teaching the program and seeing how everything flows and lays out, a little bit of the curriculum. I decided during this low period right now, where we’re minimal on students and we’re in this break. I said, let me go ahead and increase my knowledge, skills and abilities. Let me better serve my clients and go through the MSI train the trainer course. So I just recently went through the four day crash course through MSI, that allows me to teach the curriculum, be certified as a trainer, as a proctor, and be able to distribute that curriculum nationwide. And it was a great experience. Victor Gray at MSI does a great job at pushing out the information, training people as instructors, and then giving his insight and sharing that 20, 30 plus years of manufacturing experience.
Rick Sizemore: You are in such a unique position as a person with a significant disability in a teaching role, and working with manufacturers in Virginia who may consider hiring our graduates. What’s your message to someone in manufacturing that’s not extended an opportunity or has not worked with someone that has a disability?
Rob Corbett: I’d say certainly the first and foremost, you have to look at the knowledge, skills and abilities that our students or getting through us at WWRC and through MSI and the training that they’re going through for the 16 week program. Looking back on it, I translate everything into what I knew prior. And what I knew prior was military structure, military training, and the way we would go through pipelines for different training. The knowledge, skills, and abilities, and the preparation that we’re doing with our students prior to them entering the workforce is top-notch.
Rob Corbett: From the time they entered the center to their early evaluations, to the time they go through the 16 week program. When they’re finished, they’re ready to hit the ground running.
Rick Sizemore: They are good to go.
Rob Corbett: And yeah. I think that’s valuable. The skillsets that they’re touching on the soft skills and the things that we’re going over. At this point in time when they come out, they’re right at that ripe time where the norms have set in and they understand what’s expected.
Rob Corbett: And so they’re ready to transition into that new career field.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, absolutely.
Rob Corbett: And seeing how they’re progressing outside of after they leave the center is just amazing. And it inspires me. And honestly, I can say my whole endeavor into teaching is it’s kind of a selfish thing because as someone with a disability, I help others with, with disabilities to obtain vocation. But for me, I learned from my students every single day, and they help me every single day. And that’s selfishly what I take away from it. It’s a big collaborative movement.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Call it selfishness if you want, we call it a selfless service on your part. And so, thank you for your service in our wonderful military and for joining the team at Wilson. Rob Corbett is the MT1 instructor at the Wilson workforce and rehabilitation center. It’s a great to have you on the podcast today and best of luck to you and all you take on in the future.
Rob Corbett: Also, thank you, Rick. And it was an honor and I appreciate it.
Rick Sizemore: You can learn more about the MTT program as well as services offered by the Virginia department for aging and rehabilitative services. We’ll include links in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com to Virginia DARS, as well as the MTT program. Well, next on the podcast, a man, so famous in the VR and manufacturing community, we had to catch him on the run between his many jobs, Jim Leech, former engineer, with the Hershey company, educator scientist designer. And the man who in 2016 started what is arguably one of the most successful ventures in vocational rehabilitation in recent years. The MTT program, which has helped scores of people with disabilities develop the skills they need to be successful in manufacturing. Jim, it is great to connect with you.
Jim Leech: Great to be with you too.
Rick Sizemore: The VCCS through their annual higher ed conference, which is virtual this year, just gave you an award. Tell us about it.
Jim Leech: Well, it was unexpected. It was an award, they said, for the years of effort and work that I’ve put forth in introducing and promoting manufacturing-
Rick Sizemore: You’re too humble, my friend, you’re too humble. You’ve done many great things. So deserving of the award.
Jim Leech: Well, it was appreciated, unexpected. And I’m not much into awards, but it was appreciated. Presented by the college system of Virginia under Dubois, who’s head of it. And I received a little award statue and glass and their thanks for… It was three others throughout the state, also.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, they say It’s wonderful. And we’ll have a photograph of that award in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. But Jim, seriously, you’ve done so much. How does it make you feel? Looking back now at the MTT program and all the accomplishments? You get calls all the time from students who are working and they credit the program and you, and no small way with their success.
Jim Leech: Well, I appreciate those words and I do. I appreciate the calls from my former students, clients that we called them at the Wilson Workforce Center. We utilize the MT1 program from VMA, the Virginia manufacturers association in Virginia. And the MT 1 program is recognized, now, I believe in about 17 states. It gives people with their resumes, an ability to go in and sit down and interview and show accomplishment and specialization in the world manufacturing.
Rick Sizemore: Hey, Jim, nice to have you on the podcast, today. Congratulations on your award.
Jim Leech: Thank you Rick.
Rick Sizemore: CPID has been a multi-year grant from four States, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, and Nebraska. If you like to know more, then you can get a complete description of ed.com. Just visit the site and search CPID. The bottom line is that over the past few years, these four states have been working in high demand industry sectors to fill the talent pipelines for business and industry while harnessing the skills of people with disabilities. We have several podcasts in our library, vrworkforcestudio.com on career pathways. And a couple of those, you can hear the staff describing how those programs were implemented in their various States in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and here in Virginia. You can also hear Felipe Lulli at RSA talking about the grant. But we’re wrapping up CPID and here to discuss some of what we’ve learned and where we’re headed is Kate Kaegi. Kate is the project manager with CPID at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, as well as the liaison with the Virginia Manufacturers Association. Welcome to the podcast, Kate.
Kate Kaegi: Thank you, Rick. I am excited to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you know, RSA stated purpose for the career pathways for individuals with disabilities grant is to demonstrate promising practices and the use of career pathways in order to improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. It seems like one of the areas Virginia explored was how to help someone get a credential. How did you shift to a career pathways model from the traditional VR training approach?
Kate Kaegi: Well, Rick, when we first looked at this, we really wanted to make sure that we realized the candidates potentials, and getting the job that they’re qualified for. So we wanted to demonstrate that individuals with disabilities could train and get credentials that the Wilson Workforce center also get credentials at a career technical education center at the high school apprenticeship credential, as well as college. And when we say college, we mean both of your community college and online program and a university, and we have demonstrated all of those areas. So we’re very excited on that.
Kate Kaegi: And what we did was we looked at starting out at Wilson as a standard to demonstrate potential. We were able to explore career pathways with a hands-on approach to let individuals know what they were looking at, and also considering AT on the continuum of services. And what we mean by that is This, AT as a training potential, as well as AT in work. And sometimes the AT that you use for work is going to be different from what you’d be using in a classroom environment. We went from one industry recognized credential in 2015 to the two in MT, nine in IT. And two in business. We also have four in logistics and six in healthcare. So from this grant, we have had 321 total credentials earned, and this does not include foundational credentials like OSHA 10 first aid and customer service. So we’re really excited where we are, today from where we started five years ago.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, that’s an amazing number of credentials awarded week. Of course, we had Jim Leech on earlier today, and he still gets calls from individuals who were in his class or out there working with that MT1. So it’s exciting to see the impact that CPID has made here in Virginia, and to hear about it in other places as well. In essence, you planted the seeds for innovative practices and potential growth here for VR in Virginia.
Kate Kaegi: So CPID is defined as a demonstration grant, and that allows us to try out activities that we may not be otherwise, able to do. So we have been able to do some exciting work like work with delayed individuals. We had a counselor that we hired and they actually touched 108 individuals. And what we found with the individuals that were on delayed, we found that they were waiting. They were waiting for us to call them to get services. So it was really exciting to see that we could actually work with those individuals, get them started. And then, when they were opened up with VR, they were able to transition right into VR. So that was really exciting. We also have paid internships or paid work experiences. And during this time we did 14 paid internships, in this past year. Of those 14 paid internships, we’ve had five individuals that are currently employed.
Kate Kaegi: Not all of them are employed in the job that they did their internship in, but their internship definitely influenced where they’re currently working. And what we found with the paid internships were, this started actually out, looking at careers that are difficult to get started in, like IT or medical billing and coding. Those were areas that we started out in and we definitely have demonstrated that this is something that will be exciting. And of course we’ll be moving forward with another pilot. Once CPID is over with VR, with a paid internship. So that’s exciting.
Kate Kaegi: We’ve also done cohort training. And cohort trainings a little bit different because we look at training at Wilson as a cohort training. But when we’re talking to a community college, especially workforce credentials, we’re looking at a cohort with them so that we had the benefit of timing the training. Not only the timing of when the training is going to occur, but is it going to be an evening class or a day class to work with our students? And this helps build a relationship with the instructor. We’re able to join the class. We’re able to add in extras like an AT overview or participate in the class to address issues that might be popping up, that the teacher might reach out to us, like a student monopolizing time. So the success of the individuals are higher when we have a cohort like that. And all of those are things that we’re hoping to move forward with.
Rick Sizemore: You know, this whole venture really called on people to come together, build relationships and something that’s sometimes challenging share resources. So how did you pull all that together?
Kate Kaegi: So we definitely shared resources with group meetings with DBVI and DARS because we’re both under the same grant, but we also reached out to our partners that there would be adult education, WOA, partnerships, all of that. And what we did was we invited them to participate in our activities. We had over the course of this five years, we’ve had academies, we’ve had 39 academies that served 468 students. And we wanted to invite participants within the Virginia career works to join us and adult Ed and so forth. We’ve had 297 students attend credential fairs. We’ve had 32 business tours. We’ve had 17 in-person and virtual career pathway information sessions. And this helped us build those relationships.
Kate Kaegi: So it definitely helped build our co enrollments with DARS and DBVI. We also worked with adult education and with them, we’ve created things like the bridge to education program. We’ve been able to participate in some of their grants, which include trade-related academic training and credential training group together. And then we’ve also worked with the Virginia Career Works. A good example with our partnership down in Hampton, we’ve actually saved VR about $25,000 in training services through funding with Virginia career works.
Rick Sizemore: How did you work with business?
Kate Kaegi: We had a variety of ways that we worked with business. One of the initial concepts that was very exciting was our partnership with the Virginia Manufacturers Association. And as you stated at the beginning, I’m the liaison for VMA and with them, my office is actually co located at their office. So I was able to work with them during the day to understand more of what the needs are for advanced manufacturing across Virginia. And I was also able to participate in different activities like the workforce symposium and the town hall meetings that they had. And other meetings that they’ve had throughout the five years,
Rick Sizemore: What was it like working with some of the other States involved in CPID?
Kate Kaegi: So we really started at the beginning with a great opportunity. That’s called… it’s a learning collaborative call, is what we called it, and it was quarterly done. And this was been a great opportunity for us to share information. But it was also at a time that the grant started, where we were able to focus on an interactive approach and help us focus on WAOA concepts with each other.
Rick Sizemore: I’ll Put you on the spot. Do you have a favorite story from your experience in CPID?
Kate Kaegi: I do. I had a young gentleman.
Rick Sizemore: You always have to have a story.
Kate Kaegi: This gentleman just…he pulled at my heart strings. I met him, actually, at the very beginning. He was interested in a different field entirely, and he was referred to me for a vocational evaluation and career pathways just to explore different options, because he had a lot of potential. Did the water purification Academy, and it clicked for him. And then he decided that, this is what I want to do. And he went ahead and he got into the MTT program, the Manufacturing Technician Training, and he completed that training program. He applied to the shipyard and he’s working down there. And what was really exciting was how proud he was with everything that he did. And he got his driver’s license while it was up at Wilson. And he’s bought a car. He doesn’t drive on the highway yet, but he’ll get there.
Rick Sizemore: Thanks for being on our podcast today, Kate.
Kate Kaegi: Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Kate Kaegi served as the project manager for CPID during the final phases of the grant. A special thanks to the entire team that implemented CPID here in Virginia, and in other States. You can hear more from them about CPID in our library, VR workforce studio.com, including interviews with Dr. Joe Ashley. Well, it’s time for our national clearinghouse update with the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto. Cherie, happy anniversary.
VR Workforce Team Staff: Happy anniversary.
Cherie Takemoto: Hey, Rick happy anniversary to us.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Cherie Takemoto: It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years, since that first time I stepped into the VR workforce studio.
Rick Sizemore: And you’ve been a terrific, terrific addition to this VR workforce team. I hear you have some greatest hits for us today.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, I do. The top hits.
Announcer: Begin countdown.
Cherie Takemoto: First, starting with number six, was, last year, we highlighted the hundredth anniversary of VR and the top hits were your 100th anniversary, centuries of success video, and a history of VR that hopefully educators are going to share in their classes. Number five, accessibility resources. We revamped this page so that it’s easier for newbies. And we’re so happy that folks are using it to make their materials accessible. Because as you know, that’s the name of the game. Number four, the RSA funded assistance and other resources. These are links that folks bookmarks so that they can find RSA, the TA centers, RSA funded projects, the federal WIOA partners, and other important VR related organizations. And number three, RSA TA in demonstration projects, virtual series. This is where the RSA funded projects got to show the return on investment of what RSA has granted over the last few years. Number two, speaking of grants, is where folks went to find the RSA discretionary grant information. So they could apply for RSA grants. And number one were the RSA and technical assistance center events. This is where folks have kept up, gotten their CRC, CEUs and other credits, and just stayed on top of what’s going on through the webinars and on demand and archived webinars of what’s going on in VR, particularly from RSA and the technical assistance centers.
Rick Sizemore: What an awesome list of important resources. Save the link in the show notes for this episode, you’ll always be going there to have easy access, right to the clearinghouse. Cherie, thanks to you and the team at the NCRTM for all the work that you do.
Cherie Takemoto: And thank you. We love sharing what’s latest and greatest, but I love even more, hearing about how this all works in practice with the VR workforce studio podcast. Love this partnership, happy anniversary.
Rick Sizemore: The anniversary to you. Cherie Takemoto directs the national clearinghouse for rehabilitation training materials. 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 at 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 CenterFfoundation. 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 considerations.