Full Length Publication including transcript, guest contacts, photo gallery and more.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live studio audience at the 2017 Fall Conference of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation in Greenville South Carolina.

CSVAR Conference Agenda Cover

Rick Sizemore and Anne Hudlow vrworkforcestudio@gmail.com

Joseph M. Ashley, Rh.D.    Assistant Commissioner for Grants & Special Programs (804) 662-7624 www.vadars.org.  joe.ashley@dars.virginia.gov

Felipe Lulli, Officer for the (CPID) demonstration program as well as the project officer for RSA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Targeted Communities. Felipe.Lulli@ed

Janet Drudik Program Director Phone: 402.484.1908 janet.drudik@nebraska.gov

Helga Gilbert  Kentucky Department for the Blind, Project CASE  Helga.Gilbert@ky.gov

Shelley Kraft, MS, CRC, LPC (478) 757-4080 Shelley.Kraft@ablegeorgia.ga.gov

Stephen A. Wooderson, CEO – CSAVR  301-519-8023 – Office,  Swooderson@Rehabnetwork.org


VR Workforce Studio extends special thanks to Randy Sizemore, rsizemore@sizemoredesign.com for technical support and assistance as well as the Staff at CSAVR and the National Employment Team for support and coordination of the podcast.  Special thanks to Steve Wooderson, Kathy West-Evans, Danielle Guest ms.danielleguest@gmail.com and Theresa Hamrick THamrick@Rehabnetwork.org .

Don’t forget to follow CSAVR and the Net on Twitter @csavr or @theNETeam.

Special Thanks to Jonathan Bibb, Arkansas Career and Technical Institute @jlbibb.

Announcer: Welcome to a special episode of the VR Workforce studio, recorded live at the fall conference of the council of state administrators of vocational rehabilitation.  On today’s episode courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.

Consumers Voice: My name is Dave Kelly, seven years ago when I was released from prison, I went through voc rehab and they helped me get a job.

Announcer:  Voices from the career pathways for individuals with disabilities.

Helga Gilbert:  Today we had a STEM camp, at the Big Sandy technical college at the Mayo Campus.

Kasey DeLong:   I was interested in nursing, I wanted to be a OBGYN.

Announcer:  Top experts explain new models and innovative strategies that are filling the talent pipelines with individuals with disabilities for business and industry.  And now here is the executive producer of the VR Workforce Studio, Ann Hudlow, along with the host for today’s show, Rick Sizemore.

Anne:  Welcome to today’s show.  We are blazing new trails on the career pathways for individuals with disabilities.

Rick:   We have VR consumers, these folks are from several states, we have business owners that we are bringing into the podcast and partners, we have a top notch panel for you, and top executives from our country’s VR program. We are really excited to be here today.

Anne:  I just love doing these live Podcasts.  We couldn’t be more thrilled with today’s show. We have an all-star panel to explain the phenomenal success of the career pathways for individuals with disabilities initiative.  To get us started, we are so honored to welcome the acting commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Carol Dobak, Commissioner, welcome to the Podcast.

Commissioner Dobak: Thank you, Ann. When the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act was enacted in July of 2014, it was designed to do a few things, one is to increase access training and services for individuals with barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities.  So that they can achieve employment outcomes in high demand and quality competitive and integrated employment.

And one of the ways the Workforce innovation and Opportunity Act is designed to accomplish that significant goal, is through strengthening collaboration between the core partners of the Workforce development system, which now includes, of course, the vocational rehabilitation program.

And considering the ways in which the Rehabilitation Services Administration could implement those important goals, we looked at our discretionary grant opportunities, and in looking at that, we thought a significant way in which we could improve access to services and training for individuals with disabilities and their opportunities for employment was to identify innovative ways in which individuals with disabilities could access that employment.  And we focused on career pathways, career pathways, as you all know is not a new concept, it was not born out of the Workforce Innovation  and Opportunities Act, but with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act does for vocational rehabilitation and the individuals who are served through the program is to increase the ways in which our rehabilitation program can work with the other partners in the states of the Workforce development system in order to enhance opportunities in career pathways ways in which individuals with disabilities haven’t yet had the opportunity to engage in those important opportunities.  That is what this discretionary grant project is all about.

And we are so excited today to be hearing from our grantees in Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Nebraska, about what they are doing in a variety of ways they have found to partner with their workforce development system programs in their states, and the variety of ways in which access to career pathways and apprenticeships can be increased through the coordination with these important programs in order to increase opportunities for individuals with disabilities.  And I would just like to turn it back to Anne and Rick and the panel now.  So you can hear all about what they are doing.  Thank you.

Anne:  Thank you, Commissioner, thank you so much, we appreciate your leadership and innovation through funding these services and creating these opportunities in career pathways.

Rick:  Later in today’s show we will here hear from the CEO of CSAVR Steve Wooderson we are looking forward to his comments on CPID and Vision 2020.  But up first, Doctor Joe Ashley from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services.  Welcome Joe.

Joe:   Rick, it’s a pleasure to be here today.

Rick:   Joe you have had a long celebrated career in vocational rehabilitation, and you have been credited with some truly innovative programs that withstood the test of time and have produced some amazing result, now you are spearheading this CPID initiative.

Joe:  We finding that the CPID initiative reminds me of some of our early initiatives in transition    with some very important changes, in fact, some of the earlier days we were talking about career ladders and now we are talking about stackable credentials.   The other difference is collaboration within the workforce partners, community colleges, adult ed, also the collaboration with the businesses and that is central to getting us to the focus on credentials.

Rick:  Joe, you are no stranger to Podcasting, you should know the episode you recorded with us a few years ago is still one of my favorites and continues to be top rated in iTunes.   I know Rick is anxious to get into the CPID conversation, but Joe, I was curious about your perspectives on the emergence of Podcasting in the Workforce and VR conversation.

Joe:   Ann, I think the Podcasting, we have had some experiences in Virginia with the  VR Workforce  Studio, and have been impressed with the professionalism of the Podcast and the ability of the  Podcast to tell the VR story, to bring in our partners as we are discussing this, with real  voices clients that have worked that have benefited from the program, the businesses that are employing these clients talking about the successes they have seen, and it puts the voices in place and allows VR to no longer be the best kept secret.  That’s pretty exciting because of the broad reach of this particular medium.

Anne:  We want to thank you for inviting us to be part of this conference today, Joe.

Rick: I feel like we should be sending some type of check to our previous panelist for their testimony on Podcasting, 2 billion downloads, in this country it’s becoming a great way to share the messages of vocational rehabilitation and disability employment.  By the way, if you would like to hear Joe’s story, blind man with a vision, it’s in our library at vrworkforcestudio.com.  I think you will enjoy his amazing reflections on his life living with blindness and his career in vocational rehabilitation.  Okay.  I think we are about ready to meet our all star panelists in just a minute.  But first, Anne, caught up with Felipe Lulli earlier this week and he had this to say.

Felipe:  Thank you Anne, RSA is excited about bringing individuals with disabilities to the forefront of WIOAs promise of career opportunity and economic growth in our states.  Through CPID funding, the State VR agencies of Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska and Virginia are building innovative models and strategies of credential attainment, measurable skill gains, business engagement, and collaboration with a broad range of workforce development system partners.  These agencies are helping individuals with disabilities overcome barriers to success through career exploration, workplace accommodations, promoting flexible work and training arrangements, assistive technology, postsecondary education and training opportunities, and comprehensive support services that VR eligible individuals with disabilities need to succeed.    During the remainder of this session, your colleagues from the states will describe   their distinctive approaches for enabling individuals with disabilities to pursue high quality careers in the leading industries and to help businesses within the states to recruit highly qualified employees they need to grow in the economy of today, and tomorrow.  So, I thank you all for participating in this workshop.  And I look forward to the questions and the insights you can share with your colleagues and with us.  Thank you.

Rick:  Felipe Lulli is a project officer for the CPID demonstration program and comes to us from his office at the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Anne:  Before we go any further, I wanted to ask Joe a quick question, if you don’t mind coming back to this, Joe.  Everybody that knows you, knows you for a phrase that you say often, which is giving our consumers an edge, can you speak to that?

Joe:  Yes.

Joe:  Yes, thank you Anne.  we in VR have talked for a long time to level the playing field.  And assistive technology and ADA as well as some of the other advocacy opportunities we have had, we have been able to do some of that.  But I think that’s not far enough.  I think we need to make sure that our clients are the first in line when we go into the businesses to seek employment.  And I believe  the career pathways for individuals with disabilities projects offer us that opportunity to involve assistive technology, discuss with businesses exactly what they are looking for, and if we take the time to listen to the credentials they are looking for, as well as the soft skills and environmental skills that they look for and find the access to the programs that will train them across our workforce  partners, we will be in a better position to ensure that when we go in, our clients go in, we train them to make sure they have the right attitudes and skill sets for those particular jobs, then we will be the first in line for the interviews.  And I think when we get to that level of programming, then we are going to have the opportunity to make sure that our folks –they are just not going to worry about the disability as much.  The other piece that we have got to learn to do, between ourselves and our partners, be, if we say we are going to do something, we do it.  When we start putting all that together with our business folks and other partners, we are going to have an opportunity.  Our clients are going have that edge when they go in for those interviews.

Rick:  Awesome.  Let’s meet the rest of our panelists.  Janet Drudik from Lincoln, Nebraska, program director with the Nebraska VR agency.  Welcome        Janet.

Janet:  Thank you so much Anne and Rick.

Anne:   And Helga Gilbert is an administrator in the Kentucky Office for the blind and works with state partners on career pathways systems in manufacturing IT and healthcare, welcome, Helga.

Helga: Thank you.

Rick:  And Shelly Kraft joins us from the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency where she works as the assistant director of transition.  She has worked in the Agency in a variety of positions over the past decade.  Glad to have you with us, Shelly.

Shelly:  Thank you.

Anne:  We have included links about our guests and all our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com in case you would like to contact them.

Rick:   Let’s get start with Janet from Nebraska.  Your CPID grant is based on the upskill-backfill    model.  How does it work?

Janet:  Let me tell you about it.  We have the Career Pathways Advancement Project or CPAP as we call it and it is all about self-sufficiency for our clients.  What we find as many clients or individuals with disabilities have two jobs, possibly no benefits or maybe they just can’t make a living so this part of the grant is focused on self-sufficiency.  It’s a dual customer approach that we have, we are working with past VR clients as well as with businesses.  What we are doing is contacting 2500 clients from the years 13/14, 15/16, besides those years, we have other clients who come in who want to advance the designated career pathways, we can advance them as well.  These career pathways that are the high demand, high wage jobs, information technology, manufacturing, and then transportation, distribution and logistics.  So we started with the grant.  We knew in year two or three, we expanded to healthcare, we have done that this past year and also found a need for construction.  We have expanded into those five career pathways.  The advancement includes stackable credentials.  Our goal is to help people in their current employment advance in that pathway, stackable credentials and certifications, apprenticeships, associate degrees, whatever it takes to help them advance.  It may be multiple credentials to help them advance.  Then the other component is the backfilling component whereas we advance and we are developing that relationship with their employer and the client as we are developing that relationship and the clients advancing so the first thing we know is that there is going to be an opening again, we are backfilling with clients from 110 funded positions within that career pathway or middle level positions within that pathway. So that’s why we call it the upskill backfill model.

Rick:  It’s like a two for one special.

Janet:   It Is!  And sometimes more than two for one.

Rick:   I haven’t heard of this until we got into planning for this Podcast.  But what a cool strategy.

Anne:  Very cool.

Anne:  Recently talked with David Kelley, and as you know David is the plant manager at Todd’s BBI and packaging operations for food and pet products.  Let’s take a listen to how upskill backfill has made a real impact in his life.

David:   How is it going today.  My name is David Kelley.  I’m a   former VR client.  Seven years ago when I was released from prison, I went to voc rehab to help me find, and attain the necessary skills and equipment so I could fulfill this job.  Since then, I have moved up four or five positions in the food manufacturing industry.  When Zack Arter contacted me back in January about enrolling in the grant program, I was a quality control technician, since then Zack has helped me go through preventive controls certification, which allowed me to become a PCQI.  I was able to be promoted to quality control manager, and even sense then, furthermore Zack has helped me enroll in a food management course which allowed me to move into the plant manager position. He has also helped so that numerous employees here were able to go through the grant program.  The new quality control technician is just finishing up the grant program and she will become the quality control manager as soon as she is finished.  It has been a pleasure working with Zack, the grant program has done wonders, I’m looking forward to working with him in the future with more employees so they can advance in their positions.

Rick:  What a great example of upskill backfill.  What a great strategy.   It’s got to make you feel really good about this approach.

Janet:   It really does.  We are doing that across the state of Nebraska.  Zack is one of the four pathway recruiters, reaching out to employers and also, working with businesses.  As Joe said, this is about giving the person an edge.  Just as you heard with David, he got the edge, now plant manager, and one of the great things is that plant is also their main plant is in Iowa and we are expanding this grant on to the border of Iowa, so we are hoping to coordinate also services in Iowa no just Nebraska so that’s the great things.  But working with this grant and with David’s plant, we were able to up skill David, and backfill with some 110 clients but one of the thing we noticed that was not originally written into the grant that there’s a need for incumbent workers.  As you heard David mention, we are also, even though they haven’t been a past VR client we are doing marketing materials with many of the businesses now if they have the person within the designated career pathways that can up skill within that business to help them move up, that is awesome.  That has been great for us.   The other thing it has done for us is help the employer see that some of the people they already have on staff that they didn’t realize had a disability and that we can work with them.  So it’s really been giving us the edge to do that.  The great thing again as I mentioned is sitting down with that employer, looking at how they can advance…. a lot of times the clients or past clients do not understand there is that advancement opportunity.  They think the advancement is for a supervisor advancement, there’s a lot of opportunities within that business, so, a lot of career planning, we call it recruitment strategies to help recruit them into the grant program to see how we can help them advance.

Rick:   Let me ask you this:  What surprised you most about working with these businesses?

Janet:   I think one of the things is they do not understand about the disability in general, they don’t understand who we serve.  The other thing is we provide tuition reimbursement, and, or they provide tuition reimbursement and a lot of the individuals don’t understand about the tuition reimbursement that’s available to us.  Employers are saying if you can help us help them get into I don’t know advancement opportunity we can pay for it.  One of the great things, we have not spent near the money we thought we would because employers are willing to pay for that.  So that is has been a surprise.  Also because employers have not understood about who we serve, we are also doing a lot of engagement, with ergonomic assessments, we are providing economic assessments to engage employers, and that’s been a real advantage, give them a written report which is helpful, as well as a report with pictures so that they can make their place of employment more safe, also doing ADA and Section 503 training and engaging    that way.  We just had an employer recently who came to the training and said I have some incumbent workers with disabilities and I did not know about VR, so, we are now working with them.  So, I think that’s been a real key, the community awareness.  I think that’s what we heard.  We had an employer round table in Virginia, this group, and one of the things from employers that attended, we have no idea you could do all those things.

Rick:  Cool.  And this theme that the employers are not concerned about the disability keeps coming up, that gone are the days that we are going to extend employment opportunities because of the social good we had a plant manager say to us, we don’t care about the disability, I care about the workers, they aren’t seeing the disability.  They are seeing a skilled worker and you have certainly pave the way for that to happen in Nebraska.

Janet:   One of the things we found out with our marketing materials, especially as we go with incumbent workers we leave it up to the business    how they want us to approach the incumbent worker.  We have marketing materials and every employer has told us the same thing:  Please do not put disability on the materials.  And so that has been interesting.  It’s more we talk about characteristics, do we have difficulty communicating, difficulty filling out forms?  Are they going to treatment?  Other things like that.  I think that’s been really key for us.

Anne:  Well, you know, business engagement is key to what we are all doing here, it seems like you have had a tremendous amount of success.  Congratulations on that.  Let’s talk about Kentucky’s approach.  Helga you describe your grant staff as career pathways coordinators.  Can you tell us about them?

Helga: Sure, I’d love to.  Let me give you a picture of what our grant looks like overall, quickly. Kentucky is divided into 10 local workforce areas, we have the coordinators, career pathway coordinators in two of those areas.  We focus on Louisville which is the biggest city in Kentucky, Louisville, and its surrounding six counties and the eastern part of the state in the rural operation county, there’s a workforce area there that comprises 23 counties.  And it has smaller communities like Pikeville and Hazzard, Prestonsburg and Paintsville and smaller communities, but still a strong presence of the Kentucky community and technical college system there, some of the high schools have a strong career and tech ed. presence and    scattering of the technical training centers from also.

Rick:  So a lot of cool things going on.  We do have a clip from Big Sandy Community College about some of the engagements you have had with them.  Let’s take a quick listen to the clip from Big Sandy.

Big Sandy Community College: I know the very first camp we had with the department of the blind, and we had 7 students and the next time we expanded it and we wound up getting somewhere between 25 and 30, and today is 157.  So was exciting, a little scary to have that many at one time but everybody was very receptive and counselors have come up to us and told us how great the program is and wanted to come back. Students have told us you know several in the electricity department was not interested in electricity or engineering and now they want to come in and explore it as a career option and for their education too.

Rick:  So you’ve grown the camp from 7 to 153, that’s a pretty significant engagement.

Helga:  Our career pathways coordinators have a lot of roles and one of the roles that they have really taken to and are enjoying a lot in eastern Kentucky is doing these STEM camps    and I can’t take all the credit for it, I think we stole the idea from what Virginia grant partners, that was Sally Porter you heard talking with workforce solutions at Big Sandy Community Technical college.  And they are ready to roll with us, they are willing partners and innovative and if we come up with ideas, they want to work with our population and it keeps growing.

Rick:  And the camps are hand on.

Helga: The camps are hands on, and that’s the key.  A lot of the students that we have worked with have not had the greatest successes, in a purely academic setting.  In fact, it doesn’t highlight all of their skills and abilities.  It also discourages them from pursuing postsecondary education.  There’s a knowledge gap between what they could do after high school. So hands on is where it’s at.

Rick:   One of the Joys of planning this podcast was recording some of the sound bites from all around the country.  Let’s take a listen to Kasey DeLong, who has been to one of these camps.

Kasey:   We went to a nursing program and we got to put gloves on. We had to wash our hands and put gloves on.   And we got these oranges and we got needles and we held the oranges and we put the needles in the orange.    they showed you how to put the needles in the arm, you have to be careful, some of it we had to pull it back, the syringe and on one you had to do a butterfly.

Helga:  Have you ever done anything like that before?

Kasey:  No, not hands on. I love doing hands on because it prepares you to go out in the real world to prepare you to know about it.

Rick:  Isn’t that cool?  Giving kids that exposure, that is just an incredible thing.  How has the grant advanced your partnerships with stakeholders?

Helga:   It’s not a hard sell.  I think that’s one of the things that was surprising to me.  Our partners and stakeholders want to be involved.  I think WIOA has set this landscape where everybody is more aware of that, the need to serve all populations that have barriers.  A great partnership that just occurred and wouldn’t have occurred without the grant which is called project CASE in Kentucky. We just had a conference in Prestonsburg….   let me back up a little bit.  When we start the grant, we knew that the career pathway included getting students in work experiences and apprenticeships.  We said all right, let’s do that.  Let’s go find those apprenticeships and there we none.

Rick:  Andy Happy apprenticeship week by the way.  Yes, happy apprenticeship week.

We found partners, we invited them and talked to different employers and to the community college there, and the water commissions, who were training their incumbent workers there and also student, some are student workers and we said this could work like an apprenticeship.  And also an employer that quickly became interested, was American Metal works.  And this apprenticeship conference, it just happened three weeks ago or so, and we had about 25 employers there, we had three that have signed on, and not due just to the grant, but obviously due to work at the cabinet level from the Kentucky Department of labor, Department of Ed, we had all of these representatives there and we had 23 to 25 employers there, talking about their interest.  Some of them had started the process and some of them have signed on a few individuals and we are getting ready to start.  And the wonderful thing that we could also do and bring to that apprenticeship conference so it wasn’t purely … voc rehab wasn’t left out of the picture which may have been done in the past, is to actually have a very strong presence of talking about assistive technology.

We had the office for the blind an individual talking about the how technology can be used in a warehouse setting.  And just making it very apparently that apprenticeship is the Cadillac but    that we are interested in all kinds of work experiences that can happen.  We have the assistive technology to make that work and we have the students who have skills and can move into   those positions.  We have two students starting with American Metal Works in a work experience setting.

Rick:  So you are getting some real traction.

Helga: Yes.

Anne: Helga, can you tell is how the career pathways model helps your counselors?

Helga:  I feel very strongly that learning this model, being able to share and teach that pathway model with our VR Counselors our staff, and our AT and Evaluation staff, is that it’s just going to help us provide a higher quality of guidance and   counseling to our consumers.  How can we be career counselors if we don’t really know what the landscape looks like today?  If we don’t really know what employers want, what skills are necessary, what credentials they are looking for and how hiring for.  For example, we have a student, a VR consumer who completed his associate’s degree in a medical information technology program, and seemingly he was set to go to get employed.  But in fact, he couldn’t get employed he was referred to one of the career path coordinators to work with him and she felt like gosh we have his interviewing skills up we have his resume ready, what is going on?  She went around and talked to different medical facilities and hospitals and said what is it that he doesn’t have, he just graduated with this associate’s degree, it turned out he had fulfilled all the requirements but he opted out of taking the medical coding class.  I guess that didn’t seem as enjoyable but you can’t get a job with the new Medicare, Medicaid standards without that coding certificate.  So, she was able to go back to his vocational counselor and say we need to send him back for this certificate, and once he has that, he will be employable.  But it’s knowing about all the intricacies about what the employers really need.

Rick:  One last question before we finish up with what’s going on in Kentucky, are you seeing some people get involved that have been left out in the past?

Helga:  Certainly.  I think that, the most enjoyable thing is seeing these high school students going to the campus….   that’s instant gratification.  They take it so seriously.  You see a change in them.  They really did consider themselves    potential college students and they can see that is within their grasp and I also think that we are pulling in the instructors from the community colleges to say these are a wonderful population to work with, and I don’t know why we haven’t done this before.

32:19 stop

Rick:  That’s so exciting, that is just so exciting.  So, let’s move on to Doctor Joe, Joe Ashley, Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative services.   You have some unique stories on CPID and how its evolved in Virginia.   Can you tell us about some of your partnerships and some of the unique strategies that you are using in Virginia?

Joe: Yes, thanks Rick.   In Virginia, we selected for our industries advanced manufacturing and    modern manufacturing, information technology and logistics and distribution.  We set up our grant to have one of our staff members, one of our big partners is the Virginia Manufacturers Association, so almost every manufacturer in Virginia is a member of this organization.  We have a staff member whose office is down with the VMA.  So when they go out to talk to businesses, she gets to go with them.  It’s a lot easier to talk to business about what their needs are when you are hearing it directly, when you are talking to the VMA about what their needs are.  So it gives us that opportunity to also discuss hiring people with disabilities.  And that partnership has really proved to be important to our program.

One of the other pieces with that, when we describe, we also have in this particular grant a person who is full time in assistive technology (AT).  You’ve heard Janet talk about it.   You’ve heard Helga talk about the importance of AT.  We would concur with that and we have a person full time an assistive technology person who went through the assistant technology act to hire a person to do this.  And in this process, we were describing to the people at the VMA have a manufacturing skills institute where they created a curriculum that is basically designed by an industry in Virginia and the nation for manufacturers, and we were describing how assistive technology and accommodations can make jobs doable for people with disabilities.  As we described this, what we heard back from them, that’s what LEAN manufacturing is, that’s considered a best practice in manufacturing.  So when you take somebody’s accommodation and it turns out on improve the business process, reduces waste, it reduces excessive motion and makes the job easier to do or more efficient to do and turns that into everybody, it is a universal design.  They see this as an opportunity so that they’re now talking to us about how this could be a good thing when you pull these folks in.  When they talk about the future of Virginia, they need 6,000 manufacturing jobs a year for the next 10 years.  They need people to get in and are having trouble getting youth to get into this process.  They created something called “Dream It. Do It.” Virginia, and that’s –“Dream It. Do It.” is a national association brand and they are basically hands on vocational assessments or career assessments.

We turned them into a little bit more of career evaluation because in the past it has just been exploration, so that our counselors could have better information.  We also do this with partners, so we are going into places where they might already have a “Dream It. Do It.” Camp like in robotics or drones, 3D printing or welding, they also have one on game application.  We recently had a camp or we call them academies because that seems to be more appropriate for young adults.   But we had one were they did 3D printing, they did some welding and they    built light sabers, just like the thing in Star Wars, talking about getting attention from students.

Rick:  Joe Wants one.

Joe: They are pretty cool.  Well I won’t go into that (laughter).   It’s always a lot of fun.  So, and we do things where the Department for the Blind and Vision impaired took the lead, on a camp with robotics.  They did some coding and we running around with these lunar robots actually they are lunar robots from Mars, kind of thing.

Rick:  Joe you are getting a big smile from Dr. Mitchell and his staff in the back of the room.

Joe:   Yes they took the lead on this and Thanks to Rick and his team at DBVI they really got this thing going and it was a huge success.  We had students deciding this was a pretty cool deal. One young man went off …. He did the program.  The thing that was fund was they had to keep changing the curriculum because our students were outperforming the general ed students.  We did in one week what the other kids were doing in two (weeks).  We were very impressed with that.  This was a home land security grant.  The gentleman that we made his curriculum totally accessible, he was totally excited about that-and he is out talking about it all over the country right now.  This is a big deal for him and it was a huge deal for us, it was, you know, a partnership.   We had a young man, you know at the end of it…..he showed off what his robot was trained to do.  This is a coding thing as well as a hardware thing.   This young man had a sarcastic robot, he did a comedy routine. It was excellent.  So what you have got is different ways to do business.  My favorite piece, is we Brett Vassey the CEO of VMA, when he is talking about the vision for Virginia and making sure that Virginia can compete in the world economy, he includes that talent pipeline having people with disabilities among the other groups, have you got that?

Rick:  We’ve got that cued  up and ready to go.  Brett Vassey, VMA, on a rehab rewind from a previous episode.

Brett: We are absolutely dedicated to changing the paradigm for young people starting in 6th grade.   It’s no longer a “go to college or fail.”  That you have career pathways….. you have choices, and when you are an adult you have clearer choices.   Whether you are a disabled veteran, you are an unemployed worker, it doesn’t matter, it’s not hopeless and helpless, It’s an opportunity for a career K through grey.  So that’s what we are going for, and the State that builds it first and builds it best will win in this global economy. And friends, I’m telling you we are going to win!

Joe:  So Brett sees us as a part of that solution to make sure that we have a strong workforce in advanced manufacturing, we can tell you at our Wilson facility (WWRC) wwrc.virginia.gov  we have rolled out training and we have students with autism who are participating.  And they have some issues around teamwork.  We have created ways to help train them about what teamwork means so they can be successful on the job site.  At this point, I think we have 24 students have that gone through the system and 13 are employed, and we have another person in a mechatronics program.  We also have an agreement with the local community college and if you go through our manufacturing technology training (MTT program) in our facility, you get five credits toward our mechatronics associates degree.  So, we are trying to make sure we are all integrated.  We have another partnership we have is, we have got agreements with four of the 15 workforce boards of Virginia, we will have another one fairly soon.  And what they are doing is helping us make sure…we are doing system alignment meetings with them, we are looking for co-enrollments.  So the whole piece coming together.  We have partnered with the Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC), around a logistics curriculum and we brought adult ed in as a part of their integrated education and training requirements, and we start with the adult ed. They are in the classroom at BRCC to get this credential.  Five of the 7 students who went through got there first credential and we should learn this week if they got the second one.  We are trying to look at building and stacking these credentials to make people more competitive in the workplace.

Rick:  People are very, very excited.  That’s what really gets us all jazzed up is just how excited the students are that are going through these programs.  We have got a little clip that they asked us to play from a young woman named Rose.

Rose:  “Wow”, my eyes have been opened. Because I’ve learned to notice to take the little things in life, and notice that every tiny thing, that anything you can think of has been used, and created using part of a machine that someone built.    Even if you don’t believe that you could do it, give yourself a chance because you never know. An opportunity is at your doorstep, people. You should be able to say “You know what, I’m going to give that a try.” And you never know, you’ll probably end up enjoying it, and even if you don’t it’s a good learning experience for you. And it’s wonderful to think of the fact that you could get a better job in the future. It depends on you though.  Engineers just make the blueprints we actually do the work.

Anne: They are the dreamers and we are the doers.  What do you think Joe, do you think that is exciting?  She made that work for her yeah.


Joe:   That was at a computer numerically controlled academy, (CNC) where at our Wilson facility (WWRC) we have a water filtration system where people can come in and learn solar power they learn machines that do pumping actions…they learn how to read the gauges, they take well water and turn into potable water and Rick gets to drink it.

Rick: That’s the part they Love to watch me drink (Joe)- They sure do.  Anne:  We should have brought that video.


Joe:  Part of that is – these businesses come in and watch these students and see they can do the work and when they start explain stuff it is really impressive.  You heard the young lady, they get really excited when they do this.  But another part of that is, we have got an advisory committee up there and they said you really need to look at CNC, and if you’ve got that you walk into a job, no matter where you are.  One of the plants up there was willing to help spot us with the simulator, to help fund that simulator hat we did- in fact they paid for almost all of it so that we have got that ability now, and that adds to, when they walk in the door, they have got the edge.  And that’s what we are doing.

We have also got a contract dealing with the Virginia technology council and put us in front of their membership and its one of the largest technology councils in the country, it’s just huge to be able to have them helping us get this in front of the clienteles and we are going to be move moving on that make sure our folks get into Northern Virginia Community Colleges and other places.  So we are trying to make sure all this curriculum is accessible.  The camps are a lot of fun you should really take a look…I’m sorry these academies are a lot of fun.  You should look at them to see how they can help people make decisions on where they want to go.

Anne:  Doctor Joe Ashley, thank you so much.  Shelly, we are on to you.  How are you approaching CPID in Georgia?

Shelly:   In Georgia our grant is known as explore, engage and employ or E3 and actually when we were developing our grant, we pulled together a group of VR staff, former transition counselors, current transition counselors because our grant actually focuses on in school and out the school youth, ages 14 to 24. It really runs right alongside WIOA and what we really need to do to help those students access those career pathways in school as well as out of school so when we brought the E3 kids together, we actually decided what would it really look like in a perfect world, if we could do everything as a transition counselor in the school, the school was completely and totally cooperative, what would that look like?  That’s how we came up with that plan.  We had 7 school districts that we actually focused on and our goal is to actually work with 3,000 students in five years and we plan on expanding out here over the next three years and actually obtain and get those 3,000 students through our program.  And our 7 school districts are actually unique.  We have four traditional schools in the state of Georgia, we have three specialty schools, and two are residential, one is Georgia Academy for the Blind and the other is Georgia school for the Deaf.  Now, the Atlanta school for the Deaf is a day school and of course serviced by the local area where those students attend.  We have done some really unique things within following the preemployment transition services, one of the things that we are currently doing in Georgia Academy for the Blind that we really think is unique, it’s a Project Search Site.  We wanted to make our students really have to look at what it is like to really go to work.  So in project Project Search,  they engage in three internships.  We have placed our students at Madison Health in Macon it’s one of our large hospitals, and what we did is, we gave the students a stipend because in project search, we can’t actually pay them.  And the students have to balance this stipend throughout the week to be able to pay for their meals and to pay for their transportation. Of our three students two are blind and one is low vision.  They have to…. we took the financial lit literacy piece and we went to the bank with the students and had them open a debit account so they have to actually manage the money throughout the week.  One of our students actually ran out of money, or was close to running out of money, he had to go to the grocery store.  So it gave him that understanding of, we have got to balance our money, how is this going to look at the end of the week.  He had to figure out what could he purchase, and what he went to the grocery store to buy his lunches, he forgot to buy lunch bags, so it’s simple things you know the kind of things we take for granted, that’s how we focused our grant for these students.  We actually are working to develop multiple work based learning sites, our students don’t always get to access the work based learning programs with their schools.  We are looking at the no- traditional approach, we have done after school, we have done weekends.  The other piece is to help our students access those career pathways within the schools.  One of the other things we did was, in one of our school districts, our students weren’t able to really compete and keep up with the welding    program that they had.  And at the end, they have to take a test so they can get a credential or certification, which we all know will help them lead to successful employment.  And in the State of Georgia being a welder is a great thing, it pays a really good salary.  So what we did is, we developed a proposal for the school with the intent that we would actually pay for the tutor, but the school liked the proposal so much that they went ahead and paid for the tutor.  We put a tutor in the classroom who focused on our students and actually helped our students to be able to compete and keep up with the welding program.  We put a welding instructor in there that was retired out in the community and those students have graduated with the    credential and now moving to employment.

Rick:  You’ve been so successful getting into the schools, and that’s not always the case in some situations.  You referred to Wina as your secret weapon and so we called her and we are going to play this clip about what she had to say about her relationship with you.

Wina:  Shelly is very kind if she is describing me as her secret weapon.   We have really heightened the awareness of the available services through the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, we have created an excitement, we’ve made sure that the local school districts know, this is an essential component to effective transition for students.  We just hosted best practices panel with over 300 people in attendance last week, and two districts really lauded GVRA as why their students were moving forward and increasing their graduation rate.    So, you know what better testimony to know that that’s the progress we are making through the short number of years and the forward progress of the E3 Grant.

Rick: When you get the schools to say those kinds of things about VR, you’ve really made some inroads so congratulations, tell us about some of the exciting things you are doing with social media.

Shelly:  What is unique to our grant is that we also have a social media technologist, and she is extremely amazing. We have developed an E3 website.  When we were doing our development, we really wanted to get away from that governmental look and want to reach the students where they are.  We all know our kids are got their heads in the phone and social media.  That really what’s attracting them.

Rick:  What did you say to me the other day, we have gotten away from the government uggh!


Shelly:  We wanted to be able to attract our students.  We have the GVRA website, but we know our students are not going to go and look there.  So our E3 website we are still building it out and it houses some items and things that could be of interest to the students as well as to their parents.  The other really unique thing is that we are in the middle of working with two companies to develop apps that our students will have access to.   One is called tiny monsters- I really like their name and the other one is primal we actually just finished beta testing the first app its called souptastic, in some of the schools.  The kids were so excited when one of our career pathway specialists and media technologist, Tanya Wise, were in there testing it, we did it in little sessions.  And the first group of students, they were like, look, somebody beats my score you have got to come get me, because I want to be number one.  And what the kids don’t realize, we built ways to actually learn things.  There’s some financial literacy in it, we actually looking at building in some job readiness skills, interview skills, social types of things.  And our apps have been very exciting.  I’m excited that we are hoping that we will be able to put it on the website soon and everybody will be able to have access to it for our students.

Rick: The website is E3 Georgia.org.

Shelly: Yes.

Rick: I bet some folks are going to visit that this afternoon.

Shelly:  Remember, we are still building it out, it’s still in its infancy.

Rick:  We are gonna make websites fun again.

Anne:  Shelly, who are some of your partners and what are they doing, what’s the strategic planning at this point?

Shelly:   Our biggest partner has been the Georgia Department of Education, without their collaboration, none of this would have been successful.  They have really worked you know you have your Georgia Department of Education and then you have the local education agencies, so although Georgia DOE says this is great, we want you to do this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the LEAs are going to welcome that.  But they really have for the most part they have embraced us.  We actually had schools that were not part of the district and they came up and said how do we get some of that E3? So right now we are working on bringing it out to all the schools and to be able to provide these services, which are the you know pre-employment transition service to everybody.  And one of our other strategic partners we have had a lot of success with helps us with our employer engagement piece is Poses Family Foundation.  They have been extremely supportive and wonderful. We have an employment engagement liaison under the grant and she works with our business relations unit and the Poses Family Foundation to help us develop those work based learning sites and those internships, apprenticeships and even job shadows.  And that is really important in our model for the Explore piece.    We want to expose our students to as many opportunities to work as we possibly can.  Some of our other…the technical college system in Georgia, and we did a joint training with them, and the joint training was with the adult education.  And that’s where our out of school youth piece really comes in.  We brought in our assistive technology team, they did demonstrations, they did some trainings, and helped their department understand what kind of services and supports we can provide to help the students that they have obtained    credential which is a high school diploma or GED.  And then one of our other exciting partners is parent to parent.  In Georgia, we have parent to parent.  And they actually focus on the parent piece of getting our students out of school and into employment, because we all know if the parents …when the students are young and they are in school and maybe they receive social security benefits, if that parent is not riding along with us, they may lose that at the end and we done all this work and engagement and then the student winds up going home which is not always what the student wants and   it’s not what we want.  So we have partnered, we have seven transition partners in every one of our school districts and they work closely with the school and with our out of school youth and the parents and the counselors that serve those schools.  And last is Burton Blatt institute, they actually helped us develop 8 modules for self-advocacy.  Because what is extremely important to our students, when they leave school, they really, I know a lot of counselors have heard this of about, disability, IEP, I don’t know anything about that.  We want to make sure that our students understand what their disability, how it’s going to affect them in the world of work, how it’s going to affect them in the transition into college, if that is what they choose to do.  We want them to be able to understand that they leave IDEA and they go to ADA, and how it impacts them.  Those have been some of our wonderful strategic partners we are really excited to have them on board.

Rick:  Incredible things going on in Georgia, it’s such a pleasure to hear about that. But we are reaching the time when we have to move on.

Anne: Absolutely.  Before we get into questions from our audience, Steve Wooderson from CVSAVR, is with us today.  Steve, so much of what we have discussing with CPID seems to support vision 20/20, and there is a microphone right there.  If you wouldn’t mind sharing some of your thoughts with us.

Steve:   It really is an opportunity for us to reflect on where we are with Vision   20/20.  We established the intent for this particular conference, we wanted to be sure that we saw deliverables post WIOA, and I think it’s very clear that, with the pathways project, you are seeing that today.  When we reflect on vision 20/20, almost everything that I think of is through that vision, or through lens.  Our objective is to affirm and build upon and promote the foundational principles in the vocational rehabilitation program and that’s exactly what we have heard today from all of our presentations.  I want to mention a couple things that I heard, that speak to those principles if it’s okay with you all for just a moment.  Our first principle, VR mission driven and dual customer focused, and Janet, when you talked about the back skill and up skill, that’s a foundational principle of what we do, be able to the evidence of your project and how it’s impacted lives on both sides, individuals with disabilities and business customers as well.  Our second principle VR leads change with innovative and cutting edge practice.  I ran out of room on my paper, of all the examples that I heard from the panel today.  But Helga talking about the career pathway counselors, and how you really retooled and were able to be creative in the way you deliver services and the hands on piece with the work that’s been done with the consumer.  The social media piece, that’s absolutely crazy stuff.  For me, I don’t get it.  I don’t know that I will ever get it.  For those that do get it, that is cool stuff.  It’s by kids for kids.  And that really is absolutely exciting.  VR customizes services to meet the needs of individuals and business customers.  You know Joe you talked about the VMA, embedding inside their shop   and us being able to understand their needs and us being able to understand and tailor the services we deliver in order for our consumers to meet those needs.  The welding in Georgia, how you worked through project search, understand from the school system, worked through DOE all that fits in so well.  And the last principle, VR creates partnerships to maximize resources and opportunities.  Partnerships is an area we want to continue to build upon in our community, and I can’t say it any better than Helga, it’s not a hard sell.  It’s not a hard sell to be able to bring people in to into the fold to understand.  So, for me, it was an affirmation to hear the work that’s being done across the country.  It clearly helps us communicate vision 20/20.  So, it’s been an absolute delight to hear and to be part of it and I’m   really thankful to be a part of the work that’s being done out in the Field.  Thank you.

Rick: Thank you, Steve Wooderson for those words of wisdom.  You mentioned social media, and my new best friend Danielle Guest is right down here, you heard her appeal to the masses yesterday about the new Twitter handle for the NET, that @theNETeam and so please, send out those tweets about what is going on here this morning.  You can also tag me @rickwwrc and @csavr  …….keep those tweets a-coming.  And we are so excited about the social media, I think revolution that’s really occurring around VR, and the messages that we offer, the powerful messages of disability employment.  Before we get into the final reflections from our expert panelist, we want to open up the floor for any questions.  Anne has a mic, just come on down and we will entertain your questions.

Jonathan Bibb:   I’m Jonathan Bibb of Arkansas General first of all I want to thank you Anne and thank you Rick for what they are doing, this is an incredible platform to share courageous stories about our VR consumers, it’s an incredible platform.  Hearing from their own words and their emotion and struggles but also their successes and how powerful that is so thank you so much for that platform that you have and the sharing across the country.  Can you explain or share some of the challenges and successes that you have had specifically with assistive technology and how that’s being received by business partners and being incorporated into a strategy for business engagement in your states?

Rick:  We will start with Joe.

Joe:  Thank you Jonathan, I would say what we have done around assistive technology is do a lot to make the businesses aware of that through VMA we are also doing the same thing around the IT industry and making sure they are where we are.  If it means I have to be at the Ritz Carrolton at 7:30 in the morning for a plated breakfast with 500 of my closest friends, we’ll be there.  We have been able to do the assistive technology, it’s bringing in and having them ask questions, we also had the opportunity to put it in the classrooms and be sure that the technology is going to work.  This includes behavioral supports-positive behavioral supports is a technology that we are also including.  But when we take it and follow up with the assistive technology specialists we have, out into the businesses, and checking on the accommodations of the business place, we are following it to be sure everything is working.  What we are finding is that they are very much open to this.  And they keep asking questions.  Some of the stuff that we have done, incorporated into their operations, so, that’s the thing that we think is going to be the word of mouth that will open some more doors for us.

Rick:  Anyone else on the panel, Helga?

Helga:  Project CASE has done two employer outreach events and one of them we did in Louisville and it was called “Workplace Accommodations High and Low Tech.” Or something along those lines.  We keep having more ideas about how to spread the word even more about what accommodations can do in the workplace.  The grant also produced a video – a three series video on workplace accommodations and one of those is one of our consumers from Office for the Blind who uses screen enlargement.  She is also a service representative, and she has a very complicated job and uses different screens, different platforms and different software and the video that we created interviews her and her supervisor and the technology specialist and    just showing how it works, how it can work.  But moving forward I’m excited to think about the prospect of how we can make this even more hands on.  When I saw the apprenticeship conference we did and how interested people were in the technology itself, and showing that any job, practically, is accomplishable if you get the right technology in place.  Employers were really   interested and they had lots of questions.

Rick: Any other questions from our audience?  Okay.  Ann, if we can get back up here at the control board, we are going to get reflections from our panelists and we will start with Janet.

Janet:  First of all I’d like to thank RSA for the opportunity for this grant. This has been awesome its really allowed us to try new things, I feel like we are really going to be able to sustain this grant just because we are doing so much with those employers to help educate them on disabilities. The goal of this grant is really about education when I listen to this whole panel its educating parents and students about career pathways, educating our community partners and its educating businesses about technology about what VR does   about disabilities.  So I think it’s education for all of us up here about what each other is doing and what is going to benefit for us.  Helga, just recently was just tell me when they did their ADA section 503 training, the made it CRC accredited for HR Directors, (Rick: and we all love those) Janet:  And that is what we are going to do next time.  We keep learning things from each other.

Rick: Final Thoughts Shelly?

Shelly:  This has been a wonderful opportunity for our students in the State of Georgia.  We have been able to look a little bit outside of the box as well as inside the box to see how we can expand their ability to engage in those pathways…..to kind of….  our project search is one of the first of its kind.  And what we did is, we actually brought in an O and M instructor from our agency that was contracted with as well as our AWT team   and that helped the schools see where they are really not providing intensive instruction and preparation the student’s need.  They were very shocked and they want to see how we can actually bring our staff over and do a collaborative training, because they thought their students were ready to go when they graduated.  And just these three students in this one site has shown them that they are really not.

Rick:  I know you are very proud of that. (Shelly: very.)  Rick: We have just a couple minutes. So final thoughts Joe and Helga.

Helga:   I think that one thing that I have learned from this grant and ditto what Janet said, thank you RSA for the opportunity to bringing a career pathways focus to Kentucky. Many of the individuals that have been referred to us, when I look at all the stories of the pathway coordinators and who are you serving and what are these consumers like a lot of them we have already helped through the process of education, the education was accessible but after their graduation, they need that extra push to actually have a job using their degree.  I think that is some important.  We can’t let that slip by. I found a statistic from just a year ago from the Department of Labor that only 26 percent of individuals with disabilities who have a bachelor’s degree are in the workforce, compared to 76% for individuals who do not have a disability.  (Rick: That is amazing) Helga:  So there is something going on there. (Rick: You are doing great work)

Rick:  Joe se have to finish up – Joe take us home with any final thoughts Dr. Ashley.

Joe: Yes, thank you.  I agree with the other panelists about the opportunity that RSA gave us to be creative and to challenge us in using our workforce partners, do the alignments we need to do and that been exciting, but another alignment in our own state, I want to thank our DBVI     this is the first the two agencies in Virginia have gone together on a grant and we are working very closely together to make sure the opportunities extends across all of our clientele in Virginia.  It’s been an exciting collaboration, and that in and of itself we have learned from each other and have had opportunities to have clients in the same place at the same time.  And it’s amazing what one can learn from that and we’ve been pretty excited about that.  The whole thing has been a really good move for us and I do want to thank RSA for this opportunity to be creative

Anne: Well its been a great show.  We want to thank Commissioner Dobak, Steve, our panelists, CPID, all of our friends who called in, Kasey, David, Wina, Rose, Brett from VMA and of course Felipe from RSA.  You can always find inspiring success stories highlighting our VR consumers, employers and partners at vrworkforcestudio.com with a new episode as every month.  Until next time I’m Rick Sizemore (Anne: and I’m Anne Hudlow) with the Courageous Stories of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Rick: Be sure to visit us at vrworkforcestudio.com.  Keep the tweets coming and we will see you later.


VR workforce studio inspiration, education, and affirmation at work the workforce and disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation services. The VR Workforce Studio is published by our foundation at www.rcf.org and is available in iTunes and at vrworkforcestudio.com.  Support for the Foundation’s production and distribution of the VR Workforce Studio comes from CVS Health, Dominion Power, Virginia Manufacture’s Association, Jessie Ball-DuPont Fund, and AmeriCare Plus.