VR helps fill the talent pipeline in a veteran-owned business.
The Phillip Connor-Intercon story
Speaker 1: VR Workforce Studio.
Speaker 2: VR Workforce Studio. Inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 3: Listen to our amazing stories about the disability employment journey.
Speaker 4: Hear us describe our pathway through the challenge.
Speaker 5: And feel the joy and share in our inspiration as we go to work.
Speaker 2: We’ll also meet the champions of business and industry who hire individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 6: I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 2: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now, here is the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore, along with the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Anne Hudlow.
Speaker 7: Four, three, two, one.
Anne Hudlow: On today’s episode of the VR Workforce Studio, we welcome Phillip Connor, a manufacturing tech who works for Intercon. We’ll hear his story of overcoming the obstacles to employment through vocational rehabilitation. Truly an amazing story about the partnership between business, VR and a very talented young man with a disability, who’s proven to be a fabulous employee.
Rick Sizemore: That’s right. Intercon’s HR manager also joins us with his reflections on Phillip’s career at Intercon and how VR is helping them sustain their workforce. Later on the show, Cheri Takemoto with the National Clearinghouse update, and we’re getting lots of listener feedback about how much listeners love Cheri’s updates about National Clearinghouse, truly the most comprehensive place you can go to have access to the latest news and information on vocational rehabilitation.
Anne Hudlow: And really excited about having Danni Guest with us today.
Rick Sizemore: Danni Guest!
Anne Hudlow: Yes, she’s our friend. She does social media for CSAVR. Make sure you stick around for some exciting news about how you can get more involved in VR through CSAVR and their constant stream of really compelling and inspiring social media.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Anne, tell us about Intercon.
Anne Hudlow: Okay, Rick. Intercon is a highly celebrated veteran-owned business that manufacturers cable and wire harness assemblies among an extraordinary array of other focused initiatives. Intercon is known for its high quality and rapid turnaround, which requires a highly skilled workforce.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s why we’re here, to talk with Phillip, who’s part of that workforce, about his job at Intercon, his career pathway through vocational rehabilitation, and how his training here at Wilson Workforce prepared him to excel at Intercon. Also joined by Nate Mahanes. Hi, Nate, how are you?
Nate Mahanes: Hi, I’m doing well, and yourself?
Rick Sizemore: Cool. And to top it off, we have David Brandt from Intercon with us to give us the business perspective on vocational rehabilitation. Welcome, David.
David Brandt: Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: All right, well, let’s get the show started. We welcome Phillip, who’s on the phone from New Jersey this morning. Had to catch him while he was on vacation.
Phillip: Hi, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Phillip, tell us about your job at Intercon. What are you doing there?
Phillip: Well, Rick, my job entails doing a lot of prepping cables for the other teams to build, whether it’s for companies like Fanuc, Hughes or others, what my job entails is measuring each table after it’s cut to figure out how much of the jacket needs to be taken off, and from there, I would work on getting the jackets taken off on both ends. I work on what is called cutbacks, which is how much the wire needs to be cut, whether you have six colored wires or-
Rick Sizemore: So this is right on the floor, building cable assemblies.
Phillip: That is correct.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about your experience in vocational rehabilitation.
Phillip: In the past, I’ve had problems. I’ve had struggles whether it’s studying for tests or staying focused on the task at hand, but then through that process, I realized that I needed someone to work on side me, whether it was Nate Mahanes or Ron Simmons from the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, to help me through that process, through high school and then on to the manufacturing technology program at WWRC.
Rick Sizemore: So what did you learn in MTT, and what kinds of supports or accommodations did you have that helped you prepare for this job at Intercon?
Phillip: That’s an excellent question. Some of the things I’ve learned from Steve Sweeney and Jim Leech were electricity, all the aspects of what would it take to work in manufacturing field, to, I would say, through the testing process as well. For example, when I was part of taking a manufacturing specialist and manufacturing technician I test, pretty much there were a lot of the questions around different topics, from spatial reasoning to thermodynamics, and some of the questions on the test can be tricky, but then you have to remember to go back into the question and remember what you actually learned.
Rick Sizemore: So let’s talk about the job. Is it a good fit for you? The job at Intercon? Is it a good fit for the training you’ve had, and in consideration of your disability, is it a good fit for you?
Phillip: For me personally, Rick, it is an excellent fit for me, because I work with a phenomenal team at Intercon. The people there treat me like family. Whenever we have one person ask me to go get something, whether it’s at the floor or upstairs, no issues following instructions from my supervisor.
Rick Sizemore: So it’s working out well.
Phillip: It is working out really well.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let’s ask David. Tell us a little bit about Intercon and Phillip.
David Brandt: We have been in business for over 30 years, located in Forest, Virginia, and Phillip has done an excellent job. He does all the little things. He’s very valuable to our company, just extremely dependable, upbeat, positive guy. When he says that he’s become family, he really has. He has really immersed himself in our culture. He’s just very valuable. So thankful that we’re able to have him on our team.
Rick Sizemore: You know, I did a little research on Intercon, and everything you look at, what comes out as a priority for Intercon is high quality, attention to detail. You’re making some parts that might wind up in an airplane or who knows where. These are critical components that are being constructed, so how does that factor in to hiring someone like Phillip?
David Brandt: Well, there’s a lot of attention to detail. We have over 35,000 different cable assemblies and wire harnesses that we can build, and he was able to pick it up. The big thing, he’s a hard worker. He wanted to learn more. He was interested in the process, interested in what we do, and being veteran owned we do a lot of military work, a lot of other industries. I think we take a lot of pride in the type of work that we do, and where it ultimately goes to, our customer base.
Rick Sizemore: Have you had to offer any accommodations to Phillip in order to reach that quality standard?
David Brandt: We have not. I think the program here at WWRC was excellent. It prepared him great, and he’s just a valuable teammate. He does everything that we ask of him, and he was well prepared coming in the door.
Rick Sizemore: So Phillip, what are you most excited about in terms of your career now that you’ve got your foot in the door and you’ve gotten yourself established? Where do you see this career pathway taking you in the future in manufacturing?
Phillip: I can see myself working in manufacturing. The reason why I say that is because not only does my family and I love and support the military, we always love to give back. They have done for our country and for our freedom.
Rick Sizemore: So it sounds like an absolutely perfect fit for you on a personal level and an occupational level as well. Well, a lot of what drives the vocational rehabilitation program in this country are we now refer to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which amends the Rehab Act of ’73, so we’re focused on really six core goals. One of them that’s near and dear to me is business engagement, and Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services has folks like Nate that pulls all the pieces together. The training that’s going on here, folks like Phillip who are trying to find a job and great companies like Intercon. What’s your take on all of this, Nate?
Nate Mahanes: First, it’s a pleasure to be a part of the journey for an individual that we serve, both the individual with a disability who’s looking to gain skill sets to get into the work world, and our business partners to find out what their needs are, what are the specifics of the jobs that they’re looking to hire, but also what are the specifics of their company culture? Their unique workforce? So the joy for me is being able to play matchmaker a lot of times, and that’s where in this situation, things came together so beautifully. I had worked with Phillip for a number of years, know him personally, after all that time, and I know his likes, his dislikes, his aptitudes, and David and I met about a year and a half ago through our local SHRM chapter, the Society for Human Resource Management, and I got to meet David, learn about his company, come over and tour Intercon and see not only what they do, but how they do it and who’s doing it.
Nate Mahanes: Over a course of probably six to eight months, while Phillip was doing his training, David and I were communicating with each other and just talking about how this might be a good match. Phillip matching up with the culture of their company, as well as being able to have the technical skills to come in and do the work that they do. That was one of the things that was a beautiful partnership and that’s just an example of the role that the business development managers have, is to learn about the business, learn about the job seeker, and to try to play matchmaker between, so that you find all those little small pieces that’ll fit together.
Rick Sizemore: So we’ll put you on the spot, Dave. Sometimes employers and businesses, they’re reluctant to engage what I believe is really a quality talent pipeline, because they’d just not done that before. Had Intercon employed individuals with disabilities before Phillip?
David Brandt: Not as much, and when I learned about the program and everything that Phillip had gone through with WWRC, it felt like a great fit. I wanted to give them an opportunity, and had no issues. I was excited for him to come work for us, and to partner with Nate and DARS and WWRC to build a pipeline and another avenue as far as our recruiting an hiring.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’re an example of what we seek in terms of WIOA business engagement. That’s very exciting, but what fears did you have going into this in terms of bringing Phillip on, having a person with a disability?
David Brandt: Just trying to find a good fit, both for the employee and for us. We have people that have come to work for us and it hasn’t been a good fit, regardless, take disability out of the equation, so we wanted to just give an opportunity and it has worked great. I’d do it 100 times more. I have a great relationship with Nate and I look forward to any other opportunities that we have to bring on more people to come work for Intercon.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Phillip, what kind of reservations did you have going in to the plant the first time? When you saw you had the training and you see this great opportunity, what kind of fears did you have to overcome to take this opportunity and this challenge on?
Phillip: That’s a really good question, Rick. Some of the fears and challenges that I’ve had to overcome since before working at Intercon, what kind of cable was I going to be working with?
Rick Sizemore: So maybe you’re concerned about what the reaction would be to you?
Rick Sizemore: Because it’s obviously going pretty well, so what steps did you take to find this good fit and get yourself integrated into such a great company?
Phillip: One of the steps I took going into the process is starting out through working for a temp agency, for example, Elwood, and then working for them for a 90-day probation period, and then after that process, getting hired on full time with Intercon. So pretty much for me, it was a really perfect opportunity for me to try different fields of work that I haven’t done before.
Rick Sizemore: The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act gauges us, Wilson Workforce, and other VR agencies on the salary, the wages, that Phillip is gonna earn, and that’s not just initially, but over time, so I’ll ask you. Are you making a living wage, Phillip? Are you able to make enough money to support yourself?
Phillip: I am. I am.
Rick Sizemore: Able to sustain the life you want to live on that salary and benefits package?
Rick Sizemore: Nate, maybe, if you could give us a little more on how you help in this process to make sure there’s a smooth transition for a person who has some reluctance about going to work. This is their first job, they have a disability, how do you help create that pathway to a place where everybody’s feeling like this is a good arrangement?
Nate Mahanes: Well, as I mentioned before, one of the things that I do is get to know the skills, abilities, and interests of the individual who’s the job seeker, and then learning about the company and learning what their specific needs are for employee skills and the match of the culture of that company. That’s a big part of the matchmaking. It’s not just the hard skills, it’s the soft skills. A lot of employers will say, especially for entry level employment, that if you can be dependable, if you can be a hard worker, if you want to work, they can train you. Now in this area, in manufacturing, there are some specific technical skills that this program certainly helps to train people up quite a bit to prepare them for that, but on the employer side of things, the most important part is getting out there to let them know the skill sets that our job seekers are learning, so providing them with an overview of what the manufacturing technical training program involves so that they can see, here’s a skill set that they’re learning, and how that matches up specifically to the skill set that you need in your workforce for these technical type jobs.
Nate Mahanes: That’s a big part of it, and I know this is cliché, but I like to say like a lot of others do, the biggest part of my job is to be a shipbuilder, and I’m building relationships. Relationship between the individual who’s the job seeker and that relationship with the employer, to say here are two people that I know that I have relationships with and that that’s allowed me to determine that they would be a good match. They would have a good relationship amongst the two of them, and then I play matchmaker and kind of put them together, and sometimes there needs to be a little bit more involvement as far as pushing along the process and preparing for accommodations, sometimes providing any type of technical assistance and incentives that our agency can bring to bear on behalf of the job seeker to help the employer best accommodate them and get them into the workforce. Other times, it’s just you bring the people together, and I get to step back and kind of watch the magic happen, and this is a really good example of that. I knew of my previous experiences with Phillip, and I knew after meeting David, learning about the company, taking a tour of the company, and David learning about not only our agency, but WWRC and this specific training program, he knew that-
Rick Sizemore: We had a match.
Nate Mahanes: That they were a match, so he was excited about meeting Phillip. So in this case I was just able to say, when he gets done on Friday, we want to have him in front of you Monday or Tuesday of the following week.
Rick Sizemore: Hit the ground running.
Nate Mahanes: And I just kind of step back and go, “This is wonderful.”
Rick Sizemore: So much of the conversation in the current vocational rehabilitation environment, and I think in disability employment in general, focuses on the worker, not the disability, so this question’s for all three of you. What type of a new environment are we in with a focus on the work and the skills of the person, and not so much on the fact that they have a disability?
David Brandt: For Phillip and learning everything, all the skill set that he’s been through with WWRC, it’s pretty incredible the program that you all have. The disability wasn’t even really a factor. I knew that he was coming in with all this experience, a lot more experience than a lot of our other workers that we hire come through, and the disability wasn’t really a factor. I knew that we could come with reasonable accommodations if needed, and I just wanted to give, after building a relationship with Nate, learning more about the program, just give that an opportunity, see if it is really a great fit, and it definitely was. Very happy with Phillip, I hope he has a long career at Intercon.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Phillip, how does it make you feel as a person with a disability to know that we’re in an environment where there’s much more focus on your skill level than on your disability?
Phillip: Under the job itself, it’s an excellent fit. I would say another thing is that from my parents on this. I would say they were overwhelmed when I found out that after the interview process with Intercon, that I was gonna get hired on with the company, and pretty much for me it’s a real blessing.
Rick Sizemore: So much of what we hear today is that the environment in the manufacturing setting is so different than what many people expect. What’s it like an Intercon, Dave?
David Brandt: It’s definitely blue collar work. It’s fast paced, quick turn, we have lofty goals that we’ve had the best first quarter that we’ve ever had. We’re booming right now, and it is exciting, but at the same time, we have a lot of fun. Phillip, earlier this month, was singing karaoke at our employee appreciation day.
Rick Sizemore: We need a little of that in there.
David Brandt: He’s always just fun, upbeat, he’s just got a great personality. He brightens everybody’s day, and the thing about Intercon is you really do become family. The thing I love about Intercon and working for a company is that I love the people that we have there, just good, quality people that care about one another.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah.
David Brandt: There are so many manufacturing companies in our area, definitely in the central Virginia area. I think it’s a great career. There’s a lot of opportunities and definitely give it a shot. There’s plenty of opportunities and plenty of different skill sets that you can learn, different jobs in particular in manufacturing, that you can pursue, and you can find your niche and what you ultimately like and want to make a career out of.
Rick Sizemore: David Brandt, HR Manager at Intercon, so delighted to have you on our podcast today. Thank you for being here.
David Brandt: Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Nate Mahanes, the always fun and exciting business development manager, who is doing miraculous things all across the region and the state, sending this message of disability employment, nice to have you on the podcast today, my friend.
Nate Mahanes: Absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: And Phillip, on the phone from vacation, what a commitment you’ve made to us today to be part of the podcast. Thank you again for the work you’re doing at Intercon and the messages that you are sharing on behalf of people with disabilities.
Phillip: Thank you Rick. It was a pleasure to be part of the podcast.
Anne Hudlow: Up next is Cheri Takemoto from RSA’s National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. Cheri, our listeners love your reports. How are you?
Cheri Takemoto: I’m doing great.
Rick Sizemore: What did you think of Phillip’s interview?
Cheri Takemoto: I love the examples that you offer on this podcast, and I think Phillip is a great example about how someone might not be able to just walk on to a job in manufacturing and might not even like it, but by going through the manufacturing technology training or MTT, he had an opportunity to try things out and saw that it was something he liked, and by getting the certificate, he demonstrated that he has what it takes to do the job.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us what’s going on with this new customized training toolkit.
Cheri Takemoto: Sure. The job-driven vocational rehabilitation technical assistance center, that we call the JDVRTAC, has many, many resources in the customized training toolkit, and I just like the way that they’ve put together so many things that are possible, and it’s important to think about possibilities. When Pete was in high school, he went through an assessment to see what it is that he’d be able to do when he got out of high school, and that assessment said that possibly someone with his range of skills would be able to work about one third of minimum wage when he got out of school.
Rick Sizemore: That had to be disappointing.
Cheri Takemoto: Oh, that was super disappointing, but it was also the kick in the behind to get going on looking for other opportunities, so I looked for things that might be possible for Pete and his friend Salvador in the produce department of Safeway when we were shopping started with “Hey, why don’t you just have him stay here while you go shopping?” And pretty soon, it was “Why don’t you just drop him off, come back in a couple hours, and we’ll see how he does.” And they finally, he said, “You know, when he’s 16, he’s gonna have a job here.” But given his limitations, I thought that job might be something like greeting or handing out samples, but Salvador said, “No, he needs to work in a real job and be able to do the things that everybody else in the courtesy clerk position does.”
Cheri Takemoto: So that was my own informal OJT for Pete, but right now, people don’t have to go through that anymore. There’s so many promising practices available, so much of what’s possible, and it seems like the only limitations out there in the vocational rehabilitation world is a lack of creativity and determination to break the barriers of employment, and that’s barriers both on the side of potential workers and potential employers.
Rick Sizemore: What a fabulous story, though, as we look back at how far we’ve come and all the new opportunities that are out there right now.
Cheri Takemoto: They have offered all kinds of promising practices out there, things going on at Walgreen’s, Starbucks, CVS. Connecticut has a program, a partnership with precision metalworking companies like some of the places that you have partnerships with, but they also have a casino training program.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, really?
Anne Hudlow: Oh, wow
Cheri Takemoto: Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: That’s amazing. You’ve got a new newsletter.
Cheri Takemoto: Yes. The newsletter features all of these, and one of the things, if you want to see what else is going on out there, pay attention to the customized training toolkit and take a look at the national index link that has a map of the U.S. highlighting all the wonderful things going on out there, and then we hope that people go and start implementing this, and the links to the implementation guides and other resources are there in the newsletter.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s always pleasure to hear from you, Cheri.
Anne Hudlow: Cheri, thank you for joining us again today.
Cheri Takemoto: Thank you.
Anne Hudlow: We are so fortunate to welcome our good friend from CSAVR, Danni Guest, who does their social media. Welcome, Danni.
Danni Guest: Hello.
Anne Hudlow: So great to have you here. You know, the work that you are doing to help us tell the vocational rehabilitation story is really, really impressive. Tell us about your success.
Danni Guest: I’ve been through the vocational rehabilitation system myself as a young woman with a disability. I was able to find my way into vocational rehabilitation, and meet up with Kathy West-Evans, who really encouraged me to utilize the talents that she knew that I could create and help out with CSAVR as a national employment team, and we’ve truly been able to work as a team together to promote both missions, and we like to work very closely in promoting social media, which is something that I really enjoy. I think she caught on to that as soon as we met and started talking. She knew that that was kind of a passion that I had, so it’s really been great working for CSAVR. I’m actually coming up on my second year now, so it’s just been a dream job and dream people to work with.
Rick Sizemore: Why should the vocational rehabilitation community get involved with CSAVR social media?
Danni Guest: The social media is a great aspect, and a tool that we can use to provide these success stories, and it’s really been one of my favorite parts about being a part of this whole situation, is being able to read the success stories and see what kind of people are attaining employment, what kind of businesses, the different types of jobs and kind of give people an idea of what vocational rehabilitation is. We think that there’s kind of a mystery revolving around vocational rehabilitation. Some people hear the words and they don’t even know what vocational rehabilitation actually does, what we provide, and the success stories are really the best way to show the community at large, this is what we can do for you, and the success stories, personally, like I said, I love reading them. I love posting them, and our social media has just grown and evolved so quickly that we’re almost getting more stories than we can handle, but the fortunate thing is we never can have too much success when it comes to VR, so the more stories that we have, the better, in my opinion.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, absolutely. Well, where can our listeners find you and CSAVR’s social media channels?
Danni Guest: CSAVR is a little bit easier to find on social media. Our acronym is pretty unique, so our Facebook is Facebook.com/CSAVR, and Twitter, where we probably are most active, is Twitter.com/CSAVR. As far as the net is concerned, we also have a Facebook and Twitter page. The NET is going to be Facebook/com/thenationalemploymentteam, spelled out, and the Twitter handle is @thenetteam, for the NET Twitter page. (See Contacts above for live links)
Anne Hudlow: Well, that’s great, Danni. We will list all that contact information and the links to the information we’ve discussed on today’s podcast in the show notes at VRWorkforceStudio.com, and Danni, we want to thank you so much for joining us today.
Danni Guest: Thank you guys so much for helping us spread the message about what CSAVR can do for the dual customer. We really appreciate your partnership with us.
Rick Sizemore: All the best to you and the team at CSAVR, Danni, we’ll see you soon.
Danni Guest: Thank you so much, we’ll see you soon.
Anne Hudlow: We thank you for being with us for another episode of the VR Workforce Studio. Special thanks to all of our partners in podcasting for help with today’s show. Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, CVS Health, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Virginia Manufacturers Association, Dominion Energy, the Valley to Virginia Grant, the Hershey Company, and the Community Foundation.
Rick Sizemore: Again, thanks for joining us. Don’t forget to visit VRWorkforceStudio.com, where you can sign up for our email alerts. We’ll let you know every time there’s a new podcast episode posted on the site. It means the world to us that you joined us to learn about the exciting things that are going on in VR here at Wilson Workforce. If you’d like to get more involved with the show, visit us at VRWorkforceStudio.com. Well, until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Anne Hudlow: And I’m Anne Hudlow with the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.
Support for the WWRC Foundation’s production and distribution and of the VR Podcast comes from CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Virginia Manufacture’s Association, the Jesse Ball DuPont Fund and AmeriCare Plus.