Episode 95 VR Workforce Studio
You can do it! Shane Williams discusses his VR Journey and Dale (DD) Batten talks about the new energy and excitement with our national partners.
Please note: Shane Williams was on leave temporarily on May 1, 2020, during the time episode 95 was published.
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Shane Williams: And you just do your best, do what’s within you. You can do it, all right? You can do it. You have it within you. It’s within you to succeed.
Announcer: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to Episode 95 of the VR Workforce Studio. Now this is the point in the show where I normally say, “And in our big inspiration showcase today,” but, as a good friend of mine says, “Let’s pump the brakes,” because I have a really important question for you. How are you?
Rick Sizemore: Now, I’m not asking you if you look happy and well adjusted, even satisfied, in your LinkedIn profile, or how good you look on social media, but how are you? Right now, you might be in your car, or on a walk with your earbuds in, at your desk, but give me, or at least yourself, an honest answer. How are you?
Rick Sizemore: And yes, I’d love to know. Drop me an e-mail, because a recent study from the University of Chicago says people are the unhappiest they’ve been in the past 50 years.
Rick Sizemore: You can scroll through a quick Google search, and find at least a thousand reasons that would cause me to ask you if you’re okay. But let me tell you about a text that I got this morning. This is from a key executive who happens to be close friend of mine, who had just finished a three-day online conference.
Rick Sizemore: Now the text is very telling, somewhat perplexing, and this is after years of going to the same conference annually, in person. I’m paraphrasing, but this is what the text said.
Rick Sizemore: “The sessions and the panels were profoundly better, richer in content, and delivered in an excellent way.” Now the text stream goes on, and it concludes, “The last thing anyone wants to do is be involved in another Zoom.” We’re in a different world, aren’t we? The complexities of life, social and racial tensions, unrest, technology gobbling up more and more of our lives, politics, the pandemic?
Rick Sizemore: I’m starting the podcast this way, because it’s all connected to how we show up for, or maybe log into, and how we feel about our work. Just walking around and hearing the stories about how people are not okay, in so many ways, has a profound effect on how we feel about our work, especially for those of us who work in public service, and even vocational rehabilitation.
Rick Sizemore: So today is all about taking a few minutes to refocus. Dale Batten joins us to talk about some of the energy, new ideas and exciting developments at the national level, and it’s, well, Mental Health Month. And so we’re going to meet, in our big inspiration showcase, Shane Williams.
Rick Sizemore: Now he’s a guy who has faced numerous obstacles on his journey to employment. So if you’d like to get refocused, let’s take a page from Shane’s playbook, sit back, soak in some of what he has to say about being patient, moving forward. Welcome to our podcast, Shane Williams.
Shane Williams: All right.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let’s get started talking about your job. Tell us what you do, and what your average day is like on the job.
Shane Williams: Currently, I’m a supervisor, Terminal Management Specialists with the Office of State Superintendent, the DOT Department, in Washington, DC. My daily job function is basically the safe and the timely transportation of special needs students within the District of Columbia, it’s a nice job, and I’m very much comfortable with what I’m doing.
Rick Sizemore: It’s an amazing job in a complex system, taking care of special needs students. Tell us a little bit about your career pathway through vocational rehabilitation.
Shane Williams: I was introduced to the DARS Job Club, which is located in Alexandra, Virginia.
Rick Sizemore: Job clubs are a really important step for people on their career pathway but they come in all shapes and sizes….what happened in your job club Shane?
Shane Williams: What they basically did was drill you on the correct and most efficient means to seek and gain the confidence of employers, recruiters, and interviewers. It was more like a preparatory stage. It focused on dressing for success, having an elevator speech that draws the attention of job recruiters and interviewers, the correct means and method of job searching, resume writing.
Rick Sizemore: So I’m curious about the level of challenge, every circumstance is different…did you feel like you were just going with the flow or was this a mountain top type challenge for you.
Shane Williams: Basically, the Job Club set a very high standard, and you had to be prepared and ready to receive and accept constructive criticism, as well as great encouragement to move forward.
Rick Sizemore: So Shane did it work.…did the club get you to a point where you were ready to go out and tackle the world?
Shane Williams: Everything basically worked hand in hand. It was a great and a tremendous experience, at the time I was there, at the Job Club, with all the different counselors and the representative.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s excellent. We’ve heard from guests on this show about the success of the Job Club, and it sounds like the job club was effective in helping you find the job that you have now.
Shane Williams: Exactly. Yes, it definitely was the means and the avenue for me to gain my current employment.
Rick Sizemore: I’m curious what it’s like. You say you have to be willing to give and receive feedback. That’s sometimes a challenge in a group setting like that. What was it like for you, when people were giving you feedback and encouragement?
Shane Williams: Well, I’m going to say it was tough at times, because, sometime, you have to be on your A-1 game.
Rick Sizemore: A1 Game so what did it look like when you were on your A1 game?
Shane Williams: What it really did, it made you made all the relevant adjustments in order to be successful. It brought you up to par, in terms of being a candidate.
Rick Sizemore: So Shane let’s hear about some of the adjustments and how you made them.
Shane Williams: What you basically did was, take those constructive criticism, all right, and you analyzed it. What I basically do is, made all the relevant in adjustment to my elevator speech, my resume update, my resume, made sure that every job that I applied for, that my education, background and my skill set go hand in hand with my application.
Rick Sizemore: Now that is tough…when you have to sit down with a group of people and pick apart every little detail….and rebuild your “basically your employability”
Shane Williams: It was challenging, there were other members who were there also, there were different recruiters who were there, and sometimes, you may not be on your A game, but you just take that up to get better. So it was not a one-time resolution. You had to, every week, you try to do better and better and better, until you get to the level whereby you will be qualified, and well enhanced to move forward, things that they really drill within you.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you went through this process with the Job Club, and it polished you up, right to the place where you were ready to move into the workforce. How long did it take from the time you started the Job Club, until you were hired down in DC?
Shane Williams: Well, I started on the Job Club in the month of June of 2016, and I was hired in the month of March 2018. So it took a while, but during that time, yes, the economy was a little bit tough, but things were starting to get better, in terms of the job market. And it was very, very competitive.
Shane Williams: I had to wait the wait, but the opportunity presented itself, and I was able to get in board.
Rick Sizemore: So you are in the job club you are analyzing and polishing but at some point this has to become real and you have to apply for a job tell us about how that happened for you.
Shane Williams: Thank you very much again to the Job Club, because it was from the district Columbia, whereby I was able to give my elevator speech, and then she showed interest.
Shane Williams: Then I was able to go on the website, and I saw a job that matched my qualification and skill set, and I was able to apply for that job. I was given two interviews, and I was successful.
Rick Sizemore: So you were successful in two different interviews… did this lead to the job you have now?
Shane Williams: In the month of March, I came aboard with the District of Columbia.
Shane Williams: So it was some time, but it was worth it. And the training and the encouragement, definitely, it was worth it.
Rick Sizemore: That’s terrific, that’s terrific. Of course, I know Gwendolyn and LaPearl and Kay, and Diane. They’re great counselors. They understand the workforce, they understand disabilities, and how to help people develop those skills that moves them into the workforce. A quick question for you. Can you give us a little information about your disability?
Shane Williams: Oh, my disability was depression, and I was going through this. I was going through some years of depression and so forth. And eventually, from my previous job, I’m going to say I was performing really good, but there were down days, and so forth, due to the illness, but you know what?
Shane Williams: I was able to seek help and treatment, and go to therapy, and so on. And it helped me. I’m not saying that everything is perfect, but it helped me a lot, to fight the fight, and the encouragement from the Job Club.
Shane Williams: I was so happy and proud. You know what? I’m just thankful, I’m so thankful, for all the encouragement that I get from everyone.
Rick Sizemore: Now, so many of the people who listen to this show are familiar with disability employment. They know the employers who are hiring. I’m curious. If you could say something to an employer who had not hired someone with a disability, what would you encourage them to consider, in terms of reaching out to people with disabilities to develop their workforce?
Shane Williams: What I would say, is just be equitable, and give everyone a fighting and a fair chance. Because a disability does not determine the qualification of an individual. It’s all within your skill set, your education background, and your heart and desire to succeed.
Shane Williams: They should do whatever you can do to help a disabled person in the workplace, do it. And I definitely think that you can get the best out of them by just giving them that opportunity. So just keep them on the same level as every other candidate around.
Shane Williams: Know that there are not much different between a person who have a disability, and someone that does not have a disability. So it’s just, be fair, and be equitable, and give everyone a fighting chance.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, a lot of people are in the same situation you were in a few years ago. They’re unemployed, they have a disability, they’re struggling. What would be your encouragement to a person who has a disability, in terms of voc rehab, and believing that there’s a future pathway for them to employment?
Shane Williams: Yes. Do not give up. Seek the necessary help, seek the necessary guidance, seek the necessary counseling, and don’t be ashamed to go out there to recruiters, and interviewers, and so forth. And you just do your best. Do what’s within you.
Shane Williams: You can do it, all right? You can do it, you have it within you. It’s within you to succeed.
Rick Sizemore: You say its within you to succeed….what is important about how you define success?
Shane Williams: Succeeding is more a mental thing than a physical thing. So you’re worth it, and just keep pushing, and just keep fighting.
Rick Sizemore: Would you want people to know most about your experience in vocational rehabilitation, and moving into the workforce?
Shane Williams: I believe, just do not get discouraged. Because there were times that yes, there were times that I’d tell myself, “You know what? Is this Job Club for me? Should I continue?”
Rick Sizemore: During any significant undertaking or enterprise we all have to have those little voices in our heads that help us deal with the challenging times….to keep us moving. What do your voices say to you when you are feeling challenged?
Shane Williams: I tell myself, “You know what? I have to press on, because Miss LaPearl, and Miss Birch, and Miss McBride. They are here to help us, to see for us, just recognize the good in us.”
Shane Williams: Just take the opportunity to get help, go out there. You can join DARS, and focus in, and just continue to be consistent, and the opportunity definitely going to present itself. Because there were many before me who got opportunities, to move on in their career, and now with this federal government, and different private sector agency.
Shane Williams: So the same way that we can do it, you can do it all. So don’t be discouraged, all right? Just keep pressing on.
Rick Sizemore: What an amazing and inspiring story. Shane Williams, thank you for being on our podcast today.
Shane Williams: Thank you very much.
Announcer: Here is Chip Stratton on emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities.
Chip Stratton: How would this look if I were completely alone for three days? Think about the disasters that can impact our area. Where you live, where you work, where you visit. Knowing the best response for your personal circumstance—and who better to advocate than you? Make a plan, if you use para-transit, touch base with them and make sure they are going to run during an emergency or that they know you are on the top of a list. The local emergency management office- same thing. Let them know who you are where you are and what your unique circumstances are. The final thing is a kit, food, water, medications, supplies- again being very specific to what you need. You know what a normal day looks like so now think of what would it look like on an abnormal day? Fema.gov is an excellent site full of resources and information, Ready Virginia and you can get aps for all of those, gathering as much information as possible.
Announcer: For more information visit vadars.org
Rick Sizemore: Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated in May. Here’s Tim Woodward, the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Valley District Director, with a special message for teachers.
Tim Woodward: Let’s face it. This school year has been at best, unusual. But we’re getting through it, in part, thanks to our amazing teachers. Teachers change the lives of our clients every day. In a year where instruction could be virtual, in person, or a mix of both, their immense work and impact have provided a much needed sense of community and connection.
Tim Woodward: Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our teachers are working hard to ensure every student has the tools they need to reach their full potential. For more information about our programs and services, as well as the amazing work of our teachers, please visit us at wwrc.virginia.gov.
Rick Sizemore: On the VR Workforce Studio Podcast today, Dale Batten, my good friend for many years, I refer to her as DD, as most people who know her do. She directs the Division of Rehabilitation Services, at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Welcome to the podcast, DD.
DD Batten: Good morning, Rick. Glad to be with you this morning. Great, beautiful morning.
Rick Sizemore: Congratulations on all the great work that’s going on at Virginia DARS.
DD Batten: We’re excited about getting back to what we consider a new norm or new environment for serving our customers, Rick, and opportunities are exploding for training, apprenticeships and job opportunities. So we’re ready.
Rick Sizemore: There’s lots of jobs out there. That’s very exciting.
DD Batten: Yes, it is.
Rick Sizemore: You just finished up the spring conference of the Council of State Administrators for Vocational Rehabilitation, CSAVR. People who listened to this podcast are really familiar with that acronym. How was the conference?
DD Batten: The conference was wonderful. The theme this year was Working Together and Moving Forward. And I am here to tell you, Rick, that every speaker spoke of what we’ve been through for the last year.
DD Batten: But opportunities and the ability to move forward with everything for our customers, those that have not been able to maximize their opportunities since 2020, it was just a moment to really reflect and get excited about moving forward in rehab on a national level. Companies came together, and conversation speakers came together, in conversations that really talked about legislative things that I’m trying to move forward, and businesses came together to talk about how they work with our customers and our partners, workforce development partnerships, so it’s exciting.
DD Batten: The conference was a virtual conference. The fall conference was virtual, the spring conference was virtual, just ended. And I’m here to tell you that we had over 500 members or participants, and everybody gets something out of the conference. I mean, it’s really exciting to see that we can have that many still get great information, and ability to learn from each other on a national level, in a virtual environment.
Rick Sizemore: With all the challenges of the pandemic, and everything that has happened, the online conferences really emerged as a great option to get more people there. How are people being able to relate to the content from a computer screen, several hundred miles away?
DD Batten: You know, now the world of work is a computer screen, Zoom for multiple hours at a time. So this was three hours, three days in a row. Last week, we had two days of leadership training, and because of the conversations that can be carried on through the chat room, and just to question and answer and periods in the sessions, people learn from each other and where we may have been in person, we would have separated to different sessions, but this was a way for all participants to be in the same session at the same time, and really give information and helpful hints to others in the sessions, through the chat responses on best practices. Even though it was virtual, I think, and it was a long three days, I will say that it was still beneficial, and fulfilling, for all states to hear from each other.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, absolutely. So what’s one of the most inspiring things you heard from the participants?
DD Batten: How we as state agencies in VR work with the legislative bodies to try to help them understand, from a federal level, what we’re needing for service delivery in light of what has happened in 2020. And there was some legislators just spoke to us just yesterday.
DD Batten: One very powerful message, from one of the directors of the state, mentioned that we are working together with our workforce partners, our American job centers, that we together can really help people come out of poverty. And that’s something that just kind of really, I think, stuck to home, where its really positive to everybody in the sessions.
DD Batten: The other thing that someone said yesterday afternoon, a Congressman or woman, was that we really are now having to make an impact. What we do and how we do it matters, and that has a big impact on how we obtain service delivery. So hearing those kinds of messages, and people responding in the chat, saying, “This is powerful. I think I agree with it 100%,” really makes you think about, and get excited about moving forward, and what you’re going to be doing in your own state.
Rick Sizemore: Conversations about apprenticeships and partnerships that are ongoing. What’s the buzz about apprenticeships?
DD Batten: Believing that apprenticeships are still great opportunities for our populations, but really helping the organizations and businesses understand that we may have to look at apprenticeships in a different way for the disabled population, and just the service delivery model of the academics, how we actually work with them being able to pass the academics of the apprenticeship programs. And I’m telling you, Rick, there are opportunities out here.
DD Batten: We’re having opportunities for demonstration or discretionary grants now, and DOLI, Department of Labor and Industry in many states, are looking at working with our organizations, VR programs and apprenticeship programs for our population of disabled population. So it’s a new initiative that’s really kind of, we’ve had it in our agency and done very successful with it, in Virginia DARS, Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, without Wilson Workforce and Rehab Center. But you’re hearing more about that on a national level, through the National Employment Network, with Kathy West-Evans, and other states now.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. DD, you’ve been doing this work for decades, not only as a counselor, but as an evaluator, as an executive in vocational rehabilitation. As you leave the conference, where do you see us in our evolution today, versus through the past decades of service that you’ve provided?
DD Batten: Rick, you’re correct. I’ve been in this field for a very long period of time, and still very passionate about what I do, for working with persons with disabilities, or individuals with disabilities, and helping them become successful.
DD Batten: I’m thinking now, and this was throughout the theme of the conference, the diversity, equity and inclusion is a big emphasis among everybody. Any leadership training you’re taking now, or any conversations, it’s all about, how do we really rethink, refresh our service delivery models, so that we are really being inclusive, really reaching out to those that are underserved, those we have not served, and how do we make it equitable for everybody that we want to serve, moving forward?
Rick Sizemore: Well, that is exciting, for sure. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today. Any final thoughts or conclusions about the conference?
DD Batten: It was a great conference. I’m looking forward to, now, the fall conference. I’m really looking forward to talking to some of the speakers, and gathering some of the information that came out of the conference and utilizing that, for our strategic planning for our VR program in our state, but also working with other states, from some of the speakers, to look at best practices and kind of help that being inclusive in what we’re doing. And moving forward, talking to other states about how we take gather can make a diversity, equity and inclusion model for success and every VR program around this nation.
Rick Sizemore: Dale Batten directs the Division of Rehabilitation Services at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative services. Thank you for being on our podcast today, DD.
DD Batten: Thank you, Rick, and have a great day yourself.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse Update, with the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Hi, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well, May is Mental Health Month.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes. And COVID-19 pandemic, running, running, running has been a punch to the gut.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, man.
Cherie Takemoto: I’m sharing some resources on trauma informed care this month, because the Center on Research and Disability has found that most severely affected are the populations characterized by the intersection of race, poverty and disability, as well as the organizations that serve them.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, absolutely. What did you think of Shane’s story?
Cherie Takemoto: Thank you for finding Shane, Rick, because I also want to share some resources from the NCRTM on culturally responsive practices that span the intersection of disability with race, including black Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, LGBTQ, poverty, justice involved, homeless, and other facets of diversity. I also am particularly interested in a set of resources shared by the RSA funded sign language interpreting grantees, who help us understand deaf culture as a part of all this diversity.
Rick Sizemore: The National Clearinghouse is such a treasure trove of resources for the vocational rehabilitation professional and others. Thank you for the work that you’re doing, Cherie, and thank you for being such an awesome member of our podcast team here at VR Workforce.
Cherie Takemoto: Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The Foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. Your support helps students gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry.
Lynn Harris: We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible. The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, Daikin Applied, Hollister, Inc., And United bank.
Lynn Harris: You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org. Find their contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode, as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation, here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio, and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.