On July 23rd, The Improve Group’s Chief Administrative Officer, Samantha Hagel, visited the Minnesota Governor’s Office to discuss practices for addressing the barriers to supported employment for people with disabilities. Supported employment is a well-defined approach to helping people with disabilities participate in the competitive labor market, helping them find meaningful jobs and providing ongoing support from a team of professionals.

The State of Minnesota has emphasized this topic due to a lack of employees working for the State who require supported employment. They recognized that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and want to know what measures other employers have taken to provide opportunities to those with disabilities who require supported employment. 

In 2015, The Improve Group linked up with Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI) who helped us bring Jenett Wukawitz on board. PRI is a resource in creating connections between the community and people with developmental disabilities. Jenett helps out around the office for 10 hours a week, helping relieve some of the daily duties of our Executive Assistant, Ashley Verseput. Jenett having primary responsibility for certain tasks has allowed Ashley to focus on project work and other administrative functions.  

Samantha was invited to the governor’s office to meet with Katie Troyer, Director of Diversity and Inclusion of the Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith; Ann Feaman, the State Director for Equal Opportunity, ADA, Diversity, & Inclusion; Femina Ajayi-Hackworth, theAffirmative Action Manager/ADA Coordinator of the Minnesota Office of Diversity; and Dawn Muller of PRI to discuss the steps we took to successfully bring Jenett to our team.

Best practices for addressing barriers

Samantha shared with the State some considerations that were critical to integrating Jenett into our work environment:

  • Creating a job description that was adaptable to Jenett’s abilities and provided value to her professional growth. We recognized that the job didn’t need to be full time, but rather an amount of time that fit Jenett’s availability during the week.
  • Identifying a need for a job that could be completed by someone with Jenett’s abilities and setting aside a budget to support her work.
  • Once it was confirmed that Jenett would be joining our team, Dawn Muller of PRI came in and talked to our staff about what it meant to work with a person who has a disability. This allowed staff to learn how they could welcome and make Jenett feel comfortable, and how to comfortably work with her.
  • By being involved with PRI, Jenett is provided a job coach who helps her out along the way. PRI also assists in ensuring that Jenett has proper transportation to get to work through Metro Mobility
  • Shortly after she joined, Jenett was able to join our team for a full day during our 15 Year Anniversary Celebration. This allowed staff to spend the entire day getting to know and interact with Jenett.

By partnering with PRI to bring Jenett to our team, The Improve Group has continued to make strides in supporting our value of an inclusive and diverse workplace. This has been rewarding for all of us. Staff love to see her welcome them to the office every morning with a huge smile.

Next Steps

The state met with PRI and The Improve Group because they want to know how they can replicate this success on a bigger scale.  A barrier exists to supported employment in the State and they are doing their due diligence to solve this issue. As an outcome from our meeting, the State will be looking for supervisors at the state level who are willing to bring on persons with disabilities and serve as ambassadors and models to help increase this commitment from other agencies. 

As more success stories arise from bringing in persons in need of supported employment, communities will continue to assist the growth and development of this often overlooked population. Samantha has been invited to speak at a at the ACCESS and HR Leaders groups from various state agencies in October, where she will share our considerations with a broader audience. We are excited to see how this effort continues to grow!

If you are an employer who would like to know more about how this process has been going and what considerations you may take to replicate, please reach out to Samantha Hagel at samanthah@theimprovegroup.com.