Focus Business Initiative
The EmployAlliance WSCCIF was formed in 2002 as a partnership to promote employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities through a grant funded initiative through the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. The EmployAlliance grant team on this project created a network of job developers and developed a model of job development called the Focus Business Model. This network expanded to Chicago, Rockford, Bloomington and Champaign. As a result of this initiative, over 250 people with developmental disabilities were hired under this model of job development throughout Northern and Central Illinois. The EmployAlliance team was also instrumental in the development of disabilitiyworks.org at the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Industry through this initiative.As a result of the success of this project, the EmployAlliance was awarded a grant from the US Department of Education /Projects with Industry to promote the hiring of people who have disabilities with deficits in the area of social communication. This initiative, “the Business Approach to Social Integration and Communication" (BASIC), was a three year initiative wherein over 200 young adults and adults with social communication disorders were employed. This Award winning program set the stage for many vocational programs for people with autism and other communication disorders around the country.
EmployAlliance Job Developers Network
Today, the EmployAlliance WSCCIF job developer network meets the third Tuesday of each month at 1:00pm to share employment opportunity information. Membership consists of high school vocational counselors, adult agency job developers and state rehabilitation counselors working together to obtain employment for job ready candidates whom they work with. For more information on the EmployAlliance Job Developer Network meetings at the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Countryside, contact Dr. Joanne Messina at 708-482-1184 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
PathWays to Self Advocacy
The PathWays to Self Advocacy project was a two year initiative to assist 50 students and young adults, ages 16-25, in developing self advocacy skills. This project was developed as a Peer Advocate model of learning. Students from Hinsdale District 86, Lyons Township District 204, Riverside Brookfield District 208 and young adults from Helping Hand participated. Students learned about themselves and self advocacy skill building and set five goals. A 10 day Self Advocacy Academy was developed and held during the summer, focusing on the top ten topics in self advocacy. Booklets for Peer Advocates and Lesson Plan materials were developed and will be available for dissemination. The Self Advocacy Academy was adopted by SEASPAR (a local special recreation association) and students and young adults can access this program during the summer through SEASPAR For more information contact Karen Steffan at Ksteffan@ladse.org.
In the News
The West Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry was recognized in the US Chamber of Commerce and Industry Newsletter for their development of the EmployAlliance (reprinted here):
Building a network connecting business, education, social service, and government is no easy task, especially when dealing with the employment of individuals with disabilities. At the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce in LaGrange, Illinois, however, a ground-breaking partnership with EmployAlliance, a consortium of service providers both public and private including secondary education partners willingly brings employers to the table.
The Challenge EmployAlliance evolved as a result of the community’s concern for the rise in individuals being diagnosed with autism. Autism affects individuals’ abilities to socially interact, communicate, and follow patterns of interests and behaviors. Concerned that the community was ill equipped to support these individuals with employment opportunities, the Vocational Alliance Autism Project emerged as a community wide effort to identify employment opportunities for youth with autism.
How do they do it? Following its innovative Vocational Alliance Autism Project, which was the first to look at young people with disabilities transitioning out of school and into the workplace, EmployAlliance found that there was a strategic business approach to be taken—invented as a protocol for working with businesses—to social integration and communication with these individuals. This consisted of individualized consultation on supporting social communication barriers that prevented or limited these individuals from obtaining or maintaining employment. Following this model, EmployAlliance expanded it to include all individuals with communication and social communication barriers, and provided employers with services such as Social Communication Environmental Analysis, Social Communication and Visual Strategies consultation, resources and referrals, and supplied training to employers, service providers, and community agencies on how to integrate individuals with disabilities into their businesses.
The role of the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce in EmployAlliance is that of capacity building of partners in workforce development providing access and opportunities for relationship building between individual job ready candidates with disabilities and the employers who are seeking qualified workers. A key benefit to the partnership with the chamber is that EmployAlliance has access to small businesses on a wide scale and small businesses have access to EmployAlliance services. The chamber supports economic development through workforce development by linking the support services of individuals with autism to the local travel and hospitality industry to ensure access to these businesses by this customer base. Additionally, the chamber invests in workforce, economic, and leadership development as well as business education partnerships, transition and employment through the following: Employment within Business Project, Business Approach to Social Integration and Communication Project within Industry (BASIC/PWI), Social Coaching Institute, and Community Initiatives.
An important outgrowth is the EmployAlliance Job Developer Network developed through the Employment within Business (EWB) initiative. The EmployAlliance Job Developer Network is composed of area disability service providers who foster collaboration to support individual job seekers with disabilities and employers. Job placement organizations are taught the demand-side driven Focus Business Model, which includes access to training and consultation in building quality mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses. With this network, West Suburban creates a true demand within businesses to recruit people with barriers to employment.
West Suburban has created an effective model that has not only given businesses more knowledge about hiring people with disabilities but also shown them how to maximize workers’ abilities in order to better meet their bottom line.
Lessons Learned This unique partnership has far exceeded expectations since its connection was first established five years ago by the West Suburban Chamber Board. As executive director of the West Suburban Chamber Lisa Zeigler claims, “it just made sense” when EmployAlliance presented the case to the board for this joint venture. Understanding small business needs and seeing an opportunity for promoting chamber good will, the board approved of what Zeigler terms a “no-brainer” and “win-win situation”, and West Suburban Chamber Foundation, a 501c3 poised itself as fiscal agent for EmployAlliance.
Today, the program has spread its roots throughout the state of Illinois with four statewide chapters of networked job developers and as a consultant to other states and businesses seeking to emulate its successful model. Additionally, the success of the “Focus Business Model” can be measured by the results—more than 200 people with disabilities in jobs in more than 100 businesses since January 2003.
Future Plans In the future, West Suburban plans to expand its goals of “Building Capacity” beyond its own community through various presentations at state conventions, utilizing technology through website development, and planning a second compliment of the Business Approach to Social Integration and Communication Project with Industry (PWI-BASIC II).
attributed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Newsletter, 2006
The West Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation is organizing a Program Committee which will be the vehicle for further partnerships with area groups, organizations and interested parties who have ideas and action plans for building workforce development, leadership development, employment opportunities, business development that would have impact on the communities served by the Chamber. For more information contact Donna Hutchinson at email@example.com
Diversifying your workforce and need to hire talent for that opening you have?
Or, perhaps you need a short term project done that could be done by students who want to build their work skills?
Whatever your business need, we can arrange a business focused partnership for you!
Contact Karen Steffan through the EmployAlliance at 708-482-1170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff Training on Servicing Customers with Disabilities
Did you know that people with disabilities and their families are reported to have close to 3 trillion dollars in annual spending power?
A new and exciting initiative that will produce training materials and information for your front line staff on providing good customer service to customers who have a disability is coming your way.
Watch for more information on this project as it rolls out late spring 2011!