By Cathy Bisaillon, President & CEO of Easterseals Washington, and a member of the Rotary Club of Silverdale, Washington, USA. Video and photos by Steven Boe, Rotary Club of Silverdale
When I shared with my fellow Rotarians last fall that 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed or under-employed, in spite of a national labor shortage, we decided to take action. Our club has a diverse membership, and it values a diverse workforce. By pulling from District 5030’s Partners for Work Program, we organized a high-energy mock interview during our club’s meeting on 31 January.
In the months leading up to the project, I reached out to organizations in our area that assist people with developmental disabilities in finding employment. They all knew one or two job seekers who were ready to work, but who needed help talking to people and connecting with employers. “If they can just sit at the table with business leaders, they will convey their value,” my colleagues urged.
I prepared our club members for the mock interviews by having them sit at seven tables, one for each of the job seekers we would be helping. I told them to approach the interviews in the same way that they do in their businesses, but to be ready to repeat questions and to allow ample time for responses. The employment consultants at the different agencies coached their job seekers on appropriate interview attire and prepared them for specific questions. Everyone was ready.
The event began with a buzz. The seven job seekers were dressed for success, and they were welcomed to the tables by smiling, enthusiastic Rotarians. After 30 minutes of interviews, a Rotarian from each table introduced his or her job seeker, highlighted their strengths, and asked business leaders in the room to consider hiring them. The job seekers left with newfound confidence, a certificate of completing the program, and a list of their strengths. Rotarians later submitted forms with constructive feedback and encouragement.
The day produced many benefits. Seven adults with barriers to competitive employment were respected, valued and appreciated. They left with interview experience and business cards. And at least one job seeker landed an interview for an open position in a Rotarian’s business. What we didn’t necessarily anticipate was the effect the event had on our club members.
“My eyes have opened to the challenges that people with disabilities face.”
“This was an incredibly engaging and rewarding event that I hope that we replicate again and again.”
Since January, we have taken the model to other clubs in the area, and our club is slated to hold another mock interview later this year.
I am happy to share details of our event with any club that wants to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.