Marge Plasmier: What you’re doing is very important.
Governor Jack Markell: Thank you. It’s quite interesting.
Plasmier: Can you talk about why you took on this initiative?
Markell: I don’t have a family member with a disability, but over the years I’ve met people with disabilities who’ve had the chance to be employed and it has made such a positive impact on their lives and the lives of their families. And it seemed to me that this was an issue we could really advance. People’s quality of life is so much better when they have the chance to wake up with a purpose, be part of a team, be productive and get a paycheck. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is very high and so many would just love the chance to work.
Democrats and Republicans alike care about this matter. It presents an opportunity for governors to work with businesses of all sizes, philanthropists and the not-for-profit sectors towards a single, positive goal. I also thought we could advance the discussion by offering practical suggestions and ideas to governors and their staffs to use in their individual states.
Chet Cooper: How do you feel the recent summit went?
Markell: We made good progress and we’ll soon publish a blueprint for governors around the country. For this to work, we’ve got to integrate the idea of increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities into the broader workforce development strategy. That means doing a better job of listening to businesses and getting to a solution that involves finding them workers with the particular skills employers need. And there are plenty of people with disabilities who have great skills, who can add value to the workforce. As states, we need to be more service-oriented.
We also have to make sure that the states themselves are being model employers. As we reach out to businesses to encourage them to hire more people with disabilities, states have to step up and do the same. We must do a better job of preparing young people with disabilities for a life of work and career, rather than a life on public benefits. On this issue, there seems to be unanimity among governors of both parties, people throughout business, philanthropy and government sectors.
Cooper: What does “the philanthropy sector” mean to you? Do you mean nonprofits working in this area? People donating money?
Markell: Not-for-profits as well as groups that give money. That’s the great thing about this effort; we’ve had everybody at the table, including folks at the university and people at major foundations who’ve shown interest in supporting these efforts. We’ve had really big businesses like Walgreens, Bank of America and Walmart take an interest, as well as small businesses with a dozen or two dozen employees. This is one of those issues that everybody can get behind.
Plasmier: What do businesses and/or their foundations think they might do differently?
Markell: Specifically, we’ve got to give more young people workplace opportunities while they’re still in school, so that they can envision a career for themselves, make a contribution and be valued. They also need to learn some of the basics of what it means to be reliable, productive employees. That’s a big part of it and the other piece is really focusing on how states approach businesses with the idea of helping them find skilled and talented employees, rather than going to businesses and asking them to place a particular person as a favor. It’s a change of mindset.
Cooper: It sounds like an attitudinal shift that has to happen within the person who has a disability, as well as within corporations that need to acknowledge both the talent pool out there and the talent pool still in the pipeline.
Markell: That’s correct. There’s also a need for an attitudinal shift on the part of state governments where we see ourselves as partners for these businesses and where we offer access to people with all kinds of disabilities who have skills.
Cooper: What do you mean by “access”?
Markell: Part of the job of any state agency is to help people seeking jobs find those jobs with companies that are looking for people who have those skills.
Cooper: Often you’ll see a champion helping to move their company in the right direction, only to find when they leave, so seem to go their efforts. And then there are companies that may exert a little bit of effort to show the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that they’re doing something, if they’re a federal contractor or subcontractor. This initiative needs someone like you who will be candid, keep pushing the message and deal with it on a state-by-state level.
Markell: That’s why we’re trying to keep the spotlight on this matter.
Cooper: Where are you in your term?
Markell: I’ve been governor for four-and-a-half years. So I’m coming up on the end of my chairmanship of the National Governors Association. [web update 8/15/13]
Cooper: I hope that whoever takes your place continues this important mission.
Markell: There are a lot of governors in both parties who are very interested in this. Yes, we’ve got to keep pushing.
United States Department of Labor
Articles in the Scott Baio Issue; Senator Harkin — Trying to Make it Work; Ashley Fiolek — Kickin’ up Dirt; Humor — Die Laughing; Geri Jewell — Pet Power; Eva Feldman, MD, PhD — ALS and Stem Cell Therapy; Beyond Silence — Deafness in India; Long Haul Paul — Q&A with a PA; Models of Diversity — Embrace it! ; Governor Markell — Blueprint to Employment; China — A Coach with Passion; EMPOWER — Global Inclusion; FREEJ — Grandmothers Rule; MIT — Leveraged Freedom Chair; Scott Baio — Happy Days; MADA — Global Assistive Technology; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…subscribe