By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2011 – Through the federal Workforce Recruitment Program, the Defense Department hired more than 400 students and recent graduates with disabilities during the fiscal year just completed, an official involved in the program said.
Stephen King, director of disability programs for the department’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, told American Forces Press Service the federal program offers meaningful employment opportunities to a segment of the nation’s population that is regularly discriminated against, and which faces a much higher-than-average unemployment rate.
“The unemployment rate [among disabled workers] … runs anywhere from 40 to 80 percent,” he said. “That’s huge.”
An estimated 54 million Americans have disabilities, King said, and as the nation’s largest employer, DOD has “an obligation to do our fair share.”
Under the program, co-sponsored by ODMEO and the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, he said, about 90 volunteer recruiters from across the federal government visit more than 250 colleges and universities nationwide each year to interview students and recent graduates with disabilities.
Each candidate is rated on maturity, direction, experience and adaptability, he explained, and those who receive the required scores are entered into an annual hiring database federal agencies can access each December.
From an applicant pool of 2,200 in the database, DOD filled 408 temporary and 31 permanent positions in fiscal 2011, and other federal agencies hired 88 candidates, for a total of 527 hired through the program for the year, King noted.
ODMEO funds 12- to 14-week summer internships under the program, but permanent hires are the employing agency’s responsibility, he said.
“We focus on trying to get very talented people, high-quality students and recent graduates with disabilities into the program because we know that, quite frankly, they’re going to be breaking down the barriers to hopefully lead to more permanent hires in the future,” he said.
The program offers DOD hiring managers the chance to “sell” the department to potential permanent employees through internships, King said.
“When they graduate, maybe they’ll consider a career with us before looking elsewhere,” he added.
Schools interested in the program sign up through the Labor Department, King said. He added that when he visited Pennsylvania’s Temple University nine years ago as a program recruiter, the school had interviews scheduled for one day. This year, the school scheduled nine days for recruiter interviews.
“They have an amazing disability services office [and] an amazing director of disability services … who is committed to the program,” King said.
Veterans made up 6 percent of the DOD program hires for fiscal 2011, and department officials are working to increase that number, he said. “One of the ideas … we’re considering is working more closely with military treatment facilities, as well as the recovery care coordinators who assist wounded warriors,” he added.
In July 2010, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. In response to the executive order, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management released model strategies to help agencies meet their obligations.
“The Workforce Recruitment Program was highlighted as a model program to attract youth with disabilities to federal service,” King said. “It’s truly an honor to receive such recognition by OPM.”
The fiscal 2012 database will be available in early December, he said, and hiring managers interested in participating can call his office at 703-571-9334 or email email@example.com.
“We need the DOD components and other federal government agencies’ support if we’re going to continue to expand this program,” he said.