It is an employee's market. National unemployment is at 4% and Florida is currently at 3.9%. Employees have the ability to pick and choose from multiple job offers, and “job-hopping” (or, employees changing employers frequently) is at an alltime high. The search for qualified talent has human resources professionals searching for alternative sources for potential hires.
HR Florida recognized that individuals with developmental disabilities are an untapped source of talent and are underrepresented in the workforce. Our State Council has a multi-year strategic plan to focus on diversity in the workplace, and one of the key elements of this plan is to provide awareness of what individuals with developmental disabilities can bring to the workplace.
It is the goal to educate others to change attitudes about autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities by connecting with key constituents in the workplace, government and regulatory representatives, employers, schools, media and the community at large. The largest effort to date is the selection of this year’s charity of choice, The Dan Marino Foundation, Inc., to be spotlighted at HR Florida’s 40th anniversary of the State Conference and Expo.
The Dan Marino Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization, was established by Dan and Claire Marino, motivated by their experiences in raising their son, Michael, who is diagnosed with autism. For over 26 years, the Foundation has been a leader in innovation and change, “empowering individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.” Kay Wilson is HR Florida’s Charity Chair for this year. She explains how the synergy between the Council’s core focus areas of workforce readiness and diversity blend seamlessly with the purpose and mission of the Dan Marino Foundation (DMF).
“When I was searching for a charity to support, it was not an easy task. There are so many wonderful organizations doing good work, but I wanted to see if we could find a group that was in our wheelhouse— workplace-focused, people centered, and something that HR professionals could really support in the long-term. I was excited to read how DMF is working so diligently to prepare their students for the workplace. It is a natural connection, and we can easily support one-another.”
The Dan Marino Foundation conducted an extensive search of nationwide postsecondary programs and found very limited options for students with developmental disabilities. To address this issue, in 2013, the Foundation created Marino Campus, a 10-month industry certification program for teens and young adults with autism, other developmental disabilities, cognitive delays, or physical impairments in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Class instruction combined with real-world work experience prepare students to obtain industryleading certifications in Computer Technology and Hospitality, industries that serve as strong employment bases for our client population.
To greater serve the South Florida community, the Foundation opened a second Campus in 2016 at Florida International University in Miami. Coursework and hands-on curriculum prepare individuals for national certifications in Computer Technology from Microsoft and CompTIA, and Hospitality certifications from the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute. Other courses offered include sales and marketing, employability and social strategies, financial literacy, and independent living.
In addition to the coursework, participants intern with at least two businesses, providing on-the-job experience in their chosen fields. Supports include access to behavior specialists, peer and academic mentors, and tutors. Job coaches assist in career placement and coaching and a certified benefits counselor is on staff. Initial assessments determine a student’s individual learning style (e.g., visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), and the standard curriculum is adapted to capitalize on students’ strengths.
Embedded throughout the program is the use of technology. The Foundation, in partnership with the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, developed the Virtual Interactive Training Agent (ViTA), a first-of-its-kind program addressing a major barrier to employment: the job interview. ViTA is utilized as part of the employability skills training to build interview competency and reduce anxiety. It immerses participants in an environment where they are able to practice job interviews in a variety of situations and apply the complex social skills necessary to gain meaningful employment. Participants practice interviewing in a safe, less stressful, virtual environment allowing for learning based on natural strengths. This leads to confidence and performance in actual interview settings with the overall goal of empowering students to gain employment, and most importantly, independence.
In 2015, Google.org, along with a panel of external advisors, selected the Foundation as a recipient of the Google Impact Challenge Grant. This award funded the development of features for ViTA that enrich the user experience, including gamification and open source capabilities. ViTA software is utilized by Broward County Public Schools and over 50 organizations nationwide.
For more information regarding activities occurring at the HR Florida State Conference that are focused on workforce readiness, diversity and the Dan Marino Foundation go to pages 15-22 for conference programming.