ARC Industries Inc. was founded in the early 1960s when the needs of adults with developmental disabilities were beginning to be addressed by the population at large — and the organization is still breaking down barriers today.
Starting with a goal of day programs, training and real jobs, the nonprofit has grown into an organization with more than 800 employees in its production facilities and an additional 400 workers for on-site crews and housekeeping. It also has placed 382 employees competitively.
That last number is particularly important because ARC’s No. 1 priority is helping people with disabilities become part of the integrated workforce.
“Everyone has value, and we feel our employees are an untapped resource that can bring value and profitability to any employer,” says Kurt Schmitter, director of Workforce Development in the Employment Services Department.
“Unfortunately, some employers don’t understand the benefits at this point. If they really look into the statistics and research, it’s proven that our folks would come in and help that organization,” he says.
Schmitter says individuals with disabilities can contribute and need the opportunity to do so.
“For everyone but individuals with disabilities work is a primary and huge part of their day — and it brings value to that individual,” he says. “We want to do the same for our folks, and help improve their independence, help improve their self-esteem and allow them to be taxpayers just like everyone else.”
Smart Business spoke with Schmitter about ARC’s challenges and outreach.
SB: How do you specifically work with the business community?
KS: Our efforts are more and more to place folks competitively in the community. I’m doing a lot of outreach with employers. We also have created a business advisory committee that employers sit on.
We try to identify employer needs in the Franklin County area. Without this, we’re not able to have a good understanding of how our employees can help and what they are capable of.
SB: Is that a new direction, placing people competitively?
KS: We have been doing it for 30 years, but there is a national and state push.
In 2012, Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order establishing Employment First, where competitive work must be the first and preferred outcome for all individuals with disabilities.
The emphasis is getting individuals in the community as they leave school. Instead of going into our production facilities, we need to get them in an integrated setting from the get-go. Studies show once they go to the segregated environment, they tend to stay there entirely too long, and the pay and benefits of the community are not there.
Also, under Section 503 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the government is recommending 7 percent of federal contractors’ workforce across all job classifications be individuals with disabilities.
SB: What are the challenges your organization faces?
KS: I went to an open house the other day with 25 employers that are federal contractors in Franklin County. Most said they know about ARC, but when I asked them to tell me more, they’ve seen us on TV or seen our trucks and that’s all they know.
We’ve been around for 50 years, but we need to continue to do more to get our brand out there, and more importantly to break down the barriers and myths as far as working with individuals with disabilities.
We are a viable solution. Currently, our job retention rate is 82 percent for employees that have worked for a year or more. We need to get that information to employers — that we can help them, especially as the unemployment rate drops. We have unemployed individuals who I feel can easily go into organizations and contribute right away.
SB: What kind of stereotypes do you want to break down?
KS: As part of our outreach, we want to give organizations information and break down myths. It’s not always about a selling point.
There is a lot of awkwardness out there. People don’t know how to relate. On a video we show, an HR person is interviewing someone. The individual comes in and does not have his right arm. The HR person starts to reach out, and then they just freeze and drop their right hand, versus the natural thing to switch and shake with the left.
Another myth is everyone assumes when you bring in someone with a disability, you’ll have to spend a lot under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And that’s not the case. Most of the accommodations are $100 and less. Very few are more than $500.
SB: When employers start employing those with disabilities, does their attitude change?
KS: Yes. A perfect example is Dynalab Electronic Manufacturing Services. They started with one individual. We now have eight of our associates working on Dynalab’s payroll.
That’s my staff’s strength: identifying that employer need and finding the right employees to take to the interview.
We assist with resumes and the interview process. We provide a job coach when the individual is first hired, so we can train them based on their responsibilities. We also provide long-term follow along.
If the individual needs retrained, we bring someone in immediately. What normally happens is employers want to expand that person’s responsibilities, and we get that job coach back in to train in other areas.