Haslam touts disabled workforce efforts in Chattanooga

Haslam touts disabled workforce efforts in Chattanooga

November 8th, 2018 by Mike Pare in Breaking News

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks with Orange Grove Center Director of Adult Services Tera Roberts, left, during a visit to the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Gov. Haslam released the fifth annual report by the Employment First Task Force during the visit, which shows the task force's efforts to increase employment for people with disabilities.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

This story was updated Nov. 8, 2018, at 5:39 p.m. with more information.

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“When we talk about workforce development and workforce training, all means all there as well.”
Gov. Bill Haslam about efforts to employ the disabled

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday touted state and local efforts to hire people with disabilities, saying the initiatives are trying to change the thinking of some employers.

"I challenge you if you're an employer out there to say 'How can this work in my environment?'" said Haslam during a stop at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he met disabled workers in the food service area employed by vendor Aramark.

He cited a partnership between UTC, the state and Chattanooga's Orange Grove Center that supports and helps find jobs for the disabled.

"That's kind of how it should work," said Haslam, who accepted a progress report dubbed "Expect Employment" by the state's Employment First Task Force, which is aimed at bolstering opportunities for people with disabilities.

One goal of the task force is to collect and analyze employment data of the disabled. The task force said, for example, that 75 percent of Tennesseans are employed compared to just 28 percent of the disabled in the state.

Dr. Richard Brown, UTC's executive vice chancellor of finance and administration, highlighted the partnership with Orange Grove Center, which is called Orange Grove University. It enables center clients to gain job experience at UTC by working alongside the university's facilities and operational employees, he said.

Brown said Orange Grove clients "learn new job skills and truly transform their lives."

Debra Payne, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, said the partnership of the university, Orange Grove and Aramark is "exactly what moves the needle on increasing opportunities for people with disabilities."

She also mentioned an internship program within state government over the past couple of years which welcomes people with disabilities.

"We've made great strides with employment, but we're not done yet," Payne said.

Danielle Barnes, the Tennessee Department of Human Services commissioner, said the state is working with employers and higher education institutions and "helping make dreams of success come true."

"We're here to celebrate a transformational journey," she said.

Haslam said there's a saying in state government that "all means all."

"When we talk about workforce development and workforce training, all means all there as well," he said.

Haslam said the state is trying to encourage employers to think creatively about how employing the disabled in their place of business might work.

"It has worked — in government offices, at UTC, in advertising agencies," he said. "It really can work. We have a strong economy in Tennessee. There's a need for real employment."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.