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KC group introduces matchmaker job board for employers and people with disabilities

Jennifer Hertha was tired of “being marginalized and told I can't do something."

Hertha, a woman with disabilities who uses a wheelchair, said there's a danger when employers overlook capable workers out of fear or misunderstanding. Fortunately, Hertha found an employer at UMB Bank who looked beyond a physical first impression and recognized her abilities.

She's now helping to screen — and hire — others at UMB. But she knows she's fortunate.

“Eighty percent of persons with disabilities are not served by the existing employment system," said Rob Hoffman, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Business Leadership Network, a business-to-business group.

The network, which exists to encourage employment of people with disabilities, this month launched a new job site named SHiFT to help match people with disabilities to job openings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year that only 17.5 percent of people with a disability were employed in the prior year. That compared with about 65 percent of people without a disability.

The government's Current Population Survey also found that the unemployment rate of people with disabilities — those actively seeking jobs — was double that of people without disabilities. And workers with disabilities were more likely to be self employed and more likely to work part-time than workers without disabilities.

The new job board “is different from a regular job board because it's set up to help both parties pre-screen," said Hoffman. “It doesn't ask what a person's disabilities are, and it doesn't target jobs specifically for the disability community. It just markets jobs that can be done by the people who self identify as candidates."

Web developers at Trozzolo built the site at shift.gkcbln.org, which was made possible by a $175,000 grant from the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council.

Human resource officials at a few Kansas City-area companies helped the business network design the web-based system that provides two ways to connect — one for employers and one for job hunters.

The employer side asks recruiters to provide detailed descriptions of posted jobs and ratings for their physical and environmental demands.

The applicant side asks job hunters to rate their own capabilities in such areas as mobility, stamina, work pace and lifting as well as their communication abilities and the basic education and skills that would be asked of any applicant.

“We're certainly going to use it," Mary Beth Majors, director of talent acquisition at UMB Bank, said of SHiFT. “We can highlight teller positions, call center roles and other openings through a direct link to the disability community without having to go through social service agencies."

Majors, the human resource official who saw Hertha's potential and promoted her, is deeply involved in the Greater Kansas City Business Leadership Network because of her conviction that many good workers are being underused or ignored. Majors hopes other corporate recruiters will share her belief that the SHiFT job board will make good employment matches.

In order to sustain SHiFT, companies will be charged to post job openings beginning June 1; their postings are free until then to introduce the job board. Posting is free, and will continue to be free, for applicants.

“Our goal is to be a service that taps into the talents available within the disability community," Hoffman said. “We want to assist the employment of job seekers who are unemployed or underemployed."

The job board is one part of the business group's year-round efforts to encourage employers to find and hire people with disabilities. The group doesn't guarantee a job match, but through its education programs, it tries to eliminate employers' misconceptions about the costs or difficulties of employing people with disabilities.

SHiFT also includes a “library of inclusion resources" in the Kansas City area.