National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in
Investigating Human Resource Options:
American Institute for Cancer Research
by John McIlveen
The American Institute for Cancer Research is an independent nonprofit
organization dedicated to research and education that expands understanding
and awareness of the relationship between diet and cancer. It receives
no federal funds, nor has it received large-scale funding from any corporate
or industry interest. Consequently, the institute relies on public support
for its funding. It employs more than 100 people, including medical researchers,
fundraising staff, media specialists, and various support staff.
One of the institute’s major responsibilities to the community
is the dissemination of information and research materials regarding cancer
prevention. We also handle a large volume of inquiries concerning our
research and regularly process donations and fundraising inquiries. The
institute’s Fulfillment Center processes up to 600 mailings a day
(most are publication inserts). Mail processing is an often tedious but
integral part of our operation. Since an ongoing concern is staff turnover
in that department, we were eager to listen to representatives from a
local special education transition program when they contacted us about
hiring students they represented.
When hired in the human resources department, I was given a brochure
from a program called Bridges…From School to Work which
represented youth with disabilities. It was presented as a potential resource
for recruiting, especially for entry-level positions. I was open to considering
young people with disabilities because of prior experience in other companies.
I also believed that being involved with the program would be a way for
the institute to do something positive for the community as we found individuals
who could fill our positions. We eventually brought in two high school
students represented by Bridges to work in our Fulfillment Center.
Challenges to Making it Work
Many of the challenges to the initial success involved integrating the
students into the workplace. Most staff had never worked with individuals
with disabilities, and they had to learn how to interact with them and
how to provide guidance and instruction. The Bridges staff assisted with
this activity in the beginning, but since they did not interact daily
with the students, the challenge was often in making the shift from Bridges
staff support to co-worker support. Our employees often found themselves
having to assist the students in basic tasks, from learning their jobs
to navigating around the offices.
In addition, employees often had preconceived notions about what the
students could or could not do. These concerns were usually related to
perceptions about the students’ ability to keep up with the work
so that they would not interrupt the work flow. Because of this initial
skepticism, there was a level of acceptance that had to occur among the
staff. Consequently, it was a challenge to balance finding appropriate
duties that would challenge the students yet not overwhelm them. Ultimately,
achieving this balance was what convinced the staff to have the students
in our workplace.
Strategies that Made the Relationship Work
The main reason the students are successful in our workplace is the assistance
of the Bridges staff. They provide initial information and guidance about
particular students as well as initial assistance in getting the students
situated. They work with us to assess the job requirements and the students’
skill level so that a good match can be made, resulting in tasks at which
the students can excel.
A strategy we found effective was to bring the students in on a trial
basis. Not only did this give the students time to become acclimated to
their new jobs, but it also enabled the other employees to accept their
presence. In fact, we made sure that the other employees were involved
in decision-making related to student assignments and that their views
were considered in evaluating the effectiveness of the matches of the
students to their tasks.
Finally, because Bridges staff are available to the students and
the employer, there is help to mitigate some of the external influences
that challenge the students and ultimately affect their work. Bridges
staff can make referrals to necessary external services and can act as
intermediaries between the students’ families, the schools, and
Evidence of Success
Two young men in the program began working with us while they were still
in high school. They have finished school and now work at the institute.
One man has worked at the institute for almost two years. This represents
potential longevity in their positions that will benefit the institute.
They are evaluated the same as other employees, and they identify and
chart their progress and personal goals for job improvement as part of
the institute’s evaluation process. These men are helping us learn
how to map out their tenure with the organization. They are challenged
to do good work, and we are challenged to continually elevate their work
It is remarkable is to see young people find their voice and advocate
on their own behalf. For example, it is very gratifying to see them seek
out human resources personnel to talk about job issues affecting them.
As they mature, it is obvious to us that they will be good employees in
any future work environment. Sometimes little things like seeing them
in a crisp shirt and tie gives me a good feeling that they are growing
as employees and as responsible people.
Expanding the Relationships
Since bringing these men into the institute, I have become active in
the Bridges Business Advisory Council and am currently the co-chair. This
group exists to provide the program with employer perspectives. Our activities
include providing feedback and technical expertise on making contact with
businesses, providing mock interviews for students as they prepare for
the job search, and promoting the program to other employers. We meet
six times a year and participate in a number of other activities between
meetings. For example, we have sponsored breakfast recruitment meetings
to inform employers about the program and its potential benefits. We have
also developed the Youth Experience Series (YES), which offers training
sessions designed to give students skills in goal setting, résumé
development, and other job success skills. Job shadowing experiences often
accompany these sessions.
Ultimately, the members of the Business Advisory Council want to expand
the impact of Bridges for both youth and employers. We are working to
influence more companies to consider the benefits. It is often difficult
to find a good match in hiring. It is important to find someone who has
the appropriate skills, to keep them performing at a high level, to increase
their skill level over time, and to make sure that burn-out does not occur
so they remain productive members of the organization. We have been able
to reach these goals in the institute’s Fulfillment Center. Involving
youth in our workplace through the competent and responsive help of programs
like Bridges is a win-win situation.
John McIlveen is the Director of Human Resources and Administration
at the American Institute of Cancer Research in Washington, DC. He is
also co-chair of the Business Advisory Council of the Washington, DC Bridges…From
School to Work program of the Marriott Foundation for People with
598K, 40 pages
Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004).
Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth
with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary
Education and Transition.
Permission is granted to duplicate this publication
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publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute
on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150
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This document was published by the National
Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported
through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department
of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department
of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity
employers and educators.