National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in
Infrastructure for Success:
Kemtah Group, Inc.
by Keith Harris
Kemtah was founded in 1989 and is committed to being North America’s
premier provider of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure support
solutions. The company is headquartered in Albuquerque, NM, with approximately
200 employees nationwide. Kemtah’s IT infrastructure support solutions
- Help desk management;
- Desktop support;
- Network and server management; and
- IT infrastructure projects and consulting.
Kemtah’s goal is to work with our clients as innovative, proactive
collaborators, focused on reducing cost while being highly responsive
to end-users’ unique needs. Our mission is to deliver world class
IT infrastructure support solutions to large organizations. We strive
to continuously adapt to the needs of our clients, employees, and markets,
while building bridges to meaningful employment for people with career
Kemtah currently conducts business in North America with offices and
operations in Sacramento, CA; Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA; Miami, FL; Chicago,
IL; Washington DC; and Toronto, Canada.
We deliver our services in two ways: through managed services that provide
ongoing operational support for help desk, desktop, and server environments;
and through consulting services that address specific, project-based business
needs of our clients, including end-user services, technology migrations
and deployments, and project/program management. We deliver our solutions
across multiple industries.
Success Through People and Diversity
We have four sons, one who was born with Down syndrome. As the parents
of a child with a disability, we have combined our passion for business
with our passion to foster and create meaningful employment for persons
with career barriers. We believe in the strength of all people. Workforce
diversity is critical as our clients, suppliers, and partners are increasingly
multicultural and global. Diverse perspectives increase our knowledge
and are key to providing better and more creative business solutions.
It is core to all areas of our business to foster an inclusive environment
to attract, retain, and promote talented people from diverse backgrounds.
We hold as a corporate goal the creation of competitive job opportunities
for candidates who possess one to two years’ experience working
in a computer-related environment performing tasks such as repair, diagnostics,
or troubleshooting. Also, as representatives of Kemtah, employees must
have strong customer service skills.
When placement opportunities are identified, technical recruiters specializing
in the IT arena can then recruit prospective applicants and recommend
them to hiring managers. In addition, Kemtah managers attempt to promote
employees who display satisfactory performance, thereby retaining skilled
IT professionals from diverse backgrounds, including persons with disabilities.
This commitment is demonstrated by the desired outcome that all hiring
initiated in a fiscal year should include a minimum of 33% who fall within
workforce diversity guidelines, and that at least 5% of those should have
a disability. Kemtah has surpassed the original projection by 15%, achieving
a 48% success rate.
Over the past three years, Kemtah has hired five youths with disabilities
who have served in summer employment positions. Kemtah is optimistic that
after graduating from high school, some of these individuals will remain
in the IT field and return to work for Kemtah.
In this same time period, Kemtah hired six adults with disabilities who
were primarily referred to us by the New Mexico Division of Vocational
Rehabilitation (DVR). These staff members work in various locations throughout
New Mexico. These staff members enjoyed success in their work endeavors,
and the majority of them have also received promotions within their areas
Our Drive to Help People with Disabilities Succeed at Kemtah
From infancy, Kemtah has observed the essential guiding principle of
respect and value for all people. Kemtah recognizes and appreciates the
importance of productivity, self-sufficiency, and independence, and views
the nearly 70% unemployment rate in the disabled community as a tremendous
waste of human potential and resources. This important precept is at the
foundation of every operational aspect of the company and is prominent
in the disability emphasis of the company’s Workforce Diversity
Initiative. It is the company’s view that if the United States is
to remain competitive, every organization must embrace diversity, given
its inherent competitive advantages. The only way to sustain prominent,
meaningful reductions in the disabled jobless rate is to approach it as
a sound business practice and not just an altruistic motive.
Although Kemtah has devoted much capital to the expansion of employment
options for people with disabilities, it was not until 2001 that the company
formally focused on workforce diversity. Our Workforce Diversity Initiative
began in August 2001 with the establishment of an executive level office
and the appointment of Jeannie Harris as vice president of workforce diversity.
With this office as a driving force, Kemtah developed formal annual operational
goals, procedures, and a five-year strategic blueprint to actively promote
diversity throughout Kemtah.
Kemtah works directly with the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department
of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), and business leadership networks on
state, regional, and local levels to solicit job seekers who possess the
required Kemtah skill sets in geographic locations where Kemtah has or
anticipates a presence. Kemtah has enjoyed limited success utilizing electronic
job boards that specifically target people with disabilities as well as
other diverse candidates. An additional resource is the Governor’s
Committees on Disability and Employment Issues, which Kemtah accesses
on a state-by-state basis. Recently, Kemtah began exploring the use of
Employment Network providers, which were established via the Ticket to
Work legislation. These recruiting avenues facilitate access to diverse
populations and have the potential to yield a high degree of success in
Our Lessons Learned
Rather than relying solely on documentation provided by public agencies
such as the DOL, DVR, a school district, or college, Kemtah discovered
that it is essential to conduct its own independent skills assessment.
In this way, Kemtah can tailor the assessment to the company’s specific
needs, as there is a significant difference between compulsory skills
to fulfill the requirements of an outside entity and what the IT industry
needs and expects.
For example, Kemtah has had great success with its A+ Certification preparation
program geared toward high school students.* This is a six- to eight-week
course providing students, including those with disabilities, a point
of entry into the IT profession. By concentrating on exposure to basic
hardware and software components, this course supplies valuable theory
as well as hands-on experience in diagnosing and repairing personal computers.
By limiting enrollment in the class to no more than 10 participants,
the instructor is in a position to actively engage in a high level of
individual attention, which has contributed to the success of this program.
It is also important to point out that applicants are put through an extensive
qualification and screening mechanism, which helps Kemtah ensure a good
match between the students and the program. For instance, Kemtah selects
10 promising individuals from more than 50 applicants for each session.
In Kemtah’s experience, about 40% of the participants achieve certification
and go on to work in the IT field.
Students Benefit from Early Exposure to Work
Involving the private sector early in the transition process can help
students gain a realistic view of the workplace and work expectations.
This exposure aids in the students’ ability to be successful on
the job. Kemtah wants to be involved in the transition preparation process
as early as possible, thus providing students the opportunity to engage
in a transitional vehicle and develop a more realistic view of their skills
and interests. By participating in this progression, students get exposure
to the real world of work and are prepared for success at Kemtah.
Upon entering the IT field, students bring a knowledge of IT theory and
practical, relevant experience to their chosen fields of study, plus an
understanding of Kemtah’s operational philosophy and a strong work
Employability Skills are the Key to Success
Kemtah believes that there is a need for greater dialog between a student’s
educational environment and the student’s future occupational environment.
Therefore, schools need to teach students appropriate communication and
interpersonal skills as such skills are crucial to success on any job.
Skills students need to possess in order to excel in our workplace include:
- Being able to interact effectively with customers, as well as with
- Being able to express themselves with clarity in written and oral
- Being able to accurately calculate math equations;
- Having a more in-depth understanding of both applications and the
advantages a computer can provide; and
- Engaging in critical-thinking activities.
Kemtah can guide any employee to perform a job if the employee already
possesses a strong work ethic, maintains a high level of responsibility,
and has sound communication skills. Therefore, Kemtah recommends that
schools and programs with an emphasis on employment objectives for youth
workers who have disabilities place more prominence on these employability
* Editor's Note: A+ Certification
is sponsored by the Computer Technology Industry Association to certify
the competency of entry-level computer service technicians.
Keith A. Harris is the founder, Chairman of the Board, and Chief
Executive Officer of Kemtah.
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.
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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.