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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

ESSENTIAL TOOLS —
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace


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 include:

  • 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 barriers.

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 of expertise.

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.

Recruiting Avenues

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 the future.

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 ethic.

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 co-workers;
  • Being able to express themselves with clarity in written and oral form;
  • 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 skills.

* 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.


Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction

Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion



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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 in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

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.