E-mail this page
Download PDF
598K, 40 pages
Acrobat Reader required
NCSET logo

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

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

Quality Products, Quality Employees:
Medtronic Physio-Control

by LaDrene Coyne

Our mission at Medtronic Physio-Control is to make tools for lifesaving teams. We develop, manufacture, sell, and service the renowned LIFEPAK® defibrillator/monitors and automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Our products are used to save lives and to build “heart-safe communities.” We are based in Redmond, WA, but our products are sold and serviced throughout the world. It is not a responsibility that we take lightly, and we must recruit and maintain a quality workforce that also takes this responsibility seriously. When we were first approached in the mid-1980s by a program representing job seekers with developmental disabilities, we needed assurances that prospective employees from this program would meet our high expectations.

The Beginning of a Long Partnership

In the mid-1980s Medtronic Physio-Control was experiencing rapid growth and the expansion of its manufacturing concerns. Finding good, reliable workers was a significant need. At about the same time, Trillium Employment Services, a local organization that represents job seekers with disabilities, began to pioneer a process called supported employment. Many of the people it represents require coaching and considerable assistance in learning job tasks once they are on the job. Supported employment enables people needing this extensive coaching to succeed in the workplace.

Knowing that Medtronic Physio-Control was a progressive company, Trillium approached our CEO about developing a partnership that would enable us to fill some of our production needs and that would enable Trillium job seekers to enter the workforce for the first time. Some of the individuals had been in work training centers called sheltered workshops, where all of the trainees had disabilities. Some people came from public school special education programs.

Our CEO directed the vice president of manufacturing to examine how a partnership might be implemented. A line supervisor was identified, and a centralized place was established where several Trillium workers could work together in a distinct enclave. Workers focused on narrowly defined tasks and were supervised by Trillium staff. In fact, a contract paid Trillium for this work, and Trillium paid the enclave workers from this contract.

Eventually Medtronic Physio-Control and Trillium realized that the people hired through supported employment could be taught to work in other departments on our production floor. Supervisors and co-workers could also be taught how to directly coach the Trillium workers, minimizing the need for Trillium job coaches. As a result, eventually the workers in the enclave were mainstreamed throughout the plant and converted to direct-hire status.

Help Needed on the Line

When the partnership began, I was a line supervisor overseeing a pace line in the board shop. The line hand-stuffed components into PCBs, and there was a need for an additional headcount. This provided an opportunity for moving a qualified person from the enclave line into the pace line area.

This was a new experience for me, but with the Trillium staff working closely with me to organize the work assignments for the individual, I become an advocate. Trillium provided training for the co-workers and myself. We were taught how to introduce new tasks to the individual, how to prompt the person to complete the tasks, and how to deal with occasional production or work behavior issues. The individual learned the job so well that I was eventually called upon to help other teams integrate supported employees into their production lines. I helped organize and conduct training sessions for team members when the workers were first introduced to a new team. Through this process I have developed a strong ongoing relationship with Trillium.

There are eight people with developmental disabilities working in our plant today, earning from $15,189 to $24,500 annually. All receive full benefits including health insurance and four weeks’ annual vacation.

What Makes the Partnership Work?

The partnership with Trillium has evolved over the years to what I consider a very strong and sophisticated example of the benefits in a truly reciprocal relationship. Trillium has a receptive business to which it can refer potential job seekers, and we have a referral source that knows our company and our job requirements inside out. The evolution and success of the relationship is the result of four key elements:

  • Designated points of contact: Our relationship has always featured designated Trillium contacts and a designated internal company contact who work in tandem.
  • Co-worker training: Formal training sessions are provided for co-workers and supervisors when they are first introduced to the prospect of working with an employee engaged in supported employment. The sessions include possible scenarios relating to what to expect and general information about disability awareness, accommodations, and etiquette.
  • Integrating this relationship into regular hiring and training practices: We believe it important that our partnership with Trillium be a part of the company culture rather than a separate or special program. The screening, hiring, and training of each team member are in compliance with company procedures. If specific individual accommodations are necessary, we work with Trillium and our tooling shop.
  • Careful screening: The reason our partnership has worked so well is because of the careful screening process we have developed to match applicants with jobs. Trillium is an integral part of the screening, because they know both the applicants and our operation so well. Occasionally, we have had a new person spend a few hours a day for a week to see if it is a good job match before a hiring decision is made. The lengthy job tenure of most our team members with developmental disabilities is a testament to both the careful screening process and the commitment of Trillium’s expertise.

Pioneering Spirit

Nearly 40 years ago, we introduced a medical device that launched an industry—the first commercial DC defibrillator. Since then, our product focus has been on the development of the highest quality medical devices for prediction or urgent treatment of cardiac and respiratory emergencies. Our early involvement with Trillium to include supported employees in our workforce fits with our legacy of “firsts.” We introduce and distribute cutting edge, lifesaving products, and we adopt and incorporate human resource and development practices that keep us on the cutting edge.

Recently, I was assigned to be a loaned executive to chair the Washington State Business Leadership Network (BLN), a network of employers who educate and support businesses to hire, retain, and improve customer service for people with disabilities. This assignment represents a recognition and commitment that our company can offer more to the larger business community about how well this has worked for Medtronic Physio-Control. Over the years I have gained invaluable information about supported employment in the workplace, and I am pleased to apply my knowledge as I work with the Business Leadership Network to help other companies learn about recruiting and managing workers with developmental disabilities.

The mission of my position is to educate and support Medtronic and other businesses to recruit, hire, and retain people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act represents civil rights for people with disabilities (however, it doesn’t legislate attitudes!). Business representatives talking with peers about positive experiences will change attitudes. I will utilize our experience at Medtronic Physio-Control to assist other businesses and Medtronic to hire people with disabilities.

LaDrene Coyne is a former Senior Production Supervisor at Medtronic Physio-Control, where she has worked for the past 21 years. She is currently a loaned executive, assigned by Medtronic Physio-Control, to the Washington State Business Leadership Network to work to expand her company’s initiatives to hire people with developmental disabilities.

Table of Contents

Cover Page


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

E-mail this page
Download PDF
598K, 40 pages
Acrobat Reader required

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, 2025 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55414, (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.