National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in
Quality Products, Quality Employees:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.