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AbilityWorks training for disabled benefits businesses and taxpayers

The former Allied Enterprises Inc. program providing training and experience for people with disabilities in order to prepare them for employment has a new name, AbilityWorks, that more accurately reflects the focus of the organization that is a division of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.

“AbilityWorks Inc. has been around a long time,” said Kathy Robbins, director of client services for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. “It was incorporated in 1964 as Allied Enterprises Inc. We changed our name to AbilityWorks Inc. as of May of this year. We feel the name change better reflects our purpose and mission of service.”

Often, the former name baffled the general public who would confuse the organization with businesses with similar names like Allied Van Lines. The new name eliminates that problem while bringing a positive focus to identify with the programs.

As part of the mission to prepare people with disabilities to work, AbilityWorks Inc. sets up subcontracts with local businesses and industry. That gives people with disabilities a real work setting for the purposes of training and evaluation.

“We measure their vocational strengths and weaknesses, and work with them through our program to correct any problems they might have in employment before we start job placement activities,” said Robbins, who oversees work at 17 AbilityWorks centers scattered across the state. “A good number of the people who go through this training either have never worked before, or have had difficulty holding jobs in the past. It is a strengthening program for their skills. Some may not know what jobs are available in the community, or are unaware of appropriate work behaviors. Others, who have had trouble working in the past, work through their problems in a real work environment so they can maintain employment in the future.”

The subcontracts with state businesses can be beneficial for the people who get training, the taxpayers and the businesses. Robbins said the tax expenditure return benefit for vocational rehabilitation (VR) to put people back to work is estimated at $10 to $12 for every dollar invested in VR services.

Employers can benefit by saving money from contracting out parts of their operation. For example, Microtek in Columbus had estimated annual savings of $300,000 in labor cost by contracting for a just-in-time packaging operation that could respond to orders in minutes instead of days.

Other major corporations in the state who have contracted with AbilityWorks include Viking Range and La-Z-Boy in Greenville, Valvoline in Oxford, Pewter Graphics on the Coast and a Nissan supplier in Canton, IMS Altran. IMS Altran subcontracts with AbilityWorks to assemble Nissan owner’s manual components.

Cost-effective approach

“For employers, subcontracting with AbilityWorks is very cost-effective,” Robbins said. “It frees up workspace that would be required in their shop for things that are very labor intensive or low-skilled in nature. It reduces the need for them to hire temps for seasonal work, and it is a resource for them to do quick turnaround work.”

Businesses must be aware of the bottom line even when wanting to participate in programs to help the disabled. AbilityWorks has a goal of making it cost-effective for businesses to be involved.

“A business wants you to produce their product in a timely manner, at the quality level they want, and at the best price possible,” Robbins said. “We have been able to do that for some of the top corporations in the state. So, I think it is win-win for them and the AbilityWorks program.”

In the past fiscal year, about 2,500 people with disabilities have been served by the program. Of that number, 766 have transitioned into competitive employment. There can be a lot of misconceptions about hiring people with disabilities. Employers might fear a disabled person would have frequent illnesses that would result in missing a lot of work or might be prone to more accidents and increase their worker’s comp premiums.

“All of those are myths,” Robbins said. “Persons with disabilities make some of the most dedicated employees you could have. Part of the training they get at AbilityWorks prepares them for what employers expect. They probably have more training in this area than the average person off the street.”

Examples of the types of services provided by AbilityWorks include packaging, small assembly, product reclamation (reworking), collating, janitorial and grounds maintenance.
For more information, see the Web site www.mdrs.state.ms.us, or call 1-800-443-1000.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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