On the eve of
his recent national summit to help America build a more inclusive
workforce, Delaware Governor Jack Markell spoke with ABILITYs
Chet Cooper and Marge Plasmier about his driving passion to bring
more Americans with disabilities into the labor force and boost their
Marge Plasmier: What youre doing is very important.
Governor Jack Markell: Thank you. Its quite interesting.
Plasmier: Can you talk about why you took on this initiative?
Markell: I dont have a family member with a disability, but
over the years Ive met people with disabilities whove
had the chance to be employed and it has made such a positive impact
on their lives and the lives of their families. And it seemed to me
that this was an issue we could really advance. Peoples quality
of life is so much better when they have the chance to wake up with
a purpose, be part of a team, be productive and get a paycheck. The
unemployment rate for people with disabilities is very high and so
many would just love the chance to work.
Democrats and Republicans alike care about this matter. It presents
an opportunity for governors to work with businesses of all sizes,
philanthropists and the not-for-profit sectors towards a single, positive
goal. I also thought we could advance the discussion by offering practical
suggestions and ideas to governors and their staffs to use in their
Chet Cooper: How do you feel the recent summit went?
Markell: We made good progress and well soon publish a blueprint
for governors around the country. For this to work, weve got
to integrate the idea of increasing employment opportunities for people
with disabilities into the broader workforce development strategy.
That means doing a better job of listening to businesses and getting
to a solution that involves finding them workers with the particular
skills employers need. And there are plenty of people with disabilities
who have great skills, who can add value to the workforce. As states,
we need to be more service-oriented.
We also have to make sure that the states themselves are being model
employers. As we reach out to businesses to encourage them to hire
more people with disabilities, states have to step up and do the same.
We must do a better job of preparing young people with disabilities
for a life of work and career, rather than a life on public benefits.
On this issue, there seems to be unanimity among governors of both
parties, people throughout business, philanthropy and government sectors.
Cooper: What does the philanthropy sector mean to you?
Do you mean nonprofits working in this area? People donating money?
Markell: Not-for-profits as well as groups that give money. Thats
the great thing about this effort; weve had everybody at the
table, including folks at the university and people at major foundations
whove shown interest in supporting these efforts. Weve
had really big businesses like Walgreens, Bank of America and Walmart
take an interest, as well as small businesses with a dozen or two
dozen employees. This is one of those issues that everybody can get
Plasmier: What do businesses and/or their foundations think they
might do differently?
Markell: Specifically, weve got to give more young people workplace
opportunities while theyre still in school, so that they can
envision a career for themselves, make a contribution and be valued.
They also need to learn some of the basics of what it means to be
reliable, productive employees. Thats a big part of it and the
other piece is really focusing on how states approach businesses with
the idea of helping them find skilled and talented employees, rather
than going to businesses and asking them to place a particular person
as a favor. Its a change of mindset.
Cooper: It sounds like an attitudinal shift that has to happen
within the person who has a disability, as well as within corporations
that need to acknowledge both the talent pool out there and the talent
pool still in the pipeline.
Markell: Thats correct. Theres also a need for an attitudinal
shift on the part of state governments where we see ourselves as partners
for these businesses and where we offer access to people with all
kinds of disabilities who have skills.
Cooper: What do you mean by access?
Markell: Part of the job of any state agency is to help people seeking
jobs find those jobs with companies that are looking for people who
have those skills.
Cooper: Often youll see a champion helping to move their company
in the right direction, only to find when they leave, so seem to go
their efforts. And then there are companies that may exert a little
bit of effort to show the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
that theyre doing something, if theyre a federal contractor
or subcontractor. This initiative needs someone like you who will
be candid, keep pushing the message and deal with it on a state-by-state
Markell: Thats why were trying to keep the spotlight on
Cooper: Where are you in your term?
Markell: Ive been governor for four-and-a-half years. So Im
coming up on the end of my chairmanship of the National Governors
Association. [web update 8/15/13]
Cooper: I hope that whoever takes your place continues this important
Markell: There are a lot of governors in both parties who are very
interested in this. Yes, weve got to keep pushing.
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