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Workforce shortages open doors for people with disabilities looking for steady jobs

Business owners are reaching out to applicants with disabilities to help them fill job openings during nationwide workforce shortages.

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Carving out a success story requires attention to detail and a chance to show people what you’re capable of. Philip Klopcic, 24, has not had many chances in life. He is often overlooked for employment because of his intellectual and developmental disability. 

That all changed when Elite Cabinetry, Inc. in New Park, York County gave him a shot at his first job.

My parents were like, ‘Okay you need to get a job. You need to get out of the house.’ And I was like yes! Finally! I need to get out of the house. Get on my feet. Time to earn my living,” said Klopcic.

Elite Cabinetry, Inc. had spent weeks searching for additional staff. They met Philip through Penn-Mar Human Services, a nonprofit organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“When we gave him his first paycheck, he said, ‘I’ve never had a paycheck’ and I wanted to cry because we were giving him something that he had never had,” said Linda Boothe, president of Elite Cabinetry Inc.

When the state shut down two years ago, Elite Cabinetry, Inc. was tapped to shift operations. The Wolf Administration gave the company a business waiver to remain open and make sneeze guards out of plexiglass for medical offices, dental offices and banks. Every other project they had been working on came to an abrupt halt.

“We had product ready to be installed. We had product that we had to pay for, the labor and the material, but we weren’t installing the job and not getting paid so there were a lot of financial issues with that obviously,” Boothe said.

As the state reopened, business piled on. The company needed more hands and so did other businesses across the state. The competition for new hires is fierce and there are not enough candidates to fill open positions. 

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor, there are 337,000 unemployed people in Pennsylvania and 495,000 job openings as of December 2021. Employers posted 73,000 more job openings in just one month.

Workforce shortages have impacted nearly every industry. Small businesses are struggling to find enough skilled workers, resulting in reduced hours and supply chain bottlenecks.

“We did everything we could think of. We put it on Facebook, ads in the paper, we did Indeed,” Boothe added. “It’s very hard to find someone who’s willing to come in and do the jobs that sometimes people don’t want to do. The little jobs. Without those, we can’t do the big jobs.”

Until they found Philip.

Philip had been searching for work through the Employment Program at Penn-Mar Human Services. The program encourages people with IDD to discover their interests and skills and helps them succeed in competitive integrated employment. Dozens of companies started turning to Penn-Mar for help to offset staffing shortages, opening a lot of doors for people eager to work.

“All of a sudden, I was getting phone calls from them during the pandemic saying, ‘We’re ready now.’ I’ve been able to partner with some really great people in our community and employers with our community,” said Tricia Zeltwanger, Career Counselor Penn-Mar Human Services.

The nonprofit’s Customized Employment process includes Discovery (home visits, community mapping, observations of familiar and unfamiliar tasks, work-based learning experiences designed to highlight an employment seekers interests, skills and conditions for success), creating a career plan, job development based upon a good match, job negotiation, and job coaching.

Businesses looking to fill open positions and find staff can reach out to Penn-Mar directly by visiting their website or by contacting Penn-Mar’s Career Counselor tzeltwanger@penn-mar.org.

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