Employment First Summit I:
A Consensus Report
On June 12, 2007, a group of more than 100 leaders representing government, education, community-based service providers, business, and disability advocacy organizations gathered in Chaska, Minnesota; the purpose of the Summit was to begin planning a coordinated strategy to increase the competitive employment and economic development goals of Minnesotans with a wide variety of disabilities.
Despite many breakthroughs in education methods, school transition strategies, employment practices, and emerging technologies, most of our state’s citizens with disabilities are not working in paid, integrated employment in the competitive workforce. A generally accepted estimate of the unemployment rate for working-age youth and adults with significant disabilities is 70% or higher—the highest unemployment rate of all minority populations!
The leaders attending the Minnesota Employment First Summit acknowledged that this unemployment rate is unacceptable, and that it is driven by unsubstantiated stereotypes and low expectations of the work capacities of adults with disabilities. “We have been discussing the need for meaningful systems changes in Minnesota for more than 20 years. When are we going to take it seriously and do what needs to be done?” asked one Summit attendee, speaking for many in the group.
The diverse base of Summit attendees shared many excellent ideas about potential ways to increase the job placement and competitive employment of Minnesotans with disabilities. These recommendations are included in the Consensus Report that is available by clicking on the Employment First icon.
Employment First Summit II
The Scorecard: A progress report on Employment First in Minnesota
On November 14, 2008 the Employment First Coalition hosted it’s 2nd Annual Employment First Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota. This event was held by invitation only and featured a gathering of almost 200 people from the state of Minnesota. The invited guests of Summit II held one common focus – how to make employment the first and preferred choice of youth and adults with disabilities in the state of Minnesota. The outstanding success of the initial Minnesota First Summit in Chaska, Minnesota on June 12, 2007 resulted in the development and wide distribution of a consensus report for change. The Minnesota Employment First Manifesto identified eight core recommendations to substantially increase integrated employment at competitive wages and benefits for Minnesotans with disabilities. Also the Manifesto took direct aim at defining what employment first means as well as crafting a uniform definition of employment to be used as a statewide standard in measuring the competitive employment rate of Minnesotans with disabilities.
The Summit II event was organized by the Minnesota Employment First Coalition with two principle objectives in mind. First our coalition recognizes the fundamental importance of tapping the leadership of private industries and businesses to drive sweeping changes in the employment rates for Minnesotans with disabilities. Therefore, the morning session of this event was dedicated to “business leadership” and identifying new policies and practices to support a business based employment first vision in Minnesota.
The afternoon session of Summit II was coined, “The Scorecard,” and included a broader base of employment first stakeholders including federal, state and county agency leaders, self-advocates and family members, disability advocates, disability and employment service providers, secondary and post-secondary educators, residential providers, veteran representatives, community representatives, and others. The afternoon session was dedicated to a discussion on Minnesota’s progress and measurable successes made with respect to core recommendations crafted following Summit I. The afternoon session concluded with facilitated group discussions about the critical next steps to advance an employment first agenda in Minnesota to the next level.
Employment First Mini Summit
On the morning of April 9, 2008, 25 leaders from state, local and federal agencies, and 11 members of the Minnesota Employment First Coalition, gathered in St. Paul for an Employment First Mini-Summit. The purpose of the mini-summit was to review recommendations set forth in the Employment First Consensus Report, identify what each of the represented agencies were already doing relative to the employment of people with disabilities as defined in the Consensus Report, and forge new partnerships and strategies to promote Minnesota as an Employment First state by the year 2013.
The mini-summit began with an overview and progress report on Employment First activities in Minnesota. The overview was presented by Bob Niemiec and Don Lavin on behalf of the Minnesota Employment First Coalition. This introduction was followed by short presentations by participants highlighting their respective agencies’ disability employment initiatives. The remainder of the half-day event involved a brainstorming session facilitated by Carol Rydell. The groups were asked to consider a fundamental question: What actions and partnership strategies will make employment the first and preferred outcome for Minnesotans with disabilities by 2013?
After the initial brainstorming session, the participants organized themselves into three primary focus areas that correspond to eight core recommendations identified in the Consensus Report. The three areas are: (1) Launch an Employment First Vision and Public Policy; (2) Build Capacity of Local Communities (Do it!) and; (3) Provide Training and Technical Assistance to support the initiative. There was a fourth focus (consensus) area about establishing a uniform definition of employment (as stated in the Consensus Report) and using this definition to create a statewide baseline and measure progress from there.
The results of the mini-summit are being compiled and a brief report will be developed and disseminated to participants of both the mini-summit as well as the original Employment First Summit held on June 12, 2007. The mini-summit report will also be posted on the MN APSE website.
The Minnesota Employment First Coalition and MN APSE continue to move forward with this initiative. Our Coalition is working with state policymakers to expand and enrich the workforce opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities, including youth and adults with significant disabilities. To illustrate, the State of Minnesota recently applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Technical Assistance and Research Center (NTAR) at Rutgers University to participate in a State Leaders Innovation Institute. This new and related initiative will help to bring further focus and build upon our momentum in forging new partnerships and implementing employment first policies and practices in Minnesota.
Finally, the Minnesota Employment First Coalition has developed connections and partnerships with similar initiatives in Indiana, Georgia, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Missouri. A second Employment First Summit is being planned in Minnesota for September 2008, and discussions are underway for a national Employment First event to be held in the spring of 2009. What began as a small idea in organizing a group of people who are committed to making employment the first option for Minnesotans with disabilities has now blossomed into a wider movement that has both state and national implications.
Employment First Summit III
A New Hope
On May 1, 2010, the Minnesota Employment First Coalition hosted its 3rd Employment Summit in Woodbury, MN. The Summit narrowed its focus for this event and targeted individuals with disabilities and their families as participants. The Summit was designed to be smaller and more participant friendly in its attempt to gather information from the participants. The invitation list was carefully developed to ensure that as many different disability populations as possible would be represented. Many of the individuals and family members in attendance represented transition age youth, though post transition adults were represented as well. Approximately half of the 100 invitees attended the event which was held on a Saturday to accommodate the schedules of busy families.
This Summit was the third in a series of Summits planned by the Minnesota Employment First Coalition. The first was held in 2007 and a series of eight recommendations was released in a document titled the Minnesota Employment First Manifesto. These recommendations were updated in 2008 at the second Summit. One of the updated recommendations was to hold a Summit to elicit feedback and promote active participation by individuals with disabilities and their families.
The day began with a brief overview of work completed to date and a keynote speech from Chad and Sharon Schashl, who shared their journey toward Chad’s employment from their unique perspectives. Participants were then strategically split into discussion groups facilitated by members of the Coalition.
Employment First Summit IV
Mobilizing a Coalition of Employment Champions
The Fourth Summit of the Employment First Coalition was held on September 30, 2011, as a continuation of the dialogues begun in 2009 and 2010 by the Minnesota Employment Policy Initiative (MEPI) around the question, “What will it take to double employment of Minnesotans with disabilities by 2015?”
The 2011 MN Employment Policy Initiative (MEPI) Final Report identified 21 consensus recommendations across disability groups to promote employment as the preferred outcome of Minnesotans with disabilities. Summit IV brought together 20 disability advocacy organizations to develop a collaborative action plan to prioritize and implement those consensus recommendations.
Employment First Summit V
Special Educator’s Summit
April 2014-May 2015
Focusing on IDEA’s Indicators 13 and 14, the Employment First coalition convened teams of Minnesota Special Educators from 20 school districts across the state to create district specific strategies to improve employment outcomes for students with disabilities.
Indicator 13 on Secondary Transition: Percent of youth aged 15 and above with an IEP that includes coordinated, measurable, annual IEP goals and transition services that will reasonably enable the student to meet the post-secondary goals.
Indicator 14 on Post School Outcomes: Percent of youth who had individualized education programs (IEPs), are no longer in secondary school and who have been competitively employed, enrolled in some type of postsecondary school, or both, within one year of leaving high school.
This Summit was supported by a grant through the Bush Foundation through the Autism Society of Minnesota.