Module 1: Recognizing the Importance of Business Relationships

In Module 1, you will learn why relationships with businesses are important, why the VR established a dual customer strategy, and how legislation guides vocational rehabilitation agency interactions with businesses.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Module 1 presentation slides.

Transcript of Module 1

The Center on Knowledge Translation for Employment Research, KTER, housed at the American Institutes for Research is proud to present the Business Outreach Training. This is Module 1, Recognizing the Importance of Business Relationships.

Welcome. Thank you for participating in the American Institutes for Research, AIR's, Center on Knowledge Translation for Employment Research, otherwise known as the KTER Center, Training for Business Outreach. I'm Linda Hedenblad and I'll be your instructor during this module.

In this module, we will explore the importance of business relationships to job seekers, businesses, and to vocational rehabilitation, drawing from a body of research in the field. Then we'll review the concept of a dual customer strategy, and we'll go over some goals that you can put into practice when creating and maintaining relationships with businesses. We're glad you're here. Let's get started.

In each module, starting with this one, we will discuss the topic for that module—in this case, recognizing the importance of business relationships—by first showing you what the research says about the topic. This will provide a solid foundation on the topic with research that spans several decades, and includes case studies and data from real VR settings and situations. Examining the research will add credibility and validity to these topics that are vital to the work that you do.

Once you have seen what the research says, we will then present a practitioner's perspective, drawing from years of experience in the field. By reflecting the voice of the practitioner, we hope to provide additional context or nuances that may not be readily apparent in the research. We hope including information from both viewpoints will provide you with a balanced knowledge and perspective on these topics.

Let's jump right in with the topic of Module 1, “Recognizing the Importance of Business Relationships.” First, let's look at what the research tells us. To do this, we'll need to examine the research according to the importance of business relationships as they apply to 1, job seekers, 2, to businesses, and 3, to VR agencies.

First, the importance of business relationships to candidates for employment. Although the benefits to candidates may be apparent from your own experience, it's important to note that supporting research spans across many years. Even a few decades ago, we already knew from the research that engaging with businesses increases the likelihood of returning individuals with disabilities to work.

Additionally, having an established relationship with an employer acts as predictor of whether or not a business will hire a person with a disability. Specifically, businesses with positive relationships with their VR agencies were more likely to hire people who are blind or have visual impairment, and therefore, were more likely to have positive attitudes about persons with disabilities.

These results support the use of a dual-customer strategy in VR to treat businesses like customers, suggesting that when businesses have a positive relationship with their VR agencies, individuals with disabilities are more likely to get hired and returned to work. As with the research on the importance to candidates for employment, the research has shown over the years that businesses value partnerships with VR, especially those personal relationships.

Research also shows that confidence in the VR employment specialist is a factor that businesses consider when making hiring decisions, which indicates a need for the VR to develop strong relationships with human resources and other members of businesses involved in recruiting and hiring. And businesses report that it's critical for employment specialists to be trustworthy and professional as part of their collaborative relationship. These factors are critical to building collaborative and supporting relationships with the businesses that you work with.

As you're probably aware, business relationships are important to VR. Research has been exploring the value of business relationships for years. For example, establishing stronger relationships with businesses could allow better information for the VR about potential placement opportunities.

There also has been a growing mandate for VR to cultivate demand-side dual -customer approaches. This means businesses are treated like customers, that VR agencies are focused on jobs not just the job seekers, and that they work with businesses on related goals that are important to business, such as bridging skill gaps in their workforce or dealing with turnover.

Lastly, VR agencies need to build relationships with businesses to effectively implement WIOA, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. It's important to remember that WIOA amends the Rehab Act of '73, and that the updates in language in WIOA guides our work in VR today. This includes providing training and technical assistance for businesses regarding the employment of individuals with disabilities, working with businesses on opportunities for work-based learning, recruiting, training, and providing awareness of disability-related topics and obstacles to continued employment, offering support, TA, and consultation on accommodations, assistive technology for recruiting, job matching, hiring, and retaining, and helping businesses use available support for accommodations and hiring.

As the past few slides have demonstrated, the research—conducted over many years—has shown the importance of business relationships to VR. Next, let's get the practitioner's perspective on the importance of business relationships.

As mentioned, the practitioner's voice leverages an abundance of hands-on knowledge and experience in VR, taking directly from practitioners working in the field. At the KTER Center, we have had the privilege of working with VR business consultants. And in the past several years, has included surveys and focus groups with the National Employment Team, or the NET members, and attending the semi-annual conference of the Council of State Agencies of Vocational Rehabilitation, what we know is CSAVR. Through these partnerships, we have gained insight from those we have worked with, which has proved invaluable to our common goal of advancing the field of VR. We're excited to further such a collaboration by including the practitioner's perspective in this training.

Here we go: The Practitioner's Voice on Recognizing the Importance of Business Relationships. Key to the creation of business relationships is the concept of the dual-customer strategy. To recognize the importance of business relationships, practitioners in the field of VR should first understand what a dual -customer strategy is, and why it's been emphasized.

The dual-customer strategy builds on the demand-side approach of acting as consultants to businesses, and expands the concepts to treating businesses as customers, just as people with disabilities are treated as customers. VR agencies began implementing a dual-customer strategy in 2004 after a business roundtable held at the National Employment Conference hosted jointly by RSA and CSAVR and the George Washington University. What made this large-scale event different from previous conferences was its deliberate focus on helping VR staff to create and maintain relationships with businesses.

How do we know this is important to businesses? At the National Employment Conference in 2004, a business roundtable of 35 employers was held. Feedback from that roundtable confirmed the importance of a dual-customer approach and led to the formation of the National Employment Team, or the NET. Remember that NET members are VR single points of contact for businesses, serving businesses as customers and making it easy for business to access and communicate with VR.

Why is it important to treat businesses as customers? Because businesses create job opportunities for people with disabilities. They work with individuals to create realistic career paths. And businesses have the power to open doors for people with disabilities.

As I mentioned in the research section of this module, VR agencies need business relationships to successfully implement key sections of WIOA, including technical assistance and support to businesses. To do so effectively, there are several goals that we should strive to meet.

The first goal is to focus on understanding the business needs, not simply on selling a job candidate or service to the business. Remember that working with businesses goes beyond job placement. It's about building a relationship that is longer term than the placement of any one individual.

The second goal is to ensure the relationships we build are built on trust. Based on our practitioners' experience, businesses have expressed that they don't know what they don't know, and often they're afraid to ask. To address this, VR agencies need to establish relationships based on trust, breaking down those attitudinal barriers and providing a trusting relationship where businesses can feel free to ask the questions they need.

The third goal is to understand the business and their unique needs. Don't get too focused on job placement. If you miss seeing how VR can meet the larger scale or longer-term needs of the business, you're missing a big opportunity. Think about the different lines of business—this means doing your research—and about how VR can collaborate with the company to meet their various business needs. We'll discuss this topic in further depth in upcoming modules.

The fourth goal is, develop a strategy with business, which involves several steps. First, you need to identify where support is needed and draw from VR services. The NET has created a brochure with more information on this. To access this brochure go to

Developing a strategy also involves building a talent pipeline and opportunities for business-based learning. Additionally, you need to support upward mobility, such that individuals with disabilities are positioned in key places to be promoted into management and leadership roles. Finally, your strategy must include a focus on retention and keeping that talent employed long term.

Make it a priority to put these goals into action as part of your personal strategy to enhance VR business relations. We will review additional strategies and action steps as we continue through these training modules. So, you'll be able to add this and other practitioner tools to your tool belt.

In conclusion, let us briefly review what we've learned. In this module, we've reviewed the importance of business relationships. First, we looked at some research on the topic which confirms that relationships with businesses are important to candidates for employment, businesses, and VR agencies.

Next, we heard the voice of the practitioner, which talked about the dual-customer strategy and how it was established as a benefit to both VR agencies and businesses. And because helping businesses meet their needs through VR services, the dual-customer strategy also benefits people with disabilities. Lastly, we learned about how building on the relationships with businesses is vital to meeting VR goals and implementing WIOA.

We hope this training module has proved valuable to you, and has helped to increase your awareness of the importance of relationships with businesses. You have now completed the first module. References to the material covered in this slide show are found in the next slides.

When you are ready, please close this presentation and take a Knowledge Check to be eligible for the next module once it's released. On behalf of all of us, thank you.

[Note: knowledge check has been removed.]

Click here to proceed to Module 2.