Module 4: Responding to Challenges and Tracking Success

In Module 4, you will learn how to anticipate challenges to working with businesses, ways to address these challenges, and tips for tracking the progress of established business relationships.

Since we developed this course, the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath has been a major challenge to businesses. There are some similarities to the impact of the “Great Recession” of 2007. The KTER Center developed a technical brief in 2009 that summarized some suggestions about how to respond to that economic disruption. We have made the KTER Center Technical Brief #1, Strategies for Reemployment of Dislocated Workers with Disabilities, available for download in case its resources might be helpful to you now.

Note that this module refers to certificate of completion. The KTER Center is no longer monitoring who is viewing these modules and so is not offering these certificates anymore.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Module 4 presentation slides.

Transcript of Module 4

The Center on Knowledge Translation for Employment Research, KTER, which is housed at the American Institutes for Research, is proud to present the Business Outreach Training. This is Module 4, “Responding to Challenges and Tracking Success.”

Welcome. You made it to Module 4. This is the final module in the KTER Center's Training for Business Outreach. We'd like to extend a thank you to the National Employment Team, and especially Kathy West-Evans for lending her experience to this project. I'm Linda Hedenblad, your instructor for the series.

In this final module, we will study two important topics. First, responding to challenges, and secondly, tracking success. We will also explore tips for overcoming the challenges of working with businesses. We know there are common concerns businesses may have, so we will look at some of those and how to address them. Finally, what does a successful partnership with business look like? How do you track and know if it's working? We'll explore these questions and potential solutions, adding valuable information to your toolkit. So, let's get started.

Because there's so much to cover, let's first talk about the research for responding to challenges and tracking success. Then, we'll move on to the practitioner's viewpoint, where we'll discuss those same two topics.

So, what does the research say about responding to challenges and tracking success? First, let's look at internal challenges, those you may face personally or in your daily work environment. One major challenge for VR professionals is finding the time to spend with businesses. A recent study showed that most VR professionals spend about 21% of their time engaging with businesses. If that's the case, it makes sense why businesses show concern about not having enough contact with VR.

One reason for the lack of contact could be the size and intensity of caseloads. VR professionals report that having highly involved caseloads, leaving them with less time to build business relationships. VR professionals also might not have the knowledge, experience, or skills they need to develop effective business relationships. Those who haven't had much experience tend to lack the confidence to interact with business.

We don't have a magic wand to solve these challenges, but there are a few things that can help. First, be strategic in how you manage your caseloads. Use your time wisely. If you want to see improved business relations, the issue of the sizes of caseloads will need to be addressed. VR administrators really should consider how caseload size and intensity impact the building of business relationships.

Of course, a lack of knowledge in training can make these things even harder. So, we also recommend more training on developing business relationships. This will increase chances of your candidates getting hired, which is why this training was developed.

Practice makes perfect! So, we recommend that you keep going. Reach out, follow up, and keep connecting with businesses. You may also face external challenges, those affected by factors outside of your work environment or VR agency. One potential challenge is communicating the cost benefits of using VR services.

Businesses may assume that hiring a person with a disability is too risky. Risks include financial risk, such as increased costs from hiring the wrong person. They want to make good hiring decisions, and they may think it's riskier to hire a person with a disability, compared to a person without a disability. Additionally, while a business may publicly say positive things about hiring people with disabilities, they may not actually be hiring them. Businesses generally hire based on what contributions they think an individual will bring to the company. The lack of hiring people with disabilities may be due to businesses not clearly understanding how people with disabilities can contribute.

VR has struggled to clearly communicate to businesses how people with disabilities are a viable and productive part of the workforce. Businesses need to understand how VR can help them recruit and employ candidates with disabilities.

To respond to these challenges, we have a few recommendations. First, address the profitability concerns. Make a compelling case to the business. Point out that people with disabilities represent an untapped labor pool that's often overlooked. In highly competitive industries, where there are growing labor demands, this could really give businesses an edge. Also, make the case that hiring people with disabilities could improve the business's brand reputation, giving businesses another competitive advantage.

To address the contributions and benefits of people with disabilities in the workplace, provide consultation that helps the businesses understand these benefits. Find ways to add value to their operations. This may even be things the employer wasn't aware of. Evaluate the company's needs and identify how candidates with disabilities can meet those needs in the company.

Apply the dual customer approach to meet the needs of both businesses and candidates for employment. How can you help business's operations run more smoothly? How can your candidates help them meet their business needs? Businesses are more likely to be interested if they know that you're trying to meet their needs, not just the needs of people with disabilities.

Actively guide and encourage businesses with less experience employing people with disabilities-- those with smaller workforces or those with less financial resources. They may need a little more help.

Keep track of your relationships with businesses to make sure they're working. Do the businesses want to keep partnering with you to hire more candidates? Continued successful relationships is the marker to success. In fact, most of the research focuses on just that: staying in contact with businesses to get a feel of how these partnerships are working over time.

You can boost the success of the relationship by showing businesses that you'll provide continuing support to them. For example, in a recent study, one VR professional indicated that they made frequent phone calls to businesses as a way of demonstrating their availability. Make sure to respond to requests from businesses in a timely manner. Follow up with businesses on the progress of employees recently hired through your partnership.

Taking these steps will help businesses trust you and speak more openly about issues that they should arise. Ultimately, if you stay in touch with businesses, you can keep tabs on how things are going while you continue to build the relationship.

Additionally, you should collect data to track the progress of your business relationships. Examples include gathering labor market data for comparison, identifying the outcomes of your business VR relationships, and collecting customer satisfaction data from your businesses.

Finally, don't reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of existing tools for gathering data and tracking success of your business partnerships. Explore VR has some useful tips for tracking. This includes tracking tools created by the Oregon Commission for the Blind, the Montana Office of VR, and the South Dakota Office of VR. There's also a data brief on collecting and using job-driven data. You'll find links to these and other helpful resources on our Additional Resources sheet in the learning management system for this training course.

As you may have noticed, there is a lot of ground to cover in this module. We're about to venture into our last practitioner's voice section. Like the previous modules, we want to offer an experience perspective from the field. We hope it adds even more context and value to everything we've talked about so far. At the end of the day, we want you to come away with an arsenal of tips and ideas that will set you up for success in building relationships with businesses. So, stay with me and let's finish together. We're almost there.

And now, the practitioner's voice on responding to challenges and tracking success. As we explore the practitioner's voice, we’ll again map our discussion to the strategies for business outreach. The topics of responding to challenges and tracking success lead to quite a few strategies. We may not go over each of these individually, but they'll be touched on in the remaining slides.

First, the practitioner's perspective on responding to challenges. Just like when building the relationship, responding to challenges requires listening and establishing trust with businesses. Don't threaten the business or use a legal defense approach. Threatening the business with a lawsuit is really never a good idea. This could sour an otherwise positive relationship.

When you come across challenges, brainstorm and problem solve to develop solutions. Identify barriers and potential services or supports that may need to be reduced or eliminated. One key step to countering resistance is to find champions. You might be surprised, but champions for the employment of people with disabilities are not always found in HR. You may find them in such places as IT (information technology), employee resource groups, or injured workers programs.

Additionally, share examples of what other companies have done. Engage experts to answer difficult questions. For example, this could be a fellow member of the National Employment Team, or perhaps your lead business specialist. Talk about the benefits to business. We spent a lot of time going over this in module 3. Share stories about the return on investment (ROI) that you've seen companies realize. Remind them that they have an opportunity to use government-supported VR services to help them. They can put those dollars to work in their business.

Now, let's get the practitioner's view on tracking success. Both research and practitioners recommend contacting businesses regularly to keep track of progress. Use follow-up meetings, perhaps with multiple people in the company. Make it clear that the relationship is ongoing, that it's not just tied to one candidate or employee. Also, provide support when it's needed. Relationships are ongoing, and you can build them over time. A good relationship will be mutually beneficial and result in multiple outcomes, not just one job. Remember that your goal is to support the business, as a customer.

You should also market the success. Thank your connections, and let their management know about it. Recognize the company in public meetings or ceremonies, and on social media. And of course, metrics are important. But it's not just about counting the outcomes. Remember that relationships take time to build.

Also, what services are you rendering? Think about how you should be measuring them. Look at the legislation. Look at indicator 6. The joint indicator with labor partners. Look at section 4.18 WIOA, the section on training services for employers. As I mentioned earlier, use the tools you already have at your disposal. Are you measuring your work in these areas?

In short, know how to measure the outcomes, but also how to maximize their impact. Work smarter, not harder. As we close out this final module, let's look at what we've learned. We first showed you some insights from the research. This includes internal and external challenges and recommendations on how to address them. For example, we talked about the internal challenge of a lack of time, or perhaps too high of a caseload. We also looked at the external challenges, such as overcoming preconceived notions businesses might have about the cost of employing people with disabilities.

Research also suggests following up with businesses to help track success. Collect data and make frequent phone calls to demonstrate that you're available, while keeping tabs on how things are going. Next, we looked at the practitioner's viewpoint. This includes tips on addressing challenges like identifying barriers and finding business champions. Finally, we also talked about ways to track success. Examples include maintaining a positive relationship, through recognition and measuring outcomes using the tools at your disposal.

Congratulations! You've completed Module 4, which means you're finished with this training course. Awesome job! As documentation and to certify that you've completed the course, we're offering a Certificate of Completion. When you pass the final knowledge check for Module 4, you'll receive your certificate. Be proud of yourself. You really earned this!

We hope these modules increase your knowledge about business outreach and that they'll be useful to you. We've also provided an additional resources sheet, found in the Overview section of the Learning Management site. Use these resources as part of your toolkit to continue to build relationships with businesses. References are available on the following slides. When you're ready, close this presentation and take the knowledge check to receive your certificate.

[Note: the KTER Center is no longer offering the learning checks or this certificate.]

Thank you for joining us and thank you for the important work that you do each and every day. Take care, and we hope to see you again soon.