One of the major challenges that employers face today is an insufficient labor force. “Help Wanted” signs are almost permanent fixtures for some local businesses. Employers are finding it difficult to attract candidates for entry-level positions, and the turn-over rate for these jobs can be staggering. Employers are also aware that they are sometimes paying highly trained workers to do basic tasks — a practice that can lead to employee disillusionment and compromised efficiency.

An often-overlooked pool of talented and enthusiastic job seekers is made up of people with disabilities in Logan and the surrounding communities. These job seekers are often not considered for employment because many employers fear that they would be a liability. But Cache Valley has a vibrant history of successfully employed disabled workers who have challenged this belief.

EFFICIENCY & DEDICATION

Richard (“Sonny”) Thorpe was an employee of The Herald Journal for 55 years. He worked in the circulation room and delivered newspapers to the businesses on Logan’s Main Street. Steve Woods, Sonny’s manager for nearly two decades, said, “He was never late. He was there no matter what. Sonny knew exactly what to do and he did it.”

Another champion employee was Matt Hillyard, mail sorter for USU’s Central Distribution Center (campus mail) for over 20 years.

Distribution manager Richard Boudrero reported that Matt was one of the center’s greatest assets. He handled critically sensitive correspondence professionally and interfaced well with the campus community.

Matt had a fierce commitment to excellence. Despite his significant vision challenges, co-workers agreed that he was as fast and accurate as anyone else. Doing his job well was a matter of pride.

Although Matt and Sonny are both gone, their legacy continues.

CREATIVITY & INNOVATION

Don Donaldson, executive chef for The Junction at USU, has made the employment of people with intellectual disabilities part of his organization’s standard business practice. “These employees are a huge asset,” he said with an enthusiastic grin. “They are hardworking, diligent, smart, and funny — and probably more honest than the average employee.”

Donaldson reported that two of his staff — a former prep cook and a server — have been extremely innovative in developing new procedures that have saved the business both time and money.

IMPROVED MORALE

Job developers and coaches at Cache Employment and Training Center (CETC) are currently assisting over 30 people in the local workforce.

One of these is Steven, a PVC fitting and valve assembler at IPEX.

“It is hard to put into words what a great opportunity it has been for everyone at the Preston IPEX plant when we hired Steven,” said plant manager Chris Kirby. “He has far exceeded my expectations as an employee and more importantly for his positive effect on improving our plant culture.”

Kirby reported that another employee had asked why he had hired Steven, saying, “Are we that desperate?”

Kirby counseled the employee to work with Steven for one week and then come and ask him the same question again. “Three days later,” Kirby reported, “that employee came to me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I now understand.’”

Cord, another CETC-placed job seeker, is a part time custodian for Roolee. Before Cord was hired, Roolee had been paying employees to stay and clean the building after their regular shifts.

“Every time someone reached out to us, inquiring about a custodial position, we would tell them we had everything covered,” said Paige Francis, Roolee’s E-commerce specialist. “But when we met Cord everything changed. ... Looking back, it is crazy to think about what we did without Cord. He vacuums, cleans the restrooms, takes out the trash, and cleans up the break area. After he finishes his work is when the real fun starts.” Before he leaves each day, Cord stops by the office for a few minutes to share photos on his cell phone that are meaningful to him and that help his co-workers understand more about his personal life.

“We love seeing the pictures and interacting with him,” Francis said. “Although Cord is nonverbal, he taught each of us a powerful lesson: A smile is worth 1,000 words. The joy and excitement Cord brings stays with us throughout the day.”

CETC’S ROLE

A common thread in the employment history of Steven, Cord, and others is the initial intervention of job developers. Marie Holst, CETC employment services director, explained that before a job seeker is placed, job developers get to know both the job seeker and the valley’s employers. They tour businesses to see what the jobs entail and learn the culture of the workplace. They also help businesses identify ways to customize tasks for potential new employees that will enhance company profitability and workflow. “All of these efforts,” Holst concluded, “make for a more positive experience with a greater chance of a successful job placement.”

Penny Jenson is a former job developer for the Cache Employment and Training Center. She lives in Millville.

Please be aware the Herald Journal does not endorse, and is not responsible for alleged employment offers in the comments.