Virtual reality can train disabled workers for supply chain jobs
Everyone needs a purpose and a job.
That’s the mission of the Alabama RISE (Reemerging Ideas for Successful Employment) program. Created by Brock Kelley, President of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, the program helps people with intellectual disabilities find employment.
“I felt there was a way to match these students, 70% of whom are not in the workforce, with companies that needed employees,” Kelley said. And he is the right person to lead this program. He began his career as a special education teacher and prior to his current position, he served as the regional director of workforce development for the Alabama Community College System.
Economics of hiring people with disabilities
“Employers need more employees, and research has shown that this population takes fewer sick days and has a higher retention rate compared to other populations,” Kelley says. “It’s a great solution for employers and this particular talent pool.”
In a paper, “The economic case for hiring people with disabilitiespublished in Humanities & Social Sciences Communication (January 22, 2021), author Thomas Aichner used a wide variety of sources to conclude that there were a number of benefits to hiring this group, including:
- Lower absenteeism rates
- Decline in job turnover
- Better return on investment in training and development
- Overall more positive work environment
- Increased productivity
- Higher levels of motivation
- Increased business performance, market share and shareholder value
Training in technological aids
The RISE program collaborates with the technology company TRANSFR. Using virtual reality (VR), students can participate in simulations that help them gain the type of on-the-job experience that prepares them for in-demand roles, including those with logistics companies. “Immersive learning can create learning and exploration experiences that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to replicate in the classroom,” said Bharani Rajakumar, founder and CEO of TRANSFR.
New York-based TRANSFR says its mission is to build a “classroom-to-career pipeline” through the use of technology.
Create a career path
Building a career is the end goal of this program. “Starting in 2020, our goal was to look at some of the high school students with these disabilities and see if they had any career paths,” Kelley says. “Once they put the glasses on, we can actively put them in a situation where they use their hands and learn and explore different career options. Then, based on their interests and abilities, we can match them with available jobs. »
Determining the aptitudes and interests of these students is essential and often a reason why many companies are unsure about using this talent. Kelley points out that by using this type of technology, a company can understand how a candidate will be able to perform their job duties. And having an education system, such as Alabama’s Community College System, that bridges students and businesses makes it a much easier process for employers to tap into that talent.
With respect to program funding, the RISE Program Coordinator’s salary is paid for by Lurleen B. Wallace Community College. Funds for the first cohort students were paid for by a combination of federal and state grants for adult education dispersed through Alabama’s community college system. However, depending on the student’s background, this will determine the funds available. For example, if the student is taking credit courses, Federal Pell Grant, WIOA funds, and non-traditional scholarships are available.
For the first class, two of the students went to work for Andalous Distributing Company and they have several other local businesses on board for the next cohort. Kelley sees this program growing as more students participate and more companies express interest.
“As companies grapple with widespread shortages of supply chain workers, it is imperative that we open up these jobs to everyone, including people with disabilities, a population that has historically been overlooked. And we hope that more higher education institutions and businesses across the country will replicate this model,” says Rajakumar.
The Andalusian distribution company agrees. “We are very excited to be part of the pilot program and hope it becomes a playbook for programs not just in our area, but across the state.”