Deaf2Work Minnesota Matches the Right People with Great Jobs
With a broad smile across his face, Yoonis Warsame greets customers with a friendly Hello! Those checking out at the Home Depot store in Burnsville immediately notice a strong sense of service, or, as the company’s slogan goes, “You can do it. We can help.” What they may not at first realize, however, is that Warsame is deaf and reading their lips.
Warsame came to the U.S. six years ago from Somalia and is still learning American Sign Language (ASL). Some Home Depot customers who are deaf seek him out when checking out.
Luke Harabor works as a freight handler in the receiving department at the Home Depot store across town in northeast Minneapolis. Originally from Romania, Harabor had several different kinds of jobs before settling in Minneapolis and starting work at Home Depot in March 2006. His coworkers find him a hard-working, friendly guy who can always be counted on to get the job done. They communicate with Harabor using gestures, written notes and lip-reading.
Both men are part of an exciting new employment program called Deaf2Work Minnesota. The program, which originated in the Atlanta area, joins the local home improvement retailer with Rehabilitation Services (RS) Office of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Deaf and Hard of Hearing unit. Together, they recruit, hire and support men and women who are deaf and hard of hearing in a wide range of employment positions throughout The Home Depot stores.
Job placement, occupational communication, and follow-up support specialists from the Minnesota Employment Center (MEC) work with job seekers, assisting them in applying for jobs, offering on-site job training, developing communication support services, and provideing follow-up support services to help ensure successful employment. MEC is an interagency collaborative job placement program with Rise, Lifetrack Resources, Inc., and Rehab Services.
When Diane Acord, a rehabilitation counselor with Rehab Services in St. Paul, first learned of the Atlanta-based Deaf2Work program, she contacted Home Depot for more information. Confident the same kind of program could work well in Minnesota, she put together a formal proposal for The Home Depot to consider expanding it here.
Acord’s plan was readily accepted, and in September, 2005, she began meeting with area human resources managers. The first three people were hired in February 2006. Today, fifteen local people have jobs, earning competitive wages and (most) working full-time hours with benefits.
“The response from the store managers has been phenomenal,” said Acord. “Every single one has been 100 percent behind the program. They are willing to make accommodations when necessary and are eager to keep people successfully employed. Coworkers, too, have been very supportive.”
Of great benefit to the employers is Deaf2Work’s recruitment and screening of qualified candidates and its readily available consultation staff. In addition to receiving compensation and benefits, the new employees are becoming more self-confident from their success on the job and appreciate the accommodations made for communication and new staff training, noted Acord.
Now 21 years old, Warsame had little formal education in Somalia and worked as a welder. In his free time, he enjoys playing soccer and says he is a “very good player.” Warsame, who is learning both ASL and English, is teaching his new coworkers sign language, too.
“I have a very good job and nice coworkers. They are my friends and I like working with them. Kathy (Schumacher) helps me when I need it.” After six months in his cashier’s position, Warsame will have the opportunity to apply for other positions if he chooses. A talented artist who enjoys oil painting, sculpture, and sketching, Harabor fits in well with his friendly coworkers in the shipping and receiving department.
With much to learn about his many job duties, Harabor initially received some training directly from his coworkers. He also learned a lot on his own and enjoys the fast pace and hard work of the 9-5 day shift. He recently took the test to become a U.S. citizen and is awaiting the results.
All involved are currently working to expand Deaf2-Work, both throughout Minnesota and in other states.