Summer is a busy time at the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority garage in Eagan. It’s the time of year that the buses turn off their commuter routes for an annual deep cleaning. But with the state’s unemployment rate at a record-low 1.8 percent in June, the company that services those buses wasn’t sure it could find anybody to do it.
Enter Asher Tholl, Stefan Evers, John Jamer and Parker Leagjeld — four guys looking for work and now climbing daily onto the commuter buses to shine the windows, clean the air filters, scrub off graffiti and spiff up the floors, and earning $16 an hour. Tholl and his colleagues are among 140 teens and adults with disabilities who work with Great Work, an employment assistance agency in Lakeville. And they’re part of the solution to a critically tight labor market.
In June, Minnesota had the lowest state unemployment rate ever recorded in the U.S. Workers are harder than ever to find. Harder — but not impossible. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove’s visit to the MVTA garage was part of his agency’s “Summer of Jobs” push to encourage employers to dig a little deeper into the labor market.
Grove said the disabled community offers another opportunity for employers in Minnesota who are struggling to find workers, with nearly three job openings for every person looking for a job. Grove said nearly 10 percent of Minnesotans report having at least one disability, and employers can find real value among them.
People with disabilities come with a lot of abilities, actually, and when you look at the loyalty, the problem-solving ability, just the hard work ethic that you see in this community — we think more employers that should be aware that there are actually a lot of people with disabilities in our economy that can do great work,” he said.
State officials also said that the booming economy offers an unprecedented opportunity to spread economic benefits and address some of the disparities in employment among communities like disabled Minnesotans, who have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the workforce. The state also offers training and recruiting assistance to disabled workers, which can help make those matches, said Dee Torgerson, director of Vocational Rehabilitation Services with DEED.
“It’s definitely an untapped labor pool. We’d love to make more connections with employers around the state,” Torgerson said.
(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)