State employment program criticized

State employment program criticized

A state hiring program designed to reverse Minnesota’s historically low rate of employment of people with disabilities has fallen short of expectations. Claims have been made of mismanagement and lack of coordination between agencies. 

In October 2016, then-Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled Connect 700. The program was hailed as an innovative way to give individuals with disabilities a greater role in state government by granting them early preference during the hiring process for hundreds of state jobs. Applicants could bypass the normal, competitive interviewing process, provided they meet the minimum job requirements and could demonstrate their ability to perform the tasks by working up to 700 hours on the job. 

However, data released in January by the Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) office shows that approximately 20 percent of individuals with disabilities who were approved to participate in the program were actually hired. Fewer than 1 percent are still employed in state government. 

Of the 1,510 certificates issued to people eligible for Connect 700 over the past three years, fewer than 200 people made it through the 700-hour probationary period and are still working in state jobs, MMB data shows. 

In interviews, nearly a dozen current and former state employees say the once-promising program has foundered because of poor leadership, and marginal to nonexistent training. Several hiring managers said they were never told about the program’s requirements, such as regular check-ins with workers, and Connect 700 participants said their requests for basic accommodations for their disabilities were ignored or denied, making it impossible for them to succeed. Others described being treated like second-class employees and having to go through extra steps to prove their worth even when they met the job qualifications. 

“Too many people are being set up to fail through this program,” said Kenneth Rodgers, who helped design the Connect 700 program and is coordinator of disability programs at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). “People are being hired for all the right reasons. … But without the proper supports, they are falling by the wayside.” 

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune