Empowering Individuals with Disabilities and Employers through the Workforce Recruitment Program

By Guest Blogger Randy Cooper, Department of Defense Disability Program Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity

Answering the call to serve

“Talent has no barriers” is Robert Zambrana’s favorite mantra. Mr. Zambrana’s determination and drive to succeed from an early age perhaps foretold a young man’s journey to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he’d find ample opportunity to show the workforce his many talents and launch a career at the leading agency for aeronautics and aerospace.

At age two, Mr. Zambrana was diagnosed with hearing loss. Zambrana faced discrimination and barriers in school and elsewhere for his disability which he channeled into confidence, a competitive spirit and compassion for others in the face of many challenges. He tells the story of a formative moment in high school when a school counselor suggested that, as a hearing impaired student, Zambrana would never pass the standardized exams he needed to graduate. Zambrana said simply, “Thank you for motivating me to pass this test.” And he did. In short, obstacles to Zambrana are the fuel that drives him to succeed.

After learning American Sign Language and graduating from Gallaudet University, Mr. Zambrana answered the call to public service. During a job fair, he connected with a representative from the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which links highly motivated college students and graduates with disabilities to public and private sector employers nationwide. The WRP is geared toward individuals with disabilities who are eager to prove themselves in the workplace. For someone like Zambrana, who was “ready to show the world what I could do,” the program was a perfect fit. It was through his WRP placement at the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) where he became a leader among his colleagues and a mentor to others with disabilities. At DEOMI, he remains well-respected for his strong performance, work ethic and love for learning.

Strength in diversity

At the Department of Defense (DoD), people are our most important resource. The Workforce Recruitment Program is an essential part of DoD’s strategy to hire individuals with disabilities and add to the diversity of our Total Force. Diversity goes beyond demographics to include different ways of thinking, abilities, backgrounds, cultures and skills, which give the Total Force a strategic advantage in achieving mission success and maintaining our highest state of readiness.

The WRP is a lynchpin for recruiting and retaining such talent and diversity across the entire federal government and the private sector. Since the program’s expansion in 1995, more than 6,000 students and recent graduates have received temporary and permanent employment opportunities. Within DoD, we consider the WRP a pipeline from the community of individuals with disabilities to our civilian workforce. Our WRP hires range from archives technicians to disaster preparedness assistants, graphic designers, biologists and program analysts, like Mr. Zambrana. Others help support emerging mission-critical fields such as security risk analysis, cybersecurity, epidemiology and biomedical science. DoD also leans on the depth of the WRP candidate pool to meet demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-focused positions. Opportunities abound for both temporary and permanent positions in the United States and abroad as well as the provision of reasonable accommodations through the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program to ensure each participant is fully equipped for success.

In DoD’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO), we closely collaborate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to manage the Workforce Recruitment Program. The WRP makes for efficient and effective hiring. However, the program is widely underused or unknown. Here in DoD, we have increased our federal training of supervisors and personnel specialists, so they are informed about how to hire individuals with disabilities swiftly using the excepted hiring authority known as Schedule A. Last year, the WRP became exclusively a Schedule A hiring mechanism, making it the largest federal source for Schedule A-eligible candidates. For agencies and organizations seeking to strengthen and diversify their workforce, the WRP is a leading program that draws talent from a wide range of backgrounds.

The Workforce Recruitment Program: What you need to know

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management endorses the WRP as a model strategy for the recruitment and hiring of individuals with disabilities in response to Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. That’s something we are very proud of.

The WRP candidate application and selection process is straightforward. During the fall, trained WRP recruiters interview college students and recent graduates with disabilities throughout the country. Recruiters evaluate each candidate. Those who qualify are included in a WRP website portal and categorized by job interest, degree program and geographic location. By early December, the password-protected portal is made available to employers in the federal and private sectors. Once activated, prospective WRP employers are able to make direct contact with candidates to arrange interviews and make job offers. Employment may begin any time after January 2 and concludes by September 30 each year. The program is flexible. Agencies may hire candidates for temporary or permanent positions for full time or part time employment.

WRP funding is centralized for several federal agencies. Hiring managers in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for example, are able to draw from their agency’s WRP funding pool to cover the cost of a WRP participant’s 14-week employment period. The WRP does not limit participants’ salary. Participants may be hired at the highest grade for which they qualify – even up to the GS-15 or equivalent level.

This year’s WRP candidates are extraordinary. Among nearly 1,850 participants, 8 percent hold an associate’s degree; 72 percent have graduated with a bachelor’s; 14% hold a master’s; 1 percent have a doctorate; and 3 percent are law school graduates. They hail from 290 schools across 45 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Ten percent of our candidates have already served the nation in uniform and all are eager to prove their abilities in the civilian workforce. In 2014, DoD capitalized on the WRP talent, filling 265 positions across 31 states as well as in South Korea.

“I wanted to make a difference and enact change.”

Mr. Zambrana was compelled to participate in the WRP because, he said, “I wanted to make a difference and enact change.” He continues to do just that. As a budget technician at DEOMI, he learned the inner workings of the government and budget execution skills. He even became a motivational speaker for one of DEOMI’s courses and volunteers his time helping children with disabilities. The WRP, according to Zambrana, “gave me the opportunity to show my potential, my work ethic and my passion [for] the workplace. I had the opportunity to excel.” His experience at DEOMI through the WRP propelled him to land a full time position at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where he currently serves as a program analyst supporting the Launch Services Program. He devotes time to organizations that support diversity and inclusion because, he says, “diversity makes us stronger.” He stands out in his work and continues to break barriers and stereotypes in the workplace.

Mr. Zambrana is only one of many outstanding participants who have made a difference in the WRP. To the employers out there, I hope you will seize the opportunity to hire a WRP participant. Nearly 1,850 candidates are currently in the database and eager to positively impact your organization. Check out the WRP database today. To the many students and recent graduates with disabilities who follow this blog, I hope you will consider sharing your talents with the WRP and encourage your friends and classmates to do so as well. Countless federal agencies and organizations greatly benefit from your expertise, ambition and motivation. If you are an eligible candidate, please visit this page for more information. Show the world what you can do.

If you would like to learn more about the WRP, please send your questions to: [email protected]

Engage with the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Diversitydefense

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ODMEO

Instagram: https://instagram.com/odmeo/

About the Guest Blogger

As the Department of Defense Director of Disability Programs, Randy Cooper provides oversight and strategic guidance for DoD on matters pertaining to the employment of individuals with disabilities. He develops and promulgates DoD policies and programs for the direction and enforcement of Federal laws and regulations concerning disability programs. Mr. Cooper works to eliminate barriers for individuals with disabilities, including Veterans. Mr. Cooper is responsible for eliminating technological, architectural and other barriers to advance equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities, as well as Veterans.

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