Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Minnesota's 2nd Annual Employment First Summit

On November 14th, 2008, Minnesota’s Employment First Coalition will host its 2nd Annual Employment First Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota. This event is by invitation only and will be a gathering of almost two hundred people throughout the State of Minnesota. Summit 2’s invited attendees will share one common focus– how to make employment the first and preferred choice of youth and adults with significant disabilities in Minnesota.

The outstanding success of Minnesota’s Employment First Summit held in Chaska, Minnesota on June 12, 2007 resulted in the development and distribution of a consensus report and manifesto for change. Minnesota’s Employment First Manifesto, as the report is called, identifies eight core recommendations to substantially increase integrated employment and competitive wages and benefits for Minnesotans with disabilities. In addition, the Manifesto takes a direct aim at defining what employment first means as well as crafting an operational definition of employment to be used as a Statewide standard in measuring the competitive employment rate of Minnesotans with disabilities.

Minnesota’s Manifesto has been a driving stimulus for collaboration and sustaining momentum among the champions of an employment first vision in our State. Indeed, one recommendation unanimously expressed by attendees of the first Summit was the importance of keeping the dialogue going and working together toward a common purpose. For this reason, Summit 2 has been structured to continue this process of building coalitions of the willing from varied stakeholder groups and tackling well-documented barriers to employment access and success.

Summit 2 has been organized with two principle objectives in mind. In the morning session, a business summit is scheduled to engage the participation of Minnesota’s business leaders in our employment first agenda. Business owners and senior managers from large, medium, and small companies throughout Minnesota will be invited to bring a demand-side perspective to our mutual goals. Our Coalition has invited business leaders with a successful track record in the direct hiring and support of employees with disabilities. Also, we are inviting business representatives who do not share this same level of experience.

The morning session of Summit 2 will feature a business-to-business peer model. We intend to give experienced employers an opportunity to share and discuss their success stories. This includes their initial fears and doubts about hiring someone with a disability as well as how using strengths-based employment practices can change what it means to be “qualified” in the workforce. Also, Summit 2 will educate business representatives about technical support that is available to them in finding, hiring, training, and supporting quality employees.

The overall strategy for the morning session is to challenge business leaders to serve as hosts of mini-summits with other peer businesses in geographic locations throughout Minnesota. Our Coalition intends to invite panels of experienced employers to these mini-summits to share their experiences and make the business case for hiring youth and adults with disabilities. Local mini-summits will be scheduled with goals of allaying employer fears and expanding the number and diversity of businesses willing to directly hire employees with disabilities.

We anticipate that public and private employment providers will play only minor, secondary roles as participants in these mini-summits at the local level. More appropriately, employment service providers will offer administrative support to business leaders to assist with planning and running these business mini-summits in urban, suburban, and rural areas of our State.

Summit 2's afternoon session will be dedicated to bringing back attendees from the original Employment First Summit held in Chaska in 2007. The principle strategy for the afternoon session is facilitating a town hall type discussion and developing a consensus about Minnesota’s performance with respect to core recommendations flowing from the original Summit. Our Coalition is referring to this afternoon session as The Scorecard. We have invited federal, State, and county agency representatives to attend and lead our discussions about specific goals, policies, plans, and activities in the making. In particular, we believe it’s important to share accomplishments that are moving Minnesota into the forefront as a leader in the national employment first movement.

Finally, the afternoon session of Summit 2 will shine a spotlight on unfinished business and building a shared consensus regarding “What’s next?” For example, there is a growing interest in planning future summits or conferences with other constituent groups who are critical to moving our employment first agenda forward in Minnesota. This includes summits with family members, secondary and post-secondary educators, residential providers, and others.

Minnesota APSE– The Network on Employment is proud to have played a high profile role in the creation of Minnesota’s Employment First Coalition and planning these Statewide Employment First Summits and mini-summits. Our State chapter views these activities as a logical extension of its long-range strategic plan and integrating APSE’s vision and goals for progressive change with concrete action steps.

Minnesota’s Employment First Summit 2 is now on the calendar. The space has been rented, the agenda is set, the speakers are in place, and its participants have been invited. Stay tuned!

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