Chief Growth Officer of PRIDE Industries, Leah Burdick, talks with Lee Callahan about PRIDE Industries’ success in getting people with disabilities into the workforce. She highlights the expansion of our service offerings into the Seattle region.
(This interview has been edited and condensed
Lee Callahan (LC): Welcome to the public affairs show of your favorite iHeart radio station in Seattle. We are delighted to have Chief Growth Officer Leah Burdick of PRIDE Industries.
You get people with disabilities employed. Can you tell us how great it is to have people with disabilities in the workforce and why this is important?
Leah Burdick (LB): We find there’s a lot of emphasis on diversity, which is wonderful, but there’s not so much on disability inclusion. And people with disabilities encompass a diverse population. You can have physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities, which encompass learning, behavioral, and psychological. Overall, these groups often have higher unemployment rates than the general population because they face barriers during the interview process.
We find that when you give someone a chance and grow their talents, the employee becomes very loyal. It makes the rest of your employees feel good and more engaged because they like to work for companies doing positive work in the community.
LC: Is there training to get people ready to be at their best in the workforce?
LB: Absolutely. PRIDE Industries is entering Seattle, and we have jobs and training available. We find that people with disabilities might take slightly longer to meet the same requirements as the general workforce. But as mentioned, they stay in the job longer. We often have job coaches available to help them be successful.
LC: Do you provide the hiring company with disability inclusion training? How do you work with them?
LB: Yes, we also provide inclusion training for the companies and their managers. In this case, we must also educate about accommodations. Many companies think they sound expensive, but most cost nothing; it’s often less than $500 to help somebody be successful.
LC: Can you give me an example of an accommodation?
LB: Well, often, it might mean just adjusting their schedule so they can go to an appointment. It also might be looking at the job description and giving them another task if there’s one they can’t do. Using job coaches is an accommodation as well.
LC: Now, you’re working with local and global organizations. Can you tell me about some of the ones you work with and what people with disabilities do there?
LB: We do a lot of work on military bases. For example, at Fort Bliss in Texas—one of the largest army installations in the world—there, we do everything that a soldier doesn’t do. We’ve got people running the commissary to engineers working on the water treatment.
And, in the Seattle area, we’ve got a lot of work in food service: delivery, catering, and, on corporate campuses, cafeterias.
LC: I know you’re located outside Sacramento, but you’re moving into Oregon and Seattle. Do you see more companies coming along and being more open to hiring folks with disabilities?
LB: Yes. We partner with Compass Group, which runs cafeterias for large companies. We’re working with them to help boost the inclusive workforce. And absolutely, there’s a lot of interest from companies. It can be a tough environment to hire people because of the staffing situation. We’ve known that regardless of the market, people with disabilities are terrific employees and can add a lot to a workforce.
LC: What is it about the military? Are they more open-minded?
LB: We also place what we call Barrier Groups—people with a higher incidence of disabilities, like veterans and former foster youth. So, certainly a lot of veterans that work on military bases.
Also, the government has some incentives to hire and employ people with disabilities. We’ve had long-standing partnerships at different bases and federal buildings around the country.
LC: Now, what do companies say about the quality and caliber?
LB: We’ve been a partner of HP, Inc. for 20 years, and we meet their performance metrics, and they love us as a partner. We’ve been given large awards from them.
A smaller example is a casino here in Northern California, where we handle their laundry facilities now. We took over from an underperforming vendor and came in and outperformed that vendor. We hear about the enthusiasm that spills over into the rest of the workforce and that we meet their criteria.
LC: For someone with a disability, how has it improved their lives to become an included member of society?
LB: Many people tell us they were sitting at home, doing nothing. So it’s the ability to come to work, feel like you’re part of a community, have friends, and get a paycheck. It’s just like any person—you want to be able to contribute, develop your talents, and feel like you have a purpose. And having a job gives people purpose.
LC: Focusing back on Seattle, can you tell us about the I AM ABLE Helpline?
LB: We’ve created the first employment helpline of its kind for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. The number is 844-I-AM-ABLE (844-426-2253).
We walk people through the process of how to connect to available services and educate them about training as well as the jobs that are available in their area. We also have both English and Spanish helpline representatives.
LC: If someone with a disability who wants to work is listening, or if someone who knows somebody in the situation is listening, what would you say to them?
LB: We have jobs available that pay from $16 to $20 an hour. I encourage them to call 844-I-AM-ABLE (844-426-2253) and talk to one of our representatives. Learn what options are available to you and get on the path to employment.