People with Disabilities

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.

Need employment placement support?

Contact our I AM ABLE Helpline to discuss your options.

“We find there’s a lot of emphasis on diversity, which is wonderful, but there’s not so much on disability inclusion.”

– Leah Burdick, Chief Growth Officer for PRIDE Industries

“When the pandemic hit, I had a hard time finding a job. After being referred to PRIDE Industries, now I have one!”

 

 You can see Ben Godown’s face light up when he talks about his job as a custodian at the Legacy Hotel and Spa. After being placed by our San Diego Employment Services team—funded by generous donations to The Michael Ziegler PRIDE Industries Foundation—Ben had the chance to shine at his new job. Not only does he enjoy working with the hotel’s international clientele, but he also appreciates earning a paycheck and gaining new friendships.  

 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers with disabilities lost nearly one million jobs—a steep decline compared to people without disabilities. As the nation moves into recovery, employment services for people with disabilities are critical need. Thanks to donors like you, we can help more people with disabilities like Ben find jobs and reach their career goals by providing employment access, choice, and advancement opportunities.

Need employment placement support?

Contact our I AM ABLE Helpline to discuss your options.

Generous donations to The Michael Ziegler PRIDE Industries Foundation support vocational training, on-the-job coaching, and a host of other employment services for adults with disabilities. The important services provided by these donations put hundreds of individuals, like Javier, on the path to reaching their career goals.

Congratulations to Francisco “Javier” Guzman, who recently earned a well-deserved promotion to production lead trainer in our Electronics Department.

An avid gamer, Javier was excited to join the department this past fall, as the position aligns so well with his interests. After excelling in a production worker role—and receiving training and mentorship—Javier applied for the production lead trainer position and was subsequently hired.

Not only do the technical aspects of the job interest Javier, but he also appreciates the opportunity to mentor other employees of all abilities. “I have often seen that many people with disabilities undervalue their abilities,” said Javier. “I have a learning disability, but my belief in myself helped me to get where I am today. Everyone has something that they are good at.” 

After attending Yuba Community College, Javier joined PRIDE Industries in 2015 as a production worker. In the role, he helped on a variety of kitting and packaging projects for customers like HP. Leading up to this point, Javier—like many young adults—hadn’t had a clear idea on what he wanted to develop as a career. But that was to change quickly.

“As soon as I started with PRIDE Industries, I immediately felt welcome,” said Javier. “I loved the opportunity to work on different projects .” Like other PRIDE Industries employees, Javier was given career advancement and job coaching by our staff to help him explore different job options and provide the training to help him succeed.  

And succeed, he did. Which is why, as of January, Javier is now in a role that finds him leading and training others.

“I’m excited for my first position where I will be directly responsible for managing the outcomes and success of my team,” said Javier. “I want others to see that if they work hard enough, they can achieve their goals.”

We are fortunate to have an inclusive team of talented employees, like Javier, that contribute to our company’s success. 

Join us in our mission

Your donations make it possible for us to help people like Javier succeed in a career they love.
Javier Guzman stands on the PRIDE Industries production floor.

“I have a learning disability, but my belief in myself helped me to get where I am today. Everyone has something that they are good at.”

“You must first learn to go slow before you can go fast.”

After being struck by a car in 2017 and sustaining multiple fractures and a traumatic brain injury, this saying provided inspiration during Sherryl Kubel’s long recovery. As a result of the accident, Sherryl’s speech, memory, and movement were all affected, making it necessary for her to re-learn how to complete many basic life skills. This advice—slow before fast—gave her the room to do so.

 

Sherryl would also soon apply this to another milestone; after more than a year of physical rehabilitation and three months of brain rehabilitation, she was medically released for work. She wanted to embark upon the second pillar of her recovery: employment.

 

Upon conducting some initial research, Sherryl quickly discovered that finding a job wouldn’t be easy. Only about 20 percent of people with disabilities are employed. When it comes to getting hired, they find themselves up against myths and stigma—which is unfortunate not only for people eager and skilled to work, but also for potential employers who miss out on the benefits this workforce boasts: high retention rates, low turnover, and low absenteeism—to name a few.

Creating a Path to Employment

Fortunately, Sherryl’s search led her to the California Department of Rehabilitation which, in turn, referred her to PRIDE Industries. There, she was linked to our job developers who helped her with every step in the job-hunting process.

 

“They showed me how to write a resume, how to write a cover letter, how to fill out applications, and how to interview,” says Sherryl. “I learned how to seek accommodations and ask for them if needed, and then they worked with me on skill-development toward my employment goal of office assistant.

 

Sherry’s job coaches also trained her in various office skills, including data entry, phone etiquette, software, and even Zoom-meeting practice.

 

“At each level, my job coaches gave me the space to ‘go slow before I went fast’—a strategy that proved, as it had during my rehabilitation, fruitful.”

 

From there, Sherryl underwent one of the most helpful parts her PRIDE Industries’ program: a simulated work environment. For three weeks, she went to the Natomas branch every day as if going to a full-time job.

 

“While I did this, they tested me on around 50 different tasks, providing feedback on my strengths and weaknesses. This helped me to clearly understand what I needed to work on going forward.”

 

After that, PRIDE Industries offered Sherryl a five-month internship in the proposal department as a Proposal Development Assistant. From there, she was offered a full-time position in the same department. That’s where she is today, and her coworkers couldn’t be more pleased. Of course, they are.

 

Not only does Sherryl bring her own unique qualities and skills to the position, but she also underscores an employment truth: The presence of people with varied abilities in an organization, at large, boosts inclusivity and drives innovation. Moreover, people with disabilities boast higher retention rates and lower absenteeism than their counterparts.

 

“I’m on my way to building my career as a proposal writer,” said Sherryl. “It’s like a dream come true!”

Make a social impact

PRIDE Industries builds inclusive, diverse work environments where people with disabilities can thrive. Is your company seeking well-trained, reliable employees? Join our Employment Partner Network today.
Image of woman with brown hair and red shirt smiling
Sherryl Kubel had to re-learn how to complete many basic life skills following an accident.

“I’m on my way to building my career as a proposal writer. It’s like a dream come true!”

Alani Letang, anchor/reporter for Monterey’s KSBW8 Action News, details the work done by PRIDE Industries by employing people with disabilities all year long. She interviews several PRIDE Industries employees at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, who credit PRIDE Industries with giving them the skills and a sense of belonging by being able to go beyond their disabilities to become valuable employees.

Media Contact
Kat Maudru

PRIDE Industries is a social enterprise delivering business excellence to public and private organizations nationwide.

President and CEO Jeff Dern spoke to Brandon Darnell of the Visit Sacramento Podcast about PRIDE Industries’ history and our goals for the future. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed)

 

Brandon Darnell (BD): Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Visit Sacramento Podcast. I’m your host, Brandon Darnell. Joining us this week is Jeff Dern, President and CEO of PRIDE Industries. Jeff, thanks for being here.

 

Jeff Dern (JD): Thanks, Brandon, great to be with you.

 

BD: PRIDE Industries has been around for quite a while. Can you give us some background on when you got started and what you do?

 

JD: PRIDE Industries is an amazing social enterprise founded in 1966 in Auburn, California. We were started as a nonprofit organization by parents from a church that had adult children with developmental disabilities. They wanted them to have opportunities to contribute to their community and gain independence—and you do that through employment. It was a grassroots nonprofit to start, and over the years, we’ve grown.

 

Michael Ziegler, our prior CEO who passed away in 2020, started with PRIDE Industries in 1983. He brought his entrepreneurial spirit and talent for building relationships with the community to create a self-sustaining organization.

 

What sets us apart is that we run a business based on contractual revenues with customers in multiple industries. At the same time, we’re also creating a social impact—we are a social enterprise. PRIDE Industries is now the leading employer of people disabilities across the country. We operate in over 16 states and have over 5,000 employees; over 50% are individuals with disabilities.

 

BD: That’s amazing. And you started in Auburn, about 30-40 minutes east of Sacramento. You’re now in 16 states and employ 5,000 people. What is a typical job position that you have?

 

JD: There’s nothing typical at PRIDE Industries, as we are a fairly complex organization. We operate in some core lines of business, and our largest one is facilities maintenance. We maintain facilities for the United States government, states, counties, cities, and private enterprises.

 

Locally in Sacramento, we have this amazing company called VSP Global. You know them if you have eye care insurance or probably have their coverage. They are one of our custodial services customers, and we clean their headquarters in Rancho Cordova. We also perform custodial services at Sacramento International Airport. For the individuals listening to this program—if you are traveling in or out of Sacramento, you’ll see employees in PRIDE Industries uniforms keeping the airport spotless in Terminal A and B.

 

We also do manufacturing and logistics services, and electronics is our specialty. We make medical devices right out of our Roseville headquarters for various customers and different industry segments.

 

We have several other customers in our lines of business, including medical, aerospace, and defense clients, a video systems company, and even a pet company. One of our new customers is a Sacramento-founded company called Reviver that makes electronic license plates—and we’re their logistics provider.

 

We do all these business capabilities successfully: from facilities to manufacturing to supply chain and logistics. Hewlett Packard is one of our long-time customers and a very successful account for PRIDE Industries. We do all of these projects while employing people with disabilities.

 

As mentioned, over 50% of our total workforce is people with disabilities. And that’s something that sets us apart, and we wanted to help other companies to replicate, at some level, what we do. So, we started a new line of business called Inclusive Talent Solutions—because we weren’t doing enough things already, Brad! Everything we do has a single purpose of creating employment for people with disabilities; our own successful business operations have proved this can be done at a high level.

 

We’re showing other companies in all sorts of industries that they could take the same approach and increase the number of people with disabilities that they hire. As a result, we’re going to impact their communities by offering more opportunities for employment.

 

Many people aren’t aware of how many people with disabilities are in our country. There are 30 million working-age people with disabilities, and more than 70 percent are unemployed. The big picture is that we need more inclusion in society and companies employing people with disabilities. So that we can create those opportunities to develop access, career paths, independence–just like anybody else.

 

BD: We’ve heard about computer component manufacturing and the chip shortage in the news for two years. Now, you mentioned the medical field, that’s obvious supply chain and now employment, career development, that sort of thing. And staffing placement, all of those have been real issues that we face in society. Is this a moment where you’re able to advance your goal? How have these things affected you?

 

JD: Certainly, there’s a labor shortage out there, and that we have all heard of. But you also have a segment of the population at 70 percent unemployed, not because they don’t want to work, but because they lack access to jobs.

 

Companies need to know that disability accommodations are most often not costly. They also need to know how to support people with disabilities so that they use their abilities to succeed. This population is hardworking and often has overcome adversity–they don’t take an opportunity for granted—they want the job, they show up to work and really contribute to the bottom line.

 

So, we find that right now, this unfilled gap in the labor market is an opportunity. Our Inclusive Talent Solutions focuses on larger companies with regional or national presences that need hundreds and hundreds of jobs filled regularly with people with disabilities to create more inclusion in their workforce. That benefits the companies’ productivity, generates better revenues, and creates a better bottom-line performance. So that’s just kind of what the labor market side is.

 

In terms of manufacturing, we’re seeing that companies are reshoring, they’re bringing manufacturing back–in medical devices, for example. There’s already a large medical device manufacturing industry inside the United States, but we witness that growing. And we want to catch that wave and continue to grow with it while we create more employment inside PRIDE Industries.

 

BD: You know, when you talk about talent solutions, are these businesses coming to you, are you going to them, or is it a combination? If I own a business and don’t know where to start, are you a resource for that? Or do you connect with people? How does that work?

 

JD: Yeah, it happens in all different ways. We have a business development team, and we acquired some large national accounts where, you know, we’re trying to get to 10 to 20 other markets. And start to make a difference in changing that unemployment rate I mentioned.

 

But we’ve also had companies through different relationships. Somebody who is the decision-maker comes to us and says, “I know you do a great job in this area in creating employment and being innovative. Can you help our company do that as well?” So, it happens in all different ways. We have a marketing team working hard to help our brand grow so that companies know what they will get in terms of quality and responsiveness, including the high level of customer service.

 

BD: And when you talk about disabilities, I imagine that spans quite a range, but is there a way you would classify that to someone who may be uneducated on the quality of work that can be provided. For instance, a company may balk at hiring someone because they have a mistaken notion that their productivity will not be as good? How do you approach that and educate around it?

 

JD: First of all, you’re absolutely right. There is a lot of bias in the world. We all know that. And it’s not always something that people are aware of. But how we tackle that is we’ve created a training program. So, an organization that we work with could use our training platform. And they could have their frontline teams, management, and even senior-level leaders, all engage in this multi-phase training platform. And it’ll help them to understand some of the barriers that people with disabilities face and how to be more inclusive. And it’s a shift in their normal business practices. But yes, we have to educate. That’s why we’re excited about the training that we can offer companies and that can certify that this person, or a company, understands about inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.

 

BD: And then speaking of inclusion, after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many companies across the country created diversity, equity, and inclusion teams within their organizations. For many people, it’s intuitive; we need people from different backgrounds of ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual orientation. And yet disability isn’t seemingly as included, even though it’s a large part of it. How do you, how do you see that conversation progressing as we go forward?

 

JD: For disability to be part of the conversation going forward, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. Part of what we do is advocate for individuals with disabilities to have the same employment opportunities as everyone else, not only through our own operations but also through Inclusive Talent Solutions. But we’re also involved in different groups at the national, state, and local levels to make sure that we’re advocating for more inclusion.

 

So yes, this is a challenge. But the most important thing is there are a lot of intersectionality. You look at the disability population, and it’s comprised of 30 million people of working age and one in five people in the country. People within the disability community come from all backgrounds; it does not discriminate against anyone. So, disability must be considered part of the inclusion movement.

 

BD: That makes a lot of sense. It is something that spans everyone. You also mentioned working with some of the governments, like at Sacramento International Airport, which, I mean, you guys are doing a fantastic job there because every time I’m there, it does look spotless.

 

JD: Thank you. Thank you.

 

BD: Are there some entities—government or private industry— where are you seeing your greatest successes?

 

JD: In our Inclusive Talent Solutions business line, we focus on larger fortune 1000 companies in multiple geographic locations and operations. We are essentially taking our employment model and sharing it with those other companies. PRIDE Industries is not like your traditional recruiting staffing agency; we support individuals after they are placed on the job directly through our PRIDE Industries’ team or a partnering agency. And we’re going to make sure that employees have the job support and accommodations to be successful. We want to create long-term careers, not just job opportunities.

 

BD: Yeah, that makes sense. This isn’t temporary; it’s a solution to long-term employment. What would you say has been the greatest achievement you’ve seen in your time at PRIDE Industries?

 

JD: We maintain the second-largest army base in the country: Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. We have 400 team members in an area that spans almost 2,000 square miles of the U.S. Army base. So we’re maintaining roads, grounds, and buildings, and many army spaces like, you know, where they’re practicing exercises. There’s so much that goes into it. For example, we made and maintained a “tank wash.”

 

BD: It’s just like a carwash, but for tanks?

 

JD: Exactly! When I think about my career with PRIDE Industries, I think about large-scale projects where we have 70% of employees with significant disabilities. It’s such a privilege to be part of a company that can employ people with disabilities at such a high level. We have a large courthouse facilities maintenance project throughout the state of California (from Oregon to the Mexican border) and literally “keep the halls of justice open.” And then outside the government space, we have other projects, like with VSP or the Sacramento airport. So, some really exciting stuff that I’ve seen. We’re just really grateful for all of the opportunities and the amazing customers that we have.

 

True to our roots, we’re still 100% committed to operating large-scale vocational rehabilitation programs, which essentially are the job training and supports for individuals that need a pathway into employment. It is where we get deeply rooted in the community to help people start amazing jobs, whether it’s with PRIDE Industries or at another employer. We also have several hundred employers throughout California that we work with to place people in. Overall, if someone has a disability and wants to work, we can help them get the training and support they need to succeed.

 

BD: That’s amazing. I initially found out about PRIDE Industries after speaking to the owner of Ruhstaller Beer. He told me how he hired PRIDE Industries to put the unique burlap on their beer bottle. Once I looked deeper into what you do, I didn’t realize how impressive it could be.

 

Alright, Jeff. So, if someone wants to get involved with PRIDE industries, whether it’s a business or someone looking for employment or advice, what’s the best way?

 

JD: There’s a couple of ways you can get in touch with us, including visiting PRIDEIndustries.com. We have an employment helpline for training, placement, and job support at (844) 426-2253 or (844) I-AM-ABLE.

 

BD: Before we go, is there anything else people should know about PRIDE Industries?

 

JD: Well, I mentioned all of our different business lines, and I wanted to highlight our kitting and fulfillment services, which includes light assembly and logistics. So, if any listeners have a packaging need and want their product to be distributed anywhere in the world, we can assemble, package, and ship it.

 

BD: Yeah, that’s something that we’ve seen a lot of use for as more people are shopping online. Well, thanks for being on the show and for everything you’re doing. I think that’s cool; to be in businesses since 1966 and to work to make sure that workplaces can be inclusive. So glad to have you here in Sacramento and the 16 other states you’re working in. That’s pretty impressive.

 

JD: Well, thanks. Brad has been great sharing this time with you, and I appreciate it.

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Media Contact
Kat Maudru

PRIDE Industries is a social enterprise delivering business excellence to public and private organizations nationwide.