Inaugural event successfully connects workers with disabilities, special needs with future employers

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  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/BJNI Laurel Broyles chats with Kyle Kirschner, of Express Employment Professionals, during the inaugural Discovery Job Fair in early May.

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    Emily Hollis chats with Roger’s Ice Cream General Manager Amber McIlreavy during the inaugural Discovery Job Fair in early May.

  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/BJNI Laurel Broyles chats with Kyle Kirschner, of Express Employment Professionals, during the inaugural Discovery Job Fair in early May.

  • 1

    Emily Hollis chats with Roger’s Ice Cream General Manager Amber McIlreavy during the inaugural Discovery Job Fair in early May.

Cody Cummins has some pretty big news.

After attending the inaugural Discovery Job Fair in early May, the 19-year-old Lake City High School graduate and Project SEARCH intern is proud to say he’s been offered a job with Advanced Thermoplastic Composites, a state-of-the-art manufacturing company in Post Falls.

“I did interview at a place called ATC and I just got hired,” Cummins told The Press during a phone interview.

How did it feel to get hired within days of attending the job fair?

“Amazing,” he said.

Held at the Idaho Department of Labor and presented in collaboration with Mountain West Bank, Tesh, Inc. and Idaho Vocational Rehabilitation, the Discovery Job Fair was an opportunity for people with disabilities to engage with employers with current job openings, as well as an opportunity for employers to tap into an untapped well of motivated job seekers.

Stacey Hanlon, workforce consultant with the Department of Labor, recognized that the Kootenai County office was missing an opportunity to meet employers’ needs and an underserved population of job seekers. Spokane has held disability job fairs for years, and after visiting one of those events, she enlisted the help of partnered agencies to create the same opportunity for North Idaho.

“Employers just can’t find enough employees, and oftentimes, they’re entry level positions and they would be a great fit for job applicants with disabilities,” Hanlon said. “Employers overlook this demographic of job seekers.”

Nearly 20 local employers participated in the fair, which welcomed more than 60 job seekers. Hanlon reported that many recruiters received more applications and resumes than from any other hiring events. Shabby Fabrics in Coeur d’Alene had three interviews set up for the next day and has been working with Tesh Inc., and Project SEARCH to set up internships and contract projects for their clients.

"Shabby Fabrics values diversity and inclusion and we are always looking for opportunities to be more involved within our community," said Shabby Fabrics human resources manager Carolyn Powers. “The job fair was very successful. There were multiple candidates that we were interested in interviewing and I’m thrilled to have already extended a job offer to one of them. It was a wonderful experience and we would highly encourage other local businesses to participate in future events."

Moran, who advises the Project SEARCH program that introduces high school grads with disabilities to the workforce, also appreciated the event.

“It was such a different atmosphere to have these employers who were specifically wanting to hire people with disabilities or special needs,” she said. “The employers went above and beyond to explain their companies and smile at everybody.”

Hanlon said the fair will return next year. Discussion has already begun about having it twice a year.

“People with disabilities are eager to work,” Moran said. “They can be amazing employees these businesses could have for years to come. Overall, my students’ attendance is better than 90 percent, and that even goes back for many of them into their schooling years.

“And there’s the yearning to work. They want to work. In some ways, our community is an untapped resource.”

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