The following article appeared in the print edition of the Union Leader, Derry/Londonderry edition (September 7, 2011).
By: Barbara Taormina, Union Leader correspondent
Gail Sederquest spent much of her professional life helping city and town leaders navigate the complicated world of municipal banking and finances.
But a few years ago, she decided to change careers and opted for sales. Only Sederquest doesn’t sell stocks, bonds or widgets – she sells talent. Sederquest is a member of the Workforce Solutions team for Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. She works with businesses finding jobs for people whose applications and resumes often end up at the bottom of the pile when it comes time to schedule interviews.
“Goodwill is a liaisaon,” said Sederquest. “We can be the middle men helping individuals who have severe barriers to employment.”
Sederquest helps people with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities find jobs that match their skills and goals.
“If someone wants to work, we will find them a job,” she said.
Goodwill Industries generates jobs in New Hampshire with its six thrift shops and a seventh that’s schedule to open in Manchester on Sept. 22. The organization also hires workers for its janitorial and property maintenance service and it partners with AmeriCorps, a national program that places people in jobs in community service, public safety and educational programs.
But even with those resources, finding work for people with disabilities can be tough.
According to the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, approximately 76.000 working-age residents from 18 to 64 have some type of disability. Roughly 30,000 people, or 39 percent of New Hampshire disabled workers, have jobs. In comparison, 80 percent of people without disabilities are employed.
Although New Hampshire’s statistics are better than the count in Massachusetts, where only 35 percent of the disabled community are working, the numbers aren’t the only challenge. From 2002 to 2008, the federal government spent $357 billion on services for people with disabilities. But the lion’s share of the money was channeled into health care, veterans’ compensation and income support with little left over for job training and placement.
And with the tight economy, fewer businesses, especially small businesses, seem willing to hire workers with disabilities. Despite studies and reports from business owners and managers who say people with disabilities are among the most committed and hardest working employees on the job, some employers still have concerns about performance and productivity.
Others worry that hiring a disabled worker will mean spending significant amounts of cash on special equipment, wheelchair ramps and other renovations. And that’s where Sederquest comes in.
“I tell them it’s not that difficult to make accommodations,” she said, adding that the average cost of changing a workspace to accommodate a disabled worker is about $500, and many times it’s nothing at all.
“There are also tax incentives for companies that make those changes,” she said.
And people with disabilities often have job counselors and coaches like Sederquest who help them settle into a new work environment.
Sederquest supports and monitors the people she helps place to make sure the job and the employee are the right match. And she helps employers understand the capabilities and the needs of their new workers.
Although Workforce Solutions is a dramatic departure from the fast-paced world of municipal bonds, tax collections and city payrolls, Sederquest said that for her, the job is a perfect fit.
“Banking was my career,” she said. “This is my passion.”