Williamson County businesses say hiring people with disabilities improves workplace culture, employment rate


Williamson County businesses say hiring people with disabilities improves workplace culture, employment rate

PHOTO: Seth Jackson and Maddie Wolfe, who attended Williamson County Schools, work at a Tazikis restaurant in Williamson County in 2017. / WCS InFocus

By MATT BLOIS

Representatives from several Williamson County companies say that hiring people with disabilities makes the world a better place, but also helps their bottom line.

Williamson Inc. hosted an event on Tuesday afternoon to help businesses in Williamson County find ways to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce. The workshop was part of series of events to help companies increase the diversity of the county’s workforce.

Dale Wasem is the local owner of several Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe restaurants in Davidson and Williamson counties. He said most of his stores have employees with disabilities, and they usually improve the workplace culture.

“We’re doing it to help some of the special needs people in the community who can’t find a job,” he said. “The funny thing is when you bring these people in, no matter what time of day they come in, they change the dynamics of that restaurant … They come in and they refresh you.”

According to the Tennessee Disability Coalition, 73 percent of Tennesseans with disabilities aren’t working. That equates to more than half a million adults who can work.

With Williamson County’s rock bottom unemployment rate of 2.1 percent, Williamson Inc. Chief Economic Development Officer Elizabeth McCreary said companies should consider hiring people with disabilities to fill open jobs.

Wasem said it’s important to carve out a specific role that considers the kind of disability an employee has. He has some employees that thrive on human interaction and love working with customers in the restaurant. Other employees prefer to stay behind the scenes. He’s found a place for both in his restaurants.

Meg Harris previously worked in human resources for UBS and now works with Alliance Bernstein. She said those companies are proactive about hiring people from different background, including people with disabilities. 

“There is nothing better than having a table full of people who have a different background, a different perspective, a different way of thinking, a different upbringing, whatever it might be,” she said. “The amount that you can learn from that, and the decisions that you can make as a firm are exponentially better when those perspectives are on the table.”

She explained how UBS worked with a company called The Precisionists to find people with autism who had the skills to monitor financial accounts. They then worked with the company to train new candidates and existing managers for the job. 

At the event, representatives from several nonprofits also offered business owners help with finding and training employees with disabilities. 

Lance Jordan from the Waves Inc. said his nonprofit places people with disabilities in jobs and gives them on-the-job training. Waves has placed participants in jobs at Kroger, Publix, Pizza Hut and Nissan.

“Once a person is placed in a job, our job coaches will work alongside them,” Jordan said. “What they want to do is establish some natural supports, the coworkers, the regular customers. Hopefully, eventually, someone will become an independent employee.”

Susan Sistrunk from the Brentwood YMCA also highlighted that organization’s new program for adults with disabilities. She said the YMCA would be doing some job training with this adults, and that there would be a cohort looking for work soon.

Williamson Inc. has scheduled a second workshop on workplace diversity on April 10. That workshop will cover hiring employees from different generations.

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