"Data shows that people with disabilities perform as well as, and in some cases better than, other workers," she said. "There are a lot of benefits."
"I've been in a few plants in the Detroit area lately, and [workers not showing up] is the No. 1 problem," Vitale said. "Data shows that 48 percent of disabled workers achieve greater job tenure than their co-workers who aren't disabled. Ninety percent perform equally as well, or better, than others.
"Disabled workers, on average, have 34 percent fewer safety incidents than co-workers," she added. "[That's because disabled people] tend to pay closer attention to manufacturing rules."
Companies can also save on recruitment and training costs because the turnover of disabled workers is usually lower, Vitale said. "Plus [companies will be] fulfilling social responsibilities to local communities."
There are national and regional networks of organizations that work on behalf of disabled people "that can all help in referral and recruitment," she added.
There are also government incentives to invest in programs that hire people with disabilities.
"If there are dollars to help you bring someone on, the training time or first years' wages or tax incentives," the program can help companies find them, Vitale said.
"We all want to do what's right and what's good. But companies are forced to look at their bottom line," she said. "Hiring someone who is disabled is not only a social good, it's also a financial good."
Only 17 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. are born with their disability, and 83 percent acquire disabilities later in life.
"Most are invisible, like autism or ADHD," Vitale said. "Only 29 percent of folks have visible disabilities. So you might be working with people who have a good work history already."
"The shockingly high unemployment rates for people with disabilities, coupled with the growing demand for a future workforce, pose a significant barrier to growth in industries nationwide, including the plastics industry," Emmett said in a June 6 news release. "Our ultimate goal is to create a blueprint that can be replicated in every county in the United States, improving employment rates for people with disabilities while fulfilling the workforce needs."
The Molding Workforce Inclusion program's other collaborators include Blue Star Recyclers, a Colorado-based electronics recycler; Earlywood Educational Services, a special education cooperative; and Aspire Economic Development and Chamber Alliance of Johnson County, Indiana.
The partnership is actively seeking plastics companies interested in the program, Vitale said.
"Our team will do a 30-minute meeting to gauge each prospective partner's objectives, assess whether we believe we can help them," she said. "We're pretty confident we can.
"If we agree to move forward, [JEC] will do a walkthrough of the plant, asking questions, assessing where the gaps and devise a plan to move forward," Vitale said. "It's as easy as reaching out to us."
JEC will work with economic development organizations to bring businesses looking to diversify their workforce to communities, while SPE will work with plastics companies to assess workplaces, Vitale said.
Five plastics companies will receive a plan with curriculum resources to address employment skills and gaps, external and internal messaging for the business, a series of trainings to members that include disability awareness, natural support strategies, inclusive interviewing, fear/stigma discussions and a model for support with all participating companies.
The program builds on a previous two-year project, funded by the Indiana Department of Education, that also connected job seekers with disabilities to plastics companies and other employers.
For companies to be successful in recruiting and working with disabled people, they'd need a visible leader to oversee a program, buy-in from its company leaders, the same level of expectations for all workers and clear messaging of the program.
"We already have a few companies that are interested," she added.
Any companies with interest in the program can email [email protected].
"Through SPE's extensive network, this initiative has the potential to directly address the gaps in hiring and retaining employees … fostering the continued growth of the plastics industry, while working toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce," Vitale said in the news release.