Direct, clear communication with wounded warriors and individuals with disabilities is the key to including them in the workforce, said two guest speakers at a session on investing in employees with disabilities at NAVAIR Patuxent River Oct. 26.
NAVAIR leaders and employees from sites across the command attended the video-teleconferencing event in recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month (October) and Wounded Warrior Care Month (November).
Guest speakers Dr. Charles Hoge and Ted Kennedy Jr. both stressed the need for inclusion and matter-of-fact dialog when hiring and retaining wounded warriors and individuals with disabilities.
Hoge is a psychiatrist and expert on combat-acquired post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury.
Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.
"Recruiting wounded warriors is a priority at NAVAIR; we know the value they bring," said NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. David Architzel. He cited the many skills veterans add to the workplace, including critical thinking, a mature outlook, a warrior spirit worth embracing and the ability to think under pressure. "Warfighters have experience and skills that we can't take lightly. They give us the context for what we need and do," he said.
Because veterans are used to direct, matter-of-fact communications when deployed with their units, it's important that within the civilian workplace, their supervisors give them similar direct feedback, said Hoge, a retired Army colonel and author of Once a Warrior Always a Warrior; Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home.
Hoge suggested managers and employees provide clear communications and good follow-through and behave with respect, strength, integrity, patience and honesty in their interactions with their veteran co-workers.
"Warriors come back with these extraordinary experiences that no one who hasn't been over there can fathom or understand," he said. "Everyone who is deployed is affected or changed by their experience."
NAVAIR leadership recognizes the need to hire veterans and individuals with disabilities.
In fiscal year 2012, NAVAIR hired 154 disabled veterans. In fiscal year 2011, NAVAIR hired 20 individuals with targeted disabilities (nine disabilities that make up a group of targeted disabilities, as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and has led the Navy in these types of hires for the past four years. The U.S. Navy has a 2 percent goal to hire individuals with targeted disabilities.
"Creating an inclusive environment starts with leadership," said Stephen Cricchi, executive champion for the Individuals with Disabilities Advocacy Team, and director of NAVAIR's Integrated Systems Evaluation, Experimentation and Test Development.
The event, held at the River's Edge Conference Center, also aligned with President Barack Obama's two executive orders on hiring individuals with disabilities into the federal government and veterans' employment, key elements of NAVAIR's long-range workforce strategy.
Kennedy, who lost his leg to bone cancer at the age of 12, presented the business case for investing in employees with disabilities.
He cited the "new economy," the population trends of people living longer with more impairments and jobs that do not require "brute strength," which all create a unique opportunity for people with disabilities.
"Employment provides self-worth and all the self-esteem and success that come with it," Kennedy said. "Most people with disabilities make such great employees because they're motivated and have the need to prove themselves." These employees' hard work ethic and loyalty stems from their gratefulness at being offered a job, he said.
NAVAIR employee Angie Cummings agreed. "Coming to NAVAIR was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in my life," she said. Cummings, who is blind, said she experienced employment discrimination before coming to NAVAIR. "I don't consider myself a disabled person, just a person with a disability who has other abilities," she said.
Like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Kennedy's aunt who founded Special Olympics in 1968, "we don't need to become public officials to make a big impact," Kennedy said. "People with disabilities deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone else," he said.
Architzel urged attendees to meet the challenge of bolstering NAVAIR's culture of diversity and inclusiveness. "People with disabilities are our largest portion of untapped talent "we have to put this into practice. We have to hire these people," he said.
NAVAIR supervisors and hiring managers are encouraged to register for the Second Annual Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Conference, "Hiring our Nation's Heroes," on Nov. 9-10 in Vienna, Va. The conference will convene prominent government, military and industry leaders and their human resources professionals to provide a forum for sharing best practices on how to recruit, hire, train and retain wounded warriors successfully. For more information and to register for this free conference, visit www.public.navy.mil/donaa/Pages/woundedwarrior.aspx
Wounded warriors and NAVAIR supervisors and hiring managers are also invited to attend a multi-SYSCOM Wounded Warrior Career Day on Dec. 6 to meet wounded warriors and learn about resources to help support disabled veterans as they transition to the NAVAIR workforce, including mentoring and other volunteer opportunities.
Ed Crenshaw, author of P.E.R.C.E.V.D Principles, will train attendees on how to prepare to receive combat-exposed veterans with disabilities. The program will be held at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org; space is limited.
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