Inclusive Workforce Webinar Prepares Leaders for Upcoming Summit

By Krystal Tanner

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s mid-June webinar, “An Inclusive Workforce: What it is and Why it Matters to Kentucky,” offered panelists a platform to discuss challenges and opportunities in creating an inclusive workforce in Kentucky’s economy. The webinar was presented in partnership with federal and state organizations, including RETAIN Kentucky.

As part of the virtual event, attendees had the opportunity to learn the importance of an inclusive workforce, gain information on the disparities in the employment of people with disabilities, and consider opportunities to more intentionally engage the unique skills and contributions of qualified individuals with disabilities.

While Kentucky is maintaining low unemployment rates, there is a large gap in employment between those with disabilities and without disabilities. Speaking on the state’s rankings were Johnny W. Collett, deputy director of the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute, and Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP).

Collett noted that only 33.7% of Kentuckians with disabilities are employed, compared to 76% of those without disabilities. Collett said this 42% employment rate gap ranks Kentucky 48 in the nation. Damon Williams, associate vice president of the University of Kentucky Office for Institutional Diversity, later stated that approximately 1 in 3 Kentuckians have a disability.

Amy Luttrell, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, explained a component of this disparity — those with disabilities may hesitate to enter the workforce out of fear of losing benefits or being unable to perform tasks. Luttrell said many conclude it is safer to work minimal hours, oftentimes resulting in remaining out of the workforce entirely.

Allowing the development of an inclusive workforce through engagement and learned employable skills can combat hesitancy, as well as increase access to hiring opportunities. An inclusive workforce is one in which the unique skills, contributions and diversity of qualified individuals  — including those with disabilities — are actively recruited, valued and integral for success. It is an environment where the engagement, development, retention and advancement of an increasingly skilled and diverse workforce is promoted and supported across all employment sectors and levels. Leaders who promote an inclusive workforce allow for diversification across all industries and employment levels, supporting both the employee and employer.  

Williams said, “cities and the state experience growth through increased creativity and innovation.” Ultimately, by taking steps to create a more inclusive workforce, businesses and governments can decrease the existing disability unemployment gap while expanding on economic opportunities.

Sheehy also discussed creating conversations and access around accommodations as a step to building an inclusive workforce. Accommodations, generally, “do not surpass $300,” with most being cost-free.

Beyond accommodations, employers have several options to contribute to an inclusive workforce, ranging from talent interaction to funding. The University of Kentucky has established the Turner-UK Construction Diversity Acceleration Program, which provides diverse businesses with opportunities to gain access to tools, resources and workforce expansion.

If employers are interested in further diversifying their workforce, ODEP’s Inclusion at Work Framework aims to advance workers with disabilities through hiring, recruiting, onboarding and retaining. Employers are encouraged to improve the work environment through changes in areas such as outreach, technology, acquisition and talent.

Ongoing collaboration between the public and private sector can ensure an inclusive workforce is continually built upon. Beth Brinly, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet, said increased partnership and commitment would lead to successful service and support for every Kentuckian.

Kentucky’s businesses have the resources to build an inclusive workforce and the infrastructure to maintain such a system. The next step is helping employers and workforce leaders guide intentional change for improvement and innovation to occur.

The webinar, “An Inclusive Workforce: What it is and Why it Matters to Kentucky,” discussed what an inclusive workforce is and how it can support Kentucky’s economy. The conversation doesn’t end with the webinar. On September 13, 2023, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, along with RETAIN Kentucky and the Kentucky Career Center, will host an “Inclusive Workforce Summit” at the Lexington Hilton Embassy Suites. The summit allows employers, workers and health care leaders, along with state and local policymakers, to continue this discussion and identify opportunities to better engage the talent of Kentuckians with disabilities.

To register for the Inclusive Workforce Summit, visit

You can view the webinar, “An Inclusive Workforce: What it is and Why it Matters to Kentucky” here.

Inclusive Job Descriptions Team Wins the Sarah Bennett Holmes Award

By Jackson Beauregard

Through their work on the RETAIN Kentucky project, the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute’s (HDI) Inclusive Job Description team was recently awarded the Sarah Bennett Holmes Award. The Sarah Bennett Holmes Award recognizes a team of faculty, staff, students and/or external partners who have made efforts to promote the well-being and growth of women at the University of Kentucky and throughout the commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) Kentucky is a federally-funded program that seeks to help individuals stay, or return to work after a non-workplace injury or illness while studying the outcomes through an intertwined research study. The program provides early intervention services to Kentucky residents free of charge.  

In addition to providing stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) services, RETAIN Kentucky is seeking to advance a more inclusive workforce for underrepresented populations, including people with disabilities. Inclusive job descriptions are one example of the work RETAIN does in creating a more inclusive workforce. Often, job descriptions lack information about the essential duties and demands of the job, which makes it difficult to assess how many workers can return to work safely and what accommodations they may need.

“The concept of inclusive job descriptions truly helps level the playing field,” says Michele Laur, senior job analyst with RETAIN. “Study after study has indicated that slight adjustments of language in the way job descriptions are written can really deepen the pool of eligible candidates. Not to mention they can improve retention rates as well. “

The inclusive job descriptions team works with employers and workers to create functional job descriptions, define transitional work duties and develop effective stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) options and potential accommodations. As a result, RETAIN has been able to introduce its job analysis services to more than 500 Kentucky employers, coach more than a dozen workers to proactively request job accommodations so they can safely return to work and identify transitional work duties for several employers. These efforts demonstrate how RETAIN is working to build a more inclusive workforce across Kentucky.

The Inclusive Worker Health Leadership Network defines an inclusive workforce as a workforce, “in which the unique skills, contributions and diversity of qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, are actively recruited, valued and integral to organizational success. It is an environment where the engagement, development, retention and advancement of an increasingly skilled and diverse workforce is promoted and supported across all employment sectors and levels.” Inclusive job descriptions can better include persons with disabilities and other diverse populations in the talent pool and labor force.

There is a disparity in employment status between individuals with and without disabilities. This makes inclusive job descriptions key, as they can help employers to better recruit qualified candidates for available positions. Inclusive job descriptions can increase employment outcomes for underrepresented populations, particularly workers with disabilities. With inclusive job descriptions, workforce diversity increases which in-turn increases economic success for employers. The work being done by HDI’s Inclusive Job Description team, and RETAIN, is helping to raise awareness and foster a more inclusive workplace in Kentucky.

States Launch Pilot Projects to Retain Workers with Disabilities

Two women speaking in an office

By Sydney Geiger|Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 10:21 AM

Eight states have launched projects aiming to provide opportunities for people who experience mid-career disabilities to remain in and return to the workforce. After a competitive selection process, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy in partnership with DOL’s Employment and Training Administration and the Social Security Administration awarded eight states with funding for RETAIN Demonstration Projects.

The goal of RETAIN, or Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network, Demonstration Projects is to test the impact of early intervention strategies that improve stay-at-work/return-to-work outcomes. Stay-at-work/return-to-work initiatives provide timely and effective supports and services that allow employees to remain in the workforce and avoid long-term unemployment. Keeping people engaged in the workplace benefits all stakeholders including the employee, employer and state.

States hope to reduce long-term work disability and the need for Social Security Disability Insurance through the projects. Successful outcomes of similar programs in Washington state, such as the Early Return to Work (ERTW) program, are used as models.

California, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont and Washington were among the eight states awarded. While each has the same mission, the projects are adaptable to specific state needs. For example, California’s target population is CalSDI Program applicants who are still receiving cash benefits after one quarter of payments, and Vermont’s target population is work-related musculoskeletal injuries/illnesses. 

Each state created a leadership team comprised of representatives from state health services, state workforce development, and other public and private stakeholders. The team will work to foster collaboration between health care providers and employers to assist injured or ill workers in remaining in the workforce.

“Starting off with committed partners across state government is going to set us up for strong successes,” Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones, a member of Kentucky’s RETAIN leadership team, said during CSG’s National Conference in December.  

CSG will be providing technical assistance for Kentucky’s RETAIN Demonstration Project.

“CSG is excited for the opportunity to partner with the state of Kentucky to continue our dedication to creating an inclusive workforce. The RETAIN project is a continuation of our work on disability employment including our work with the State Exchange on Employment and Disability and our recently published Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Toolkit,” said Elizabeth Whitehouse, director of CSG’s Center of Innovation.

The projects will be funded in two phases. The eight states mentioned above were funded for the 18-month Phase 1 pilot project. After Phase 1, a subset of the recipients will competitively apply for Phase 2 funding. Phase 2 will include a 30-month project implementation and a 12-month evaluation.

Providing supports and services for people who have acquired mid-career disabilities strengthens quality of life of citizens, allows businesses to prosper, and stimulates state economies.

CSG to Launch Workforce Development Toolkit

Stay-At-Work/Return-To-Work Toolkit

By Sydney Geiger|Friday, November 9, 2018 at 09:31 AM

During the 2018 National Conference, CSG will release the Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work (SAT/RTW) Toolkit. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s State Exchange on Employment and Disability collaborated on the toolkit. It was designed to provide states with policy options, best practices and implementation strategies to aid efforts in increasing employment retention and labor force participation of employees who acquire, or are at risk of developing, work disabilities.    

Millions of Americans exit the workforce each year because of a disability. Disability insurance benefits are an important protection for workers with serious long-term or permanent disabilities, but they are not the only option for those with disabilities. Many injured workers might be able to stay in their jobs if they received timely, effective help. Return-to-work programs aim to get workers with disabilities back to productivity as soon as possible during their recovery process. These workers can continue earning money and regain the confidence and stability that employment brings.

Employees exiting the workforce because of injury or illness can result in high costs for all stakeholders. In addition to losing a stable income, employees can face additional health concerns such as depression from the adjustment and a reduced quality of life. Employers lose productivity during an employee vacancy and acquire potential hiring and training costs. States lose tax revenue, personal spending in the economy, and gain the cost of state disability benefits. The SAT/RTW Toolkit offers states numerous strategies to mitigate these costs.

The toolkit provides strategies to help injured or ill workers receive timely and effective supports and services that allow them to remain in the workforce and avoid long-term unemployment. It addresses return-to-work and partial return-to-work programs, disability benefit programs, and employer subsidies, incentives and grants. The toolkit also covers a variety of issues that surround the baseline problem, including transportation, technology, training stakeholders, and communication with health care providers. States with innovative and effective policies and programs in the area are highlighted in the toolkit as examples.

Workforce inclusiveness has been a priority for state leaders nationwide. CSG has been working to provide states with technical assistance around disability employment and stay-at-work/return-to-work programs. CSG representatives have traveled to Oregon and New Jersey and have plans to visit Alaska, Hawaii and Maryland to continue this work. During these visits, CSG assists policymakers by sharing expertise, best practices and the work other states are doing in the area.

Providing opportunities for people with disabilities to return or remain in the workforce creates an inclusive workforce that advances state economies and the quality of life of individuals. State leaders have the ability to support SAW/RTW programs, which create positive employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities and result in numerous benefits for states.

“States need to realize that this is a return-on-investment,” said Tennessee state Sen. Becky Massey, who served on the CSG Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Leadership Team. “We are not simply accommodating people with disabilities, but we are tapping into an underutilized resource.”

CSG 2018 National Conference attendees will have an opportunity to delve deeper into the toolkit during a session from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday, Dec. 6.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

By Sydney Geiger|Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 02:21 PM

Oct. 1 marks the start of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy began celebrating NDEAM in 1945. People with disabilities continually face unemployment rates much higher than the national average. Each year, October is designated to highlight the importance of developing an inclusive workforce of individuals with a variety of abilities.

States have been hard at work to better utilize this underrepresented yet talented group of individuals. Through innovative research and policies, states can better recognize, train and employ skilled workers with disabilities.

In 2017, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin created the Work Matters Task Force which CSG helped to facilitate. The task force was modeled after The National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities. “Kentucky’s economy will be strongest by utilizing the talents of every Kentuckian in order to realize our vision for growth,” Bevin said in the task force report.

The task force addressed five populations: people with disabilities, veterans, foster youth, individuals with criminal records, and individuals with substance use disorders. The task force developed numerous specific policy options in response to overall goals. For example, an increased focus on employment barriers for people with disabilities was implemented. Policy options were created in all phases of the employment process such as preparing for work, transportation to work, job retention, and entrepreneurship. The task force members are currently working to set targets for labor force participation to gauge the success of their efforts as well as legislative action.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered a Model Employer Task Force, similar to Kentucky’s efforts, to combat the workforce and poverty disparities of people with disabilities. The task force is required to establish a five-year plan with annual goals regarding employment of people with disabilities. The executive order also lists responsibilities for the head of each state agency that reports to the governor. Among the responsibilities is the designation of a staff person who oversees the creation, execution, and evaluation of strategies and the submission of a plan describing the policies adopted to meet the goals set by the order.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) leads Ohio’s efforts in this area. OOD hosts career fairs across the state that link job seekers and employers. According to a report from OOD, over 270 people with disabilities found employment at these events last year. More than 175 employers are said to have already registered to partake in the job fairs this year.

Massachusetts takes a unique approach on tackling the problem as well. The Massachusetts Office on Disability and the Human Resource Division partner to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to explore career interests. They have created a mentorship program which allows people with disabilities to learn more about potential careers and develop connections with professionals in the field. At the same time, it allows employers to better understand how people with disabilities can play a role in their workforce.

Oregon state Rep. Gene Whisnant served on The National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities which compiled the Work Matters Policy Framework that offers states program and policy options to enhance workforce inclusiveness. Whisnant’s work at the national level ignited an interest that he brought back to his state in a workgroup aiming to improve employment for people with disabilities. The House Workgroup on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities collaborated with CSG, the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) and the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) on the issue. The workgroup also included representatives from the Oregon Commission for the Blind, the Oregon Disabilities Commission, and the Oregon Supported Employment Center for Excellence. The all-encompassing workgroup is exploring policy solutions, affirmative language changes that prohibit discrimination of people with disabilities and plans to submit legislative placeholders for the upcoming session.

This issue is being prioritized at the federal level as well. President Trump released a proclamation recognizing NDEAM and sharing the work that his administration is doing in the area. In the proclamation, he highlights the initiatives of the Department of Labor and the impacts they are having. Last month, the Department of Labor awarded nearly $20 million in grants through RETAIN projects. RETAIN (Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network Demonstration) projects aim to enable people who are injured or ill to remain in or return to the workforce. The Department of Labor also developed the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion which provides employers assistance in recruiting and retaining workers with disabilities. 

States nationwide are taking numerous approaches to meet the needs of employment for all citizens. As states continue to create an inclusive workforce, economies will grow, disparities will shrink, and the standard of living will improve.