Simple Changes Help Nontraditional Employees Reach Their Potential

Clockwise from upper left: Jordan shows off his Great Wolf Lodge employee shirt; Jordan and Chrissy pause for an on-site selfie; Jordan manages area near the waterpark


Although “Tara” (name changed for privacy) experienced the residual effects of a traumatic brain injury, she was still a promising candidate for a warehouse order puller position at a tri-state pharmaceutical company. Fortunately for Tara, she had two things working in her favor: a passionate career coach who specialized in assisting persons with disabilities obtain and maintain employment; and an understanding employer who was open to hiring Tara and make accommodations for her. Working closely with Tara and her coach, the employer quickly agreed to introduce warehouse signage that helped Tara understand where items were located. The plan was a success—not only for Tara, but for all the employees. From that point on, Tara became a model employee whose earnest dedication was hard to match. Tara’s tale could be viewed as a lesson for all employers: by helping nontraditional employees with minor modifications, they can enhance and advance their organization. 

Tara’s personal coach and advocate was Chrissy Perkins, Career Coach & Program Manager with JVS Careers, an employment agency that has been serving the Cincinnati community for eight decades. Perkins has personally worked in the field of disability services for over thirty years, and, in February, she was hired by JVS Careers to handle cases just like Tara’s. Perkins’s employment stemmed from insights drawn from the 2019 Community Study, a rigorous assessment of Jewish community needs in Greater Cincinnati. The study—along with the subsequent conclusions of Cincinnati 2030, the Jewish community’s ten year strategic plan—exposed the need for community employment support beyond what JVS Careers was then providing. 

Cincinnati 2030 revealed that nontraditional employees were not receiving the help they needed to find and maintain employment. A person who is nontraditional could be someone, like Tara, who’s sustained a brain injury, but could also describe an individual on the autism spectrum; persons with ADHD, PTSD or severe anxiety or depression; and people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and more. 

The impact on organizations within the community was another concern; Cincinnati 2030 demonstrated that a significant population of capable workers were not successfully entering the workforce. “We all know that companies are suffering from severe staffing shortages,” Perkins said, “and here is this huge pool of people that employers tend to overlook—eager, capable individuals who are available for work.” 

Perkins believes that, for many organizations, fear of the unknown is a contributing factor. “Employers are scared; they're hesitant,” she said. “And so, I talk with them to explain why those fears aren’t always based in reality. While I can never guarantee that a person is going to work out—honestly, there’s so much that can happen with any hiring—I can guarantee an employer what they'll get from me: my services, my support, and the close, professional connection that I develop with them, the employer. I will be there to help support this person, or even have tough conversations if things aren’t working out.”

Perkins shared another example of how her work considers the needs of the employee and the business. “Great Wolf Lodge is an employer that’s done a lot of good work in hiring people with disabilities,” she said. “Recently, I helped a client named Jordan get a job there. Jordan is a member of the Jewish community, and someone who needed on-the-job coaching. At the start, we both determined what his assignments were, and then I helped him create a job list so he could cross things off when he’d finished specific tasks. The list is on a dry-erase board that can be updated daily. I also worked with Jordan to design a color-coded map that helps him better understand the layout of the waterpark, in which he cleans, so that he knows what areas he's been assigned to.”

Once Perkins got Jordan settled into his new role, she helped him—and Great Wolf Lodge—transition to a more permanent plan. The company now gives Jordan the steady, ongoing support he needs to be successful. The arrangement is working perfectly; Jordan has done so well that Great Wolf moved Jordan to the closing shift, which was his preference. This kept the lifeguards at their stations longer because management could trust that Jordan will complete the closing tasks with ease. When this change happened, the Aquatic’s Director, Krista Howard, said to Perkins, “I am so happy that you presented Jordan to us to hire. He has been such a great addition to the Aquatics team. He is such a hard worker and is honestly the best Park Attendant we have on staff, thank you for providing us such a great candidate.”

Perkins was pleased but not at all surprised by Howard’s praise for Jordan. “The success rate for nontraditional employees is higher than average,” she asserted. “And that’s especially true in today’s post-COVID environment when, frankly, there are fewer people motivated to work. For people with disabilities, work is what they want to do. And they will often outperform traditional employees once they know their jobs.” 

When asked what her overarching message for the community would be, Perkins said she just wants people to know what’s available for nontraditional employees. “In Cincinnati, there is a safe place for these hard-working people to gain the knowledge and tools they need to find a job. At JVS Careers, we’re fierce advocates for helping these folks meet their goals. I can help them navigate the process of finding a job; I can help them obtain employment, maintain employment, and empower them to advocate for themselves—whether that’s disclosing the nature of their limitations, or simply asking for reasonable, on-the-job accommodations.”


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