When he was first interviewed at a job fair for PRIDE Industries’ D.P.W. basewide facilities support contract at Fort Bliss, El Paso, TX, Matthiew was extremely shy and nervous. He has a disability that impacts his ability to interact with others. While he completed high school, he had dreams, but no real plan for the future. Matthiew took electrical and construction vocational training courses through a transition program at his school. Still, he was unsure how to proceed.
Workers with disabilities suffer from one of the lowest employment rates of any group in the American population, even in times of prosperity. With 45 years of experience preparing people with disabilities for employment, PRIDE Industries saw through Matthiew’s disability to his potential. PRIDE Industries’ AbilityOne™ contract at Ft. Bliss provided the perfect opportunity for Matthiew. The AbilityOne Program is a Federal initiative to help people who are blind or have other significant disabilities find employment by working within a national network of over 600 Nonprofit Agencies that sell products and services to the U.S. government.
“Matt has a great attitude,” said George, Electric Shop Supervisor, who paired him with Javier, a PRIDE electrician, because of his patience, teaching and mentoring abilities.
When first transitioning to employment, a job coach provides critical support to individuals with disabilities, helping them navigate and gain the technical and soft skills necessary for success. Decreasing Matthiew’s initial social anxiety was critical to his success because of the amount of communication and interaction required to accomplish the facilities support tasks at Ft. Bliss. Javier and his coach worked with Matthiew to understand that in a workplace, communication is as important as the work itself.
Creating a bond
At PRIDE, we know that the support of co-workers is as important as that of job coaches and trainers in helping to ensure the success of individuals with disabilities. Javier and Matthiew work primarily on the air field at Fort Bliss, repairing runway lighting and signage. They have developed a strong working relationship and bond. “He shows enthusiasm, and is excited every day about new projects,” says Javier. “We work side-by-side, and his positive attitude is contagious. It motivates me to teach him new things, and to help him meet his goal of becoming an electrician.” The admiration is mutual. Of Javier, Matthiew says, “he is very nice, patient, and gives me knowledge. We help each other, like a family.”
Matthiew has become increasingly self-sufficient, on and off the job. He gets up at five o’clock in the morning to be ready for work, and rides public transportation independently. He is working toward his apprenticeship license, and eventually wants to become a fully licensed electrician. “Working for PRIDE makes me happy and makes me what I am,” says Matthiew. “I enjoy going to work every day.”
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a perfect time to celebrate the real abilities and successes of individuals with disabilities like Matthiew. His story, and those of thousands of other PRIDE Industries employees are why we continue to be driven by our mission: to create jobs for people with disabilities.