May 24, 2017
By Bob Bakken
Taking a means of connecting companies with potential workers who are disabled on the road north for the first time, the Mississippi Department Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) recently held an Employability Job Fair at the Southaven Arena.
Held primarily in the central part of the state in the past, MDRS Executive Director Chris Howard believed it was important to make those possible connections available to jobseekers in other parts of the state.
“We are a statewide program and we have district offices all the way from Corinth down to Gulfport,” Howard said. “We want to provide North Mississippians those opportunities to have those face-to-face conversations with employers just like we’re doing in Jackson. We want to make this an annual event, in North Mississippi, Central Mississippi and in South Mississippi.”
The arena floor was filled with employers wanting to meet and talk with jobseekers, willing to work, but with a varying degree of physical disability that may otherwise keep them from finding gainful employment.
Those employers included the likes of FedEx, Toyota and Sephora, along with Northwest Mississippi Community College and others.
Companies such as these are anxious to add disabled people to their workforce, knowing they get great workers who, by their hiring, also provide the employer with an extra benefit.
“Every time we talk to employers, they’re very excited and really love working with our agency,” Howard said. “Studies show that workers with a disability are more loyal than someone without a disability. We also talk about some tax benefits that are available in hiring an individual with a disability.”
Two state programs were represented by Howard’s MDRS presence at the job fair; the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Office of Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind. Howard noted that the number of state residents who need their services is growing.
“Last year, we served 16,000 Mississippians with disabilities, so we had that many people come in to our district offices, sit down with a counselor and ask for those services to help them get back into full-time employment,” Howard said.
MDRS can provide what Howard called assisted technology for workers in need or job coaching to assist in their work.
“It’s really us working with the employers and talking about these things that someone with disabilities can do in the workplace,” Howard said.
Among those attending the Southaven job fair was D.J. Godwin of Horn Lake, a disabled man with a college degree in psychology who was seeking some job experience without the need of explaining his disability.
“Now they can really see my character,” Godwin said. “I think I have some pretty good possibilities, have some people tell me they like my personality, so I hope something comes of that.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.