Episode 408: How the Blind Institute of Tech Helps Salesforce Meet Hiring Needs with Apprenticeships

Summary:This episode of the Workology Podcast features Mike Hess and Sarah Mark talking about apprenticeship programs at Salesforce.

Episode 408: How the Blind Institute of Tech Helps Salesforce Meet Hiring Needs with Apprenticeships

Summary:This episode of the Workology Podcast features Mike Hess and Sarah Mark talking about apprenticeship programs at Salesforce.

Table of Contents

By the way, it’s not due process. Like this is the opposite of due process. Like you’re guilty and you got, you got to prove yourself innocent with this very legal, nebulous conversation around reasonable accommodation. And so, so, because Salesforce is the, the, I mean, literally the most accessible business enterprise application on the planet, like I lead with, Salesforce is the reasonable accommodation. And this is really important, again, when we’re talking to business leaders, because you have to address this conversation. You have to be able to say, because again, business leaders like, oh, I’d love to, you know, do this and yes, we’re going to get a registered, apprentices and get them work experience and everything. Wait, wait. We’re talking disability, right? Like, oh, man. And, and the other thing around disability, besides the reasonable accommodation conversation struggle is, is the fact that people struggle with, like I tell people often, I’m blind, not dead. I can feel the hesitation, I can feel the apprehension, I can feel the squishiness. When people like, they see the cane, right? It’s an obvious visible disability and individuals struggle with that.

– Mike Hess

Episode 408: The First Nationally Recognized Registered Apprenticeship Program With Mike Hess & Sarah Mark

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:36.88] Hello and welcome to the Workology podcast. This episode is part of our podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, or ODEP. In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs. Before I introduce our guests for today, I do want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. You can ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Today I’m joined by Mike Hess, Founder and Executive Director at the Blind Institute of Technology, and Sarah Mark, Workforce Development Program Manager for people with disabilities at Salesforce. Now, after 20 years as a tech veteran, managing seven figure projects for Fortune 500 companies, one thing troubled Mike. He was always the token blind guy. Knowing that the invaluable skills he developed because of his blindness were the keys to his success,

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:02.63] he couldn’t understand why unemployment amongst the blind and visually impaired, or BVI community, was so high. He embarked on a journey to change corporate America’s stigmas and misconceptions of BVI professionals, developing the Blind Institute of Technology. Using the same skills that made him a success in IT, Mike has built partnerships and placed BVI professionals in Fortune 500 companies nationwide. After working in a community-based mental health as a clinician, supervisor and training director, Sarah made her career pivot towards workforce development with a continued focus on disproportionately unemployed and underrepresented communities. After over a decade in nonprofit service organizations, she moved into a role managing the TechSF program, enabling technical and soft skills training for all unemployed and underemployed residents of San Francisco. Her program supported a team of career coaches and used an equity lens to ensure that the tech skill training courses were inclusive and accessible to all. This combination of her background experience led her to her current position at Salesforce, where she has been since March of 2020. Mike and Sarah, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Sarah Mark: [00:04:18.74] Thank you so much.

Mike Hess: [00:04:20.58] Super excited to be here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:22.97] I am so excited, and your backgrounds are really interesting and impressive, so let’s just jump right in and talk about your roles and how you guys, or you two, work together. Sarah, let’s start with you.

Sarah Mark: [00:04:37.26] Sure. So my name is Sarah Mark. I am the Senior Manager of Workforce Development for People with Disabilities in the Office of Accessibility at Salesforce. I have been there, like you said, from March of 2020 until now. I was one of the original members of the Office of Accessibility, which had just launched the November before. My assignment, when I started there, was to create and stand up a workforce development program that would be externally facing for people with disabilities. So, that means getting folks trained, skilled and connected with opportunities to land careers in the Salesforce ecosystem. So, the way I kind of say it when I’m talking to people about this job that doesn’t really exist anywhere else, is that my role is to make sure that all the careers that are created because of Salesforce’s existence are accessible equally for people with disabilities.

Mike Hess: [00:05:42.86] And thank you again for, for having me on. My, my background obviously in, in corporate America was, was unique from the standpoint that, you know, I, I, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And what I didn’t know is that, um, that there really weren’t huge emphasises on, you know, people with disabilities, professionals with disabilities. All I knew was my, my path. I knew my path was filled with, you know, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t call it straight up discrimination. But, you know, there was, there was plenty of, I mean looking back now, I can be like, oh, yeah, that probably wasn’t right. But, I just kept doing my own thing and I didn’t, I didn’t realize that, you know, the tokenism I used to wear the tokenism as a badge of honor and yet didn’t realize that, that too, like creates trauma and imposter syndrome is, is, is, you know, kind of jumps out from, from that lens. And so I, so my background just, you know, as I started getting in my 40s, I think as a lot of people do when they start thinking, okay, so what’s my legacy? What’s, you know, what’s the bigger picture? Cool. I’m making six figures. Cool. I’m solving projects for, you know, executives who are going to be around for about 18 months, um, all of that good stuff. But I wanted to do, I just knew that I had this calling internally. And quite honestly, I didn’t, I wasn’t, I wasn’t part of the blind visually impaired community, like at all. I wasn’t part of the broader disability community at all. Like, I just, I was part of corporate America and I had most of my friends in, that sort of thing, were all part of that community.

Mike Hess: [00:07:23.22] But as I started doing some soul searching, I’m just like, You know what? This is calling to me. And, um, you know, foolish, courageous, somewhere in between, I left my six figure income. Actually, it’ll be 11 years tomorrow, September 21st. I left my six figure income to start this journey and BIT, Blind Institute of Technology. Like, what’s unique about us as an organization is I started it as a non profit staffing agency. So, within the first six months, 18 months, 24 months, like we were placing professionals with disabilities, the vast majority of them were blind/visually impaired into corporate America, Fortune one, Fortune 200 companies we were starting to make some noise with, with that, we started like the front page of the Denver Post top 25 periodical, obviously here in the Denver metro area, the Denver Business Journal, some other more national publications as well, because the bar is set so epically low for the broader disability community, that if you’re doing anything of note, all of a sudden, you know, they’re evergreen stories for sure. But, we just, you know, kept rolling with that. And then, uh, towards the end of 2016, since my background’s in tech, I always wanted to do some sort of a workforce development program. And we launched our very first workforce development program. We had six blind/visually impaired individuals and one individual who is neurodiverse go through our program. And again, since we started out as a staffing agency, six out of the seven individuals that completed that program, we ended up finding employment for. So we just, we kept rolling with this workforce development program until, of course, the amazing day that in early April of 2020 that I met Miss Sarah Mark here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:16.59] I love it. What a, what a great story. And, and how both of you have been able to connect and, and the paths that let you, that led you to each other. Can you tell us how registered apprenticeships work and maybe what’s involved in setting them up for us, Mike?

Mike Hess: [00:09:34.80] Sure. Like, yeah, yes we are, we’re the first, and this is cool and sad all at the same time. So, December of 21, our program became the first nationally recognized registered apprenticeship program for the blind/visually impaired. Now we serve more than the blind/visually impaired. However, from a digital access perspective, this community, my community is the hardest to serve digitally, right? So again, I often say this isn’t the “poor me” Olympics, that it’s harder to be blind than it is to be deaf than it is to be a quadriplegic, like this isn’t the “poor me” Olympics, but from a digital access perspective, the blind community is, is super specialized to serve, period. You have to, you have to think about it from code and that’s my background is code. So, so how it started prior to that is actually, it was quite honestly just network. An organization called Safal Partners found out, that they’re what’s called an intermediary. They have, had and still have a contract with the Department of Labor nationally, so Washington, D.C., to find organizations who are currently leveling up marginalized communities. And so, they heard about our program, reached out to us, and they said, “your program completely fits. We’d love to help you create an actual apprenticeship program.” So you’re already doing, you’re already doing the training anyway. Then you can just add this as kind of a badge. And, you know, it’s a great way to, to market.

Mike Hess: [00:11:17.48] And it was, so for us, it was, it was just a faithful, you know, connection. We, as an organization, had to do, honestly very little other, because our program was already stood up, our training. We were already delivering the training. We were going to, we were going to do this regardless. And, and my background, I was appointed by former Governor Hickenlooper to the Workforce Development Council here in Colorado. And so I, of course, knew about a lot of apprenticeship programs. However, every apprenticeship program that I knew of, again, they, everybody claims like, oh, no, of course we’re, we’re ADA we’re EEOC, we’re, whatever rubber stamp you want to put on there. And yet, you know, you find out from these programs. So, how many blind people have gone through your programs? How many people who are neurodiverse, how many people who are deaf who have gone through these programs? And the statistics are I mean, they’re sad, they’re woeful. And it’s because, again, the, the nature of serving this population. And so, so for us, it was, it was something we were already doing. And so, just to add the criteria of now that we are a registered apprenticeship program and actually as of September 1st, 2023, we have the second and only two registered apprenticeship programs nationwide that serve the blind/visually impaired and the broader disability community. So, so, our curricula and our repertoire continues to grow to serve this population more fully.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:48.25] Thank you for that. And it’s quite the process to be able to to stand up an apprenticeship program and have one be as successful as yours. I, I know that a lot of intermediaries, or those who are aspiring to be intermediaries are, struggle with, with the setup process. So I think that it says a lot about the two different programs that you have and then the actual apprenticeships that have went through your program.

Mike Hess: [00:13:22.96] It’s work, but it’s, it’s work that we as an organization were already doing, right? So, so for us, it was, okay, here’s the, like here are the training programs. Here, we were, and again, since we started as a placement agency, again, the difference between apprenticeships and internships is most of your audience will already know, like is the fact that apprentices get paid. So we, we as an organization, like this was already our business model, right? We were leveling folks up. We’re using very specific curriculum and then we were placing people, right? So at the end of the day, that’s what we were doing. And that’s why with, you know, the relationship that we have with Safal Partners, it was, it was really hand in glove because it was already what we were doing. And, and honestly, I mean, that’s really the beautiful relationship that BIT has with Salesforce, the mighty Salesforce, is because, again, we were, we were already doing this. We were already committed to doing this. The fact that, you know, we have these amazing relationships and partnerships and, you know, and we have street cred because of the RAP program, all that kind of stuff. I mean, it literally is just because we were already committed to doing what we’re doing.

Sarah Mark: [00:14:36.92] That’s, I was just going to jump in and say, that’s exactly what that brought up for me. As you were talking, Mike, that part of how our partnership formed, or really how our partnership formed in our first conversation, um I realized that what I was looking for was what Mike was already doing. I had been, up until then, trying to find a disability employment focused organization that would be willing to take on a Salesforce training program. When I found Mike, he said, I’ve already trained blind folks on becoming Salesforce administrators virtually. He was doing it on Zoom before the pandemic even hit, because that way you can serve people where they are, and that’s very advantageous for people with disabilities who experience additional challenges navigating our world that wasn’t built for them. So, you know, as someone who’s been on the other side of the fence in the nonprofit world, we’re often scrambling to apply ourselves to grants or money that’s being offered to do a certain thing that we don’t actually do yet. And, but we promise we’ll figure it out once we get the money. And that’s how it has to work oftentimes. But what was really special about finding Mike was that he was already doing it, and that’s always going to just go better. When you’re, when you’re throwing money behind the work that’s already happening, it’s like now we get to just grease the wheels and make it bigger and better instead of building a new ship.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:04.64] I like that. And this is a great segway to our next question, which is what is Salesforce’s role in supporting apprenticeships? Can you kind of talk us through that a little bit more, Sarah?

Sarah Mark: [00:16:15.89] Yeah. So, you know, again, because I have a background in the nonprofit sector and Mike has a background in the corporate world, we really, and then we kind of flip flopped. We both understand each other’s work and where, where our limitations are and where the strengths are in our respective fields. So, we can have very candid conversations. And when I was talking to him, I said, if I give you money, how are you going to use it? And his immediate response was, I’m going to put it in the pockets of people with disabilities who do the work. Like we’re not going to ask people to do work for free and then put this free work, and free work on your resume. Hope that that means something to some mythical future employer. That’s just not, it’s not equitable and it’s not how we ask anyone else to get going in the career world. So he sort of floated the idea of paid work experience and the, the model that we kind of came up with together was that we would identify nonprofit organizations who are Salesforce customers and needed Salesforce support, which is expensive because Salesforce talent is in high demand, right. And so oftentimes nonprofits can’t afford, they don’t have the resources to customize their Salesforce org to the level that would best serve them. So he could offer these services at low or no cost to the nonprofits, but still fund the talent who was doing the work through grants from our organization, from the Office of Accessibility. And so that in turn created sort of proof of concept that he could use. Mike, please chime in if I’m misquoting the history here, but it created a proof of concept that then he could use to create the, the building blocks for the apprenticeship program nationally.

Mike Hess: [00:18:08.34] Spot on, almost like we’ve talked before.

Sarah Mark: [00:18:11.13] It’s almost like we’ve done this before.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:14.94] I love it. I love it. Well, Mike, let’s switch over to you and maybe, can you share some advice for employers and maybe business leaders who are trying to or wanting to make a business case for apprenticeship programs?

Mike Hess: [00:18:31.23] Well, specifically, so to, you know, like the, like when you’re talking about like the Fortune 10,000, like the, within the inclusion oriented conversations, right. The four main pillars within the Fortune 10,000. And these are all, I was raised by a single mom, like these are, these are again not the “poor me” Olympics. Please hear me when I’m saying this, but the four main strategic initiatives are always around talent within the inclusion space are gender equity, the ethnic BIPOC community, LGBTQ+ community and veterans. Those are the four main pillars, and what is almost always omitted and, from a percentage perspective, like it is the people with disabilities community that is rarely talked about. And this is important from a context to, because, you know, it’s just to say like, oh, you know, you train a whole bunch of blind people and people with other disabilities up in Salesforce and oh my gosh, the flood doors are going to open. No, no, because we’re still contextually, we’re challenged with, you know, this marginalized community is absolutely faced with legal constraints that, quite honestly, no other marginalized community is. And it’s the legal constraint is with a very legal, nebulous conversation around reasonable accommodation. So, out of all the inclusion oriented communities, the people with disabilities community literally have to like, and it’s not due process, by the way.

Mike Hess: [00:20:02.23] It’s not due process. Like this is the opposite of due process. Like you’re guilty and you got, you got to prove yourself innocent with this very legal, nebulous conversation around reasonable accommodation. And so, so because Salesforce is the, the, I mean, literally the most accessible business enterprise application on the planet, like I lead with, Salesforce is the reasonable accommodation. And this is really important, again, when we’re talking to business leaders, because you have to address this conversation. You have to be able to say, because again, business leaders like, oh, I’d love to, you know, do this and yes, we’re going to get a registered, apprentices and get them work experience and everything. Wait, wait. We’re talking disability, right? Like, oh, man. And, and the other thing around disability, besides the reasonable accommodation conversation struggle is, is the fact that people struggle with, like I tell people often, I’m blind, not dead. I can feel the hesitation, I can feel the apprehension, I can feel the squishiness. When people like, they see the cane, right? It’s an obvious visible disability and individuals struggle with that.  And so we have to address this when we’re talking to business leaders. And again, out of all the marginalized communities, all the inclusion oriented conversations, this, this really is the most taboo of all the conversations, not just due to reasonable accommodation, but truly, I believe people struggle with disability.

Mike Hess: [00:21:33.20] They, they have a hard time realizing that this is part of the human condition right as we age, right? No matter what. Father time is undefeated and, you know, our bodies decline, our eyesight, our hearing, our cognitive or motor skills. All of that happens. However, as people are in their fully able bodied states, they have a really hard time imagining themselves in that state. And so, when you come with an obvious visible disability, it puts them immediately into this like, Oh my gosh, I don’t know how I would do that. And so, we have to address all of these uncomfortable conversation topics right away, because the beautiful thing is like once we once we talk about that, then we can get to like, Oh, by the way, Salesforce is the reasonable accommodation. By the way, people with disabilities are able to, you know, like we don’t job hop, we don’t, we don’t, we don’t get opportunities to begin with. Like there are all these amazing assets that we bring to the conversation. However, talking to new business leaders, we do address that very uncomfortable conversation because it is absolutely part of this equation.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:38.44] So, after you’ve addressed that part of the equation, do you take it a step further and say, what, in terms of, of the business case.

Mike Hess: [00:22:50.00] The business case? Yeah, the business case is I mean, it’s again, Accenture has done, you know, white papers on this, like the statistics on organizations who actually, like actively recruit and retain talent from the disability community, like 28% higher revenue, two times higher net operating income. Like the business case is ridiculous from a favorable perspective like, so for businesses who are really looking, because again, if you think about, like, so the individuals that we’ve placed, BIT, into organizations have an average tenure of over six years where the national average amongst everybody else is four years. So again, just, so attrition, costs organization money, right? And you got a, you got a demographic here again, because we, the disability community know that job hopping is not an option for us. It’s just not. And so, we’re going to go there. We’re going to make do, we bring the goods. Over 60% of the individuals that we’ve placed in full time roles, again, small brands like JPMorgan Chase and Allstate, Salesforce, CVS, like, you know, small mom and pops like that. Over 60% of the folks that we’ve gotten full time employment for, have already gotten promotions. So, again, they’re not just getting promotions because they’re tokens. Like private America is hard core. You’re either delivering or you’re not. So, the business case is there. It’s still, you know, getting past the stigma and perception.

Sarah Mark: [00:24:20.55] Let me, let me tack on to that, too. Mike does a really good job with capturing all the statistics. I mean, it will take you one quick Google search to see that there is compelling evidence that having a diverse workforce benefits business in so many ways. And I also want to just circle back to what Mike was saying at the beginning about, you know, we have sort of a general consensus that diversity, equity and inclusion, there’s a business case for that, right? And Mike is right that the word disability often gets left out of the room when those are being discussed. However, disability cuts across every other aspect of identity. So when we’re leaving that off the table, we’re also excluding people of color. We are excluding genders that are underrepresented in tech or any other field. We’re excluding veterans, many of whom have disabilities. So, you know, it’s not like we’re saying pick us, pick us, forget about those other groups. We’re saying we are a part of all these groups, and it’s important that we’re not getting left out when we’re looking at expanding our pool. And the other piece I wanted to add about what kind of the business case is that, that people often don’t think about is, let’s say you hire a person with a visual disability, right? Someone who is either blind or low vision and uses assistive technology in their job.

Sarah Mark: [00:25:40.66] You are also getting an in-house accessibility tester because they will let you know if one of your products or one of your, one of the things that you use to onboard them or one of the things that they need to use in their job doesn’t work. So you’re finding out firsthand and this is one of the things that’s well documented about why it’s important to have a diverse team and diverse workforce, right? Because if we have all one kind of person looking at things, they miss stuff. They miss stuff that other people won’t miss. So when we have like, for example, someone on my team who’s a screen reader user, she will be the first to notice when something breaks or doesn’t work or has a regressive bug that is an accessibility issue. So, it’s sort of like a hidden extra. Not that I want you to ask all your people with disabilities to be doing second jobs, testing your things, but it’s sort of a natural function of them being in the workplace.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:36.55] Thank you for both of your insights here. I will link to the Accenture study in the show notes. And it might seem old hat for Mike and Sarah because they work in this space every single day. But, for many of us in HR, this is a new, it shouldn’t be new, but it is still something relatively new. And it’s important to be armed with information and research when we are talking with executive leaders who this might be a completely new, new concept or topic of discussion. So I will include the link to the study over on Workology and you can grab that from, from this episode or just Google Accenture Disability Business case study and it’ll pop right up for you.

Break: [00:27:24.39] Let’s take a reset here. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill and you are listening to the Workology podcast. Today I have two guests, and we’re talking with Mike Hess, Founder and Executive Director at the Blind Institute of Technology, and Sarah Mark, Workforce Development Program Manager for People with Disabilities at Salesforce. This podcast is part of our podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. Before we get back to the interview, I do want to hear from you. Text “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.

Break: [00:28:04.28] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.

The Office of Accessibility Workforce Navigators Program at Salesforce

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:40.28] I want to move over to Sarah and talk about the genesis of the Office of Accessibility Workforce Navigators program at Salesforce, because this is something that is, as far as I know, nowhere else in the work world, in the business world. Talk to us about it and how it has evolved over time.

Sarah Mark: [00:28:59.84] Correct. As far as I know, I am a unicorn, holding a unicorn job that doesn’t exist really anywhere else. If there’s another one of you out there, please reach out. I would love to connect, but I’ll tell you the story of how we came to be is really also a story of the business case for disability inclusion in the workplace, which is that the Office of Accessibility was born out of an activation from our ERG for employees with disabilities, our employee resource group for people with disabilities, at Salesforce. So Salesforce employees, who are either people who identify as having a disability or allies, strong allies and champions for the disability community, maybe they have, for whatever reason, a personal interest in supporting and advocating for the community, put together an executive level pitch to create the Office of Accessibility because the Employee Resource Group was doing a lot of this work on a volunteer basis, and they said, “Hey, this is not volunteer work, this is real work and this deserves resources backing it up.” So, the pitch was accepted and the Office of Accessibility was funded and created. I believe we launched originally in November of 2019 when nobody had heard or maybe a couple, there were a couple of whispers of some sort of virus creeping through certain parts of the world.

Sarah Mark: [00:30:20.37] And, you know, I started on the first day of lockdown in San Francisco, March of 2020. But all of the things that have come since then, probably, I mean, all of the things that have happened since then could not have happened without our office being funded and supported, even supported through the pandemic. As other things were falling apart and falling away, Salesforce continued to fund and support the Office of Accessibility, knowing that this is critical work, that there is a strong business case for this type of work and people holding a focus on this space. And the way we work, I’ll, I’ll talk really quickly about the way the Office of Accessibility Works, which is mirrored by the Workforce Navigators program. My, my program, the Office of Accessibility, operates under a hub and spoke model. So we don’t own product accessibility. We don’t own real estate accessibility, but we advocate for, inform and respond to concerns in every area of the company as it refers to disability inclusion and accessibility. So, for instance, we have an events manager and coordinator who creates enablement and those trainings and best practices for every events team across the company, right? We’re a huge company.

Sarah Mark: [00:31:36.57] We can’t have one person running all over the world trying to make every event accessible. So she’s making sure to create accessible guidelines for every event coordinator, manager and participant. We just hosted our most accessible Dreamforce yet, and we know that because we had 200 employee volunteers at our disability help desk supporting our attendees in every way we could think of. The Workforce Navigators program I was hired on to create and build operates in a similar manner so we don’t host our own trainings, but we are creating pathways to enable Salesforce training instructors to give them more background and exposure to disability inclusive teaching practices. We’ve funded our partnership with the Blind Institute of Technology. We’ve partnered with other disability-serving organizations. We’ve created a number of different help and support articles to help assistive technology users navigate the product when it’s sometimes created in a, the instructions might be written in a way, instructions are written for sighted users, right? So we have, we have someone on our staff now who creates a, instructions that are tailored for screen reader users to make their experience just as seamless as sighted users’ experience. And, and we advocate internally as well for product accessibility.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:02.53] I love that. And I will say that we have Mike’s LinkedIn profile on the show notes as well as Sarah. So if you’re like, Hey, I want to connect with Mike and chat about bringing something like this and, and his knowledge and expertise and the resources of the team to your organization, you absolutely should and hopefully you will. Before we close things out, I wanted to ask a final question about what you would like employers to know about the creating of inclusive apprenticeships. Is there anything that we’ve left unsaid? We’ll start with Sarah.

Sarah Mark: [00:33:44.90] So, I’ll just kind of put into a sound bite what, what I just ranted and raved about, which is this is not a warm and fuzzy feel good initiative. This is a business, a best business practice. If you really want to take your success to the next level, you will be pursuing a disability inclusive hiring initiative, because that is going to take it to the next level. And the apprenticeship is a step in. I mean, ultimately our north star is full time employment for professionals with disabilities, and you want that too. That’s best for everyone. But, creating a disability inclusive pathway to employment through apprenticeships is in your best interest.

Mike Hess: [00:34:31.54] I think you know, so yes, and again, I’m kind of a, I’m a data guy and I know there’s a lot of business leaders out there that are also data driven, small, small, $3 trillion company called Apple. They’re, you know, one of their values is accessibility, like they, they’re pioneers in making sure, leaning into the conversation around accessibility and, and they’re paying disability. Like they lean into this, they’ve invested so much money into this and to me like, like would they be a $3 trillion company if they wouldn’t have made that decision way back with Steve Jobs? You know, this is the early 2000s. I mean, this is a long time ago. They were the first technology vendor that was making accessibility be part of their tech. Now Salesforce, again, third largest software company in the world. okay? And second in Japan, I learned last week. So, so again, fastest growing software company, world leading CRM. And yet again, like again, trailblazers, like the first tech company in the world to have a fully funded workforce development initiative specifically for people with disabilities, Like to me, these are not like you could just you could say, Oh, that’s a coincidence, Mike Or is it? Because again, when you think of the population like we, people with disabilities, we the collective we were, we’re a billion strong. We, we are, we are not a small demographic by any stretch of the imagination, globally. Right. And then you include all of our friends and allies, like this is a massive community. This is a business strategic initiative. And I think when, if leaders start to think of it from that standpoint, you’re going to be really part of what I, what I’m calling the, the disability revolution from an employment perspective. Like we’re, we’re here. It’s coming. Jump on board.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:27.11] I love that. A call to action for everyone to, to end the podcast interview. Well Sarah and Mike, I really appreciate your time and expertise. I love both of the work that you’re doing. And if anybody has any questions, I would love for them to reach out to you directly and connect to just to learn more.

Sarah Mark: [00:36:45.41] We’d love that too.

Mike Hess: [00:36:47.30] Please, please, please.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:49.66] Fantastic. I can’t wait to have you back. Maybe in another 18 months and we can kind of see how things have progressed even more.

Sarah Mark: [00:36:57.26] We would love that. That sounds great.

Closing: [00:36:59.36] Thank you to Sarah and Mike for sharing their expertise. This is such an interesting area of focus. It’s an essential area of focus for not only HR professionals but business leaders today. It’s so important for us to support and develop employees, all employees, and being inclusive, and that includes those with disabilities. I love the program that Mike and his team have created that is around mentorship and apprenticeship, growing people with disabilities in their careers. Of course, I am grateful for Salesforce and their vision and ability to bring this to such an amazing organization and platform and technology. It’s so important to be able to hear from people who are dedicated to amplifying accessibility programs, including apprenticeships. And I appreciate the insight from Mike and Sarah today and for them sharing their story. And thanks to you for tuning in to the Workology podcast. I love what I do. I love this podcast. I love the resources that we provide and the conversations that we have. If you have a suggestion, idea or comment, I would love to hear from you too. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. A special thank you to you for tuning in as well as  PIA for their podcast sponsorship for this series. Have a great day and we’ll see you next time.

Connect with Sarah Mark and Mike Hess.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

– con LinkedIn

– Mike Hess on LinkedIn

– Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship

– Accenture Study on People with Disabilities Business Case

– Episode 398: Apprenticeship As A Pathway To Employment With David Fazio From Helix Opportunity

– Episode 394: How Accommodations Benefit Everyone in the Organization With Emma Maclean & Marie Trudelle

– Episode 390: Enhancing the Workplace With Neurodiversity With Dr. Scott Robertson, ODEP- 

– Episode 402: The Benefits Of Apprenticeships To Employers And Underrepresented Workers With Donna Lenhoff

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