Leadership Spotlight: Hugh Bradshaw

November 25, 2014

Hugh Bradshaw, Employment Services Manager of VocRehab Vermont, serves as this year's annual appeal co-chair from NSC's Leadership Council. VocRehab offers free, flexible services to any Vermonter or employer dealing with a disability that affects employment. In the interview below, Hugh shares strategies VocRehab utilizes to help employers navigate, find and access Vermont’s talent, and why his relationship to NSC is a valuable investment in VocRehab's future.

VocRehab Vermont offers free services to both employees and employers for dealing with disabilities that may affect employment. Why are these services important for developing a skilled workforce?

1 in 5 Americans have a disability of some kind, many of which are hidden, so in some respects businesses are already working with people with disabilities in the workplace or have already hired people with disabilities but do not realize it. There’s certainly stigma around disability, and oftentimes the issue is employers’ fears of not knowing how to correctly accommodate these employees.
What we have found is that many businesses aren’t aware of all the resources available to them in hiring a person with a disability and integrating them into the workplace. VR’s role is to introduce businesses to candidates with disabilities as well as getting potential employees with disabilities the training and support that they need. We help employers navigate, find and access Vermont’s talent.

Can you elaborate on some of the services VocRehab provides?

We see ourselves as staffing consultants to businesses. We have Business Account Managers who work in the field every day developing relationships with businesses and learning about their specific staffing needs so that we are seen as a resource. Although we are a public agency, most of our work is modeled after the staffing industry. We develop and nurture these relationships, and over time businesses begin to realize that we are a great resource for candidates.
We act as an intermediary to the business community by making those connections for people who have barriers to employment. We now have meaningful relationships with thousands of businesses in Vermont and a good indication of our success is that we now have far more job opportunities than we do candidates. Now the next generation of our work is using sector-based approaches to building training partnerships so that we can build candidate pipelines to different industries.

When did you first get involved with National Skills Coalition?

I believe VocRehab Vermont first got involved with NSC about seven or eight years ago. A workforce study was developed by the Vermont legislature and a consulting group entitled the “Next Generation Report” that looked at the future of Vermont’s workforce. We have the second “greyest” workforce in the nation, second only to Maine. Our youth tend to leave the state for other opportunities and Vermont doesn’t have any substantial in-migration of foreign workers or New Americans, so we really have to find strategies to leverage the workforce that’s already here in Vermont. That’s where NSC came in. We realized NSC was a great advocate nationally for serving candidates with barriers to employment. Again, people with disabilities tend to be underemployed or unemployed, so we see recruiting, hiring and retaining these workers as making good business sense for employers looking to expand and remain competitive in the global economy.

You are this year’s Annual Appeal Co-chair for the NSC Leadership Council. What encouraged you to engage at such a meaningful level?

VocRehab Vermont finds tremendous value in the resources NSC provides. We feel that having a tight connection to NSC is an investment in the future of our program, and for the VR program nationally. The information and training we receive—the fact that NSC is so plugged in to what’s going on at the national level is a huge benefit to us. The insight we get from folks working on the Hill, the connections NSC has have all been very helpful to our leadership. And likewise, we try to connect NSC staff with other people at other organizations that we have connections with. I have to say that of all the national organizations we belong to, NSC is by far the best in terms of providing information and being open and accessible to a phone call when we have a question. We understand that it takes resources to do the work NSC does and so we are absolutely supportive of that financially as well as ideologically. The work that NSC does is excellent and it is important that others support NSC as well.

What brought you to your position as Employment Services Manager of VocRehab Vermont, and what do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment in this role?

I actually started out in the hospitality industry, working in marketing and sales. Then after about 20 years, I decided I wanted to get into a line of work that would be helping the people of Vermont move forward in their lives. It was a perfect fit for me to come into the human services world because of my business outreach and sales perspective, both of which allow me to advocate for a “dual-customer” approach. We sees the person with the disability as our primary customer but we also see the business community as a customer as well.

One achievement I’m proud of is our Progressive Employment model, which provides a variety of low-risk ways for businesses to meet potential employees. Candidates come into a business’ workplace and try out the workplace environment; businesses can then decide if the trainees are a good fit for the company. If they find someone they think would be a good fit, the candidate can move forward to a hire. We’re using this practice across the board, not just for people with disabilities but also for people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, New Americans and Refugee Resettlement program, people with mental health issues—we’ve found that this model works really well.

Another achievement is Creative Workforce Solutions, an initiative of our human services agency that aims to bring together all the various employment programs that are funded through the agency and have them work together collaboratively around employer outreach. Prior to that, the programs were competing with each other for employers. Now we have everybody working together and actually doing far more outreach in the business community than was possible before.