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Weekend edition October 01, 2021 | Kailyn Lamb

Knoxville Chamber “Untapped Talent” event addresses hiring from groups with barriers to employment

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

A recent webinar from the Knoxville Chamber highlighted the benefits of hiring a more inclusive workforce and how employers can help organizations serving groups that have barriers to employment.

Titled “Untapped Talent” and held virtually, the panel discussion was led by Lauren Longmire, Director of Regional Enhancement at the Chamber, and included Brandon Ledford, Workforce Development Director at the Centro Hispano de East Tennessee; Keira Wyatt, Executive Director of C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Ministries; Brad Turner, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD); Todd Gilbert, Vice President of Programs at the Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM); Mike Scripa, Assistant Director of the disABILITY Resource Center; and Carrie Brna, State Director of Employment Innovation & Community Inclusion in the DIDD. Ledford and Centro Hispano serve the Latino population in the Knoxville area. Wyatt and C.O.N.N.E.C.T. serve people who have been incarcerated, Gilbert and KARM serve homeless individuals, and Turner, Scripa, and Brna serve people with disabilities.

The discussion started with Longmire asking each member of the panel to address some stereotypes people face. Both Wyatt and Gilbert cited the stereotype of laziness as a barrier for the homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals. For people with disabilities, Brna said they often hear from employers that they think that it’s too expensive to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Scripa also mentioned that disability is a broad term and can encompass a wide range of people.

“There are a lot more people who have a disability than you may realize,” he said.

For the Latino community, Ledford said many employers see the language barrier as a reason to not hire. A “lower level of English is associated with a lower education,” he added.

Later in the panel, Longmire asked each organization to speak on programming from their organizations. Brna, Turner, and Scripa discussed the state program which provides job coaching for individuals with disabilities. The program helps to support both the employee and the employer by removing barriers and assisting with communication.

Recent census data shows the Hispanic population in Knoxville has grown by 87 percent in the last 10 years. Ledford said businesses can “enrich the investment they put in their employees” by offering English classes to workers or putting up signage in both English and Spanish. Since Hispanic Heritage Month started on September 15, Ledford also said businesses should acknowledge and celebrate cultural differences in employees.

Gilbert talked about the Abundant Life and Clean Start programs at KARM. Abundant Life is for people interested in food services jobs. They receive basic kitchen classes and learn about food safety. Clean Start is a similar program for people wanting to get into housekeeping or cleaning jobs.

Many prisons have work programs, which means formerly incarcerated individuals already have training for some manufacturing roles, Wyatt said. She added C.O.N.N.E.C.T tries to begin working with individuals before they are released from prison to help them with a support system. Many have mental health issues that need to be addressed. “You have so many barriers that are deterrents,” Wyatt said, adding that in the end, some people think it’s easier to go back to prison. Having more support can help cut recidivism rates.

At the end of the panel, Longmire had each organization give contact information for businesses looking to grow their workforce:

The full webinar can be found here.

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