DNR receives award for providing job opportunities to individuals with disabilities

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources received the Large Employer of the Year award from the Minnesota Rehabilitation Association during a banquet held Oct. 22 at the Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.

The award recognizes a successful partnership between the DNR and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to boost employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

In January, the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding that guarantees DNR job interviews to qualified applicants who are referred by DEED Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Since then, 13 referred applicants have been interviewed by the DNR. Two were hired, one accepted an internship and another is working as an independent contractor. In addition, one person who originally interviewed at the DNR was hired shortly afterward by another state agency.

“This not only provides valuable interview experience for individuals with disabilities, but it also helps open the doors to employment and other opportunities within our organization,” said Vikki Getchell, DNR affirmative action officer.

“Congratulations to the DNR on being a model employer and making innovative strides toward inclusive hiring practices,” said DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben. “This program is an important step that will help increase active recruiting and hiring of people with disabilities.”

The initiative supports an executive order by Gov. Mark Dayton to increase the number of individuals with disabilities working in Minnesota state government. According to Getchell, other agencies have expressed interest in adopting a similar approach.

“The learning opportunity goes both ways,” added Dontelle Coles, DNR employment services consultant. “Our hiring managers also gain awareness and learn new skills, like how to conduct an interview with help from a sign language interpreter, for example.”

The Minnesota Rehabilitation Association is a chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association, a professional organization whose members work to eliminate barriers and increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Minnesota Chapter has members from Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Lifetrack Resources, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation, Goodwill Easter Seals, St. Catherine’s, MN State University – Mankato, St. Cloud State University, along with several law firms and private businesses.