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Seattle mayor salutes job placement

SEATTLE - For most people finding a job is easy. They read the want ads, pick up the phone or send in their resume, show up for the interview and sooner or later they've got a job.

For others it's not that simple.

Fear, insecurity and low self-esteem can be invisible disabilities that sabotage many from even picking up a newspaper to look for a job. Some may not be able to read. Others may get over these hurdles only to be turned down at interview after interview because their clothes aren't right or their presentation is off-putting.

For the mentally or physically challenged, even the thought of having a job is like a distant dream, impossible to come true.

These are the people Glenda Miller and her staff at Seattle Training Specialists Inc. want to get to know.

Incorporated in 1989, the firm contracts with organizations and individuals to provide vocational counseling, employment assessment, job development and placement, work skills buildings and job retention for people who have difficulty finding or keeping a job. It also provides services for people at the opposite end of the spectrum - entrepreneurs looking for business start-up technical assistance.

A Lakota, Miller has a special focus on assisting urban Indians.

Since 1989 the company has been a major contractor for the state of Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for the Department of Social and Human Services providing individual job placement services. In 1996, the specialists hit the annual Mayor's Small Business Awards list of notable small businesses in Seattle. In 1997, Miller was asked by the White House to make a presentation at the San Diego National Native American Small Business Conference on the national Welfare-to-Work program.

This year, after making the mayor's list four years running, the company was named one of the 11 winners of 54 businesses listed.

What makes the group special is how the staff goes the extra, long mile to find disadvantaged workers jobs they can handle and stay with. The staff not only works as an employment agency, they are job counselors and coaches.

When someone is sent to Seattle Training Specialists to find a job, the first thing staff members do is to test interests, find out what they want to do and their background. They also conduct general aptitude testing. After working with the person and getting to know them individually, Miller or a staff member decides on a level of assistance. Perhaps it's special job skills training, interview skills or people skills coaching. Maybe a woman, out of the job market a long time, can have her self-confidence boosted with a stylish haircut and a new set of interview clothes.

Like many employment agencies, staff workers spend time checking out employment lists, cold calling, checking the newspaper and Internet for jobs. Then, instead of simply sending their client out the door with an address and a pat on the back, they research the prospective job -- in person.

"Before I place a person, many times I'll go out and do a task analysis," Miller says. "I'll write down all the components of the job, what the environment is like, what the speed is like, what are the tasks the person has to do and I'll break all that down.

"And if they hire a person ... that is learning disabled or mentally retarded, either one of my staff or else I go and do the job for one or two days so I know what they're asking for this job."

As job coaches, Miller and her staff members develop a task list, sit down with a client and take them through the prospective job, step-by-step. Often they go to the job with the person and help out for a few days while they get oriented. For somebody with a mental disorder or physical handicap who can't take stress, having someone they know help them makes all the difference in the world.

"It buys them time to learn the job and the employer gets the job done right from the very beginning," Miller says.

So far Miller has washed dishes, worked in a bakery, filed, typed, answered phones, worked on assembly lines - just about every conceivable job. Sometimes she gets funds from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for hair cuts or takes clients shopping for appropriate business clothes. She even secured funds to help fix cars or buy a bicycle so people have transportation to get to work.

"They (DVR staff) see me coming and go, 'Oh boy, what's she going to ask for now?'"

The intense individual job coaching is expensive, from $5,400 to as much as $9,000 per person. But then at what price is success?

Miller points out keeping a person on Social Security, welfare, disability or any other government assistance program costs much more than technical assistance to put them to work.

Job coaching is incredibly effective. The group's job placement is 100 percent for clients sent to her who stick it out through the coaching and placement process. As a result, its accreditation record with the state is blue ribbon all the way.

"It's another level of support that a lot of social workers aren't willing to do. ... We go to the nth degree because my philosophy is that if you're going to do something, you need to really do a good job of it."

Now, after a decade of individualized service, Miller would like the company's focus to shift toward helping tribes start similar businesses on reservation and off. She says job coaching by American Indians for American Indians makes a huge difference in the success rate of job placement. State and federal funds are available to start such programs, but often tribes aren't aware of the funds or how to access them.

She would also like to facilitate the development of Indian-owned businesses.

"It's time for us to step up and show what we can do and help each individual become more successful," says Miller. "I think Native Americans are starting to get it, that they can have their own business, that there is money out there for funding.

"They're beginning to think, 'I can do this.'"