Database seeks to equalize job search

Michelle Ma

Database seeks to equalize job search

By Michelle Ma

Contributing writer

For college students with disabilities, the summer job search just got easier — but Northwestern students say the perk comes with a price.

A new free database offers students the opportunity to find employment in companies that are sensitive to their needs.

Paul Meyer, director of employment initiatives for the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, started the program in 1975 and refined it in 1995.

“I was upset with the lack of opportunity (for people with disabilities) to get jobs,” Meyer said. “So many were sharp, intelligent people but had a hard time getting jobs because they had nothing to put on their resumes.”

Now recruiters visit willing two- or four-year colleges and graduate schools, interview students, and place their names on a CD-ROM database. Potential employers then can register to view the information.

“Ninety percent of the students we interview make it into the database,” Meyer said.

After qualified students are selected, public and private companies can view candidates’ qualifications for consideration, he said.

The interview process occurs in January and February, and students will know by March if they are accepted into the database. After that employers can contact students.

The workforce recruitment program, administered by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, doesn’t require students to state their disability or necessary workplace accommodations in an interview, according to Meyer. However, being on the database already tells employers that the student has a disability.

He said that about 300 to 400 students with special needs are placed in jobs that allow them to apply their skills or interests.

Positions are available for most people with physical and mental disabilities, including those with hearing impairments and students using wheelchairs.

The program has placed 197 students in jobs this year, Meyer said. He is trying to push for more employer involvement on the behalf of private-sector companies, such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot, because job availability is higher in private companies than in public ones.

However, of the close to 1,600 qualified students in the database, only 20 or 30 percent are placed in jobs. According to Meyer job availability depends on the need for students in certain areas of study.

Bringing recruiters to campuses requires interest from individual colleges, Meyer said. If a school expresses interest, work recruitment program representatives will visit the campus and talk with students.

According to Meyer schools in the Midwest are not readily seeking recruiters. Work Recruitment Program’s involvement at NU is dependent on students’ interest.

The university has not contacted the Labor Department about recruiting, but “will absolutely use the database in the future,” said Lonnie Dunlap, NU’s director of University Career Services.

Cheri Fakes, director of Wheels for Change, a campus group that advocates for students with disabilities, had not heard of the database, but was hesitant about its claims.

“It could be a good thing, but my concern is that employers are supposed to look at potential employees based on skills and qualifications,” said Fakes, a Communication sophomore.

Fakes said she remained skeptical about the database’s necessity.

“I wouldn’t use it because I want people to see me first before my wheelchair,” Fakes said.

Weinberg senior Chris Sanchez, who is involved with Wheels for Change and uses a wheelchair, said if given the opportunity he probably wouldn’t choose to use the database.