Breaking Ground 107 - Need employees? VR business services match employers with ready workers.

By Breona Washington, MS MRC, Gregory Ouellette MS, and Carol Croney, MBA TN Department of Human Services Rehabilitation Services Division

The Tennessee Department of Labor’s Jobs4TN website listed more than 400,000 job openings across the state for August 2021. You’ve likely read headlines about businesses struggling to find workers. There is good news: a program from Tennessee’s Department of Human Services (TDHS) can connect businesses with willing, passionate, trained, and qualified workers. This ready workforce can help meet the labor needs in Tennessee.

TDHS Division of Rehabilitation Services helps businesses hire and keep employees with disabilities.

Business Employment Consultants help match the needs of Tennessee businesses to people with disabilities actively looking for work.

The Business Services Unit can help to:

  • train employers about disability issues
  • work with partners to address reasonable workplace accommodations
  • increase accessibility for customers with disabilities
  • lower costs by keeping valued employees whose jobs are affected by illness, injury, or disability

All these services are free to employers.

Keith’s story: A business partnership opens the right door

“I’m a paraplegic. Who will hire me?” These were the words that Keith Saltkill, a hard-working Tennessean, found himself asking after health challenges interrupted his career in law enforcement and horticulture. However, Keith found new purpose and hope through partnership with the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) Rehabilitation Services Division.

Keith started his career in law enforcement. He loved working as a police officer and later became the security officer for the Roane State Community College campus in Crossville. In this role, he improved campus security by “closing” at night, escorting teachers to their cars, making sure students were safe, and closing the campus during weather emergencies. While working at the college, Keith decided to take some horticulture classes at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and opened a side business in landscaping. Things were going well until Keith became diabetic. He eventually lost both of his legs and some of his eyesight and hearing. After many surgeries and years of rehabilitative services, he was ready to secure a part-time job. But that question kept bothering him: “Who will hire me?”

Keith found the confidence he needed through the help of his TDHS Business Employment Consultant (BEC) and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. They assured him that plenty of employers would be glad to have someone with his abilities and skills. Thanks to a growing business relationship with Lowe’s, the consultant and counselor were able to connect Keith to just such a job.

Today, Keith enjoys working at Lowe’s. He loves to talk with customers and said that his work at Lowe’s gives him purpose and a reason to get up every day. The job also allowed him to purchase more reliable transportation. A Lowe’s employee scholarship is paying for Keith to take online management classes at his local community college and university.  

A broad impact

Keith is just one of many employees to be celebrated this October for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This is a time to acknowledge the contributions and passion of employees like Keith. It’s also a time to show businesses that hiring people with disabilities not only promotes inclusion and diversity – it builds our state’s economy.

In 2019-2020, TDHS Division of Rehabilitation Services helped more than 1,400 Tennesseans with disabilities meet their employment goals while making full wages in inclusive work settings. These qualified, ready-to-work employees are helping to meet the labor needs of businesses across Tennessee.

For more information

If you know a business owner who needs employees, or if you would like to connect Tennesseans with disabilities to employment resources and training, the Department of Human Services would like to hear from you.

Tennesseans with disabilities (or advocates) who want to learn more about employment and training opportunities can visit or contact TDHS Vocational Rehabilitation Services at 615-313-4891 (TTY# 615-313-5695 or long distance TTY# 1-800-270-1349).

Businesses interested in learning more about how the TDHS Business Services Unit can help find and retain employees can visit or contact the Business Services Unit Program Manager in their area as listed below:

  • East Grand Region - Breona Washington; Office: 423-296-2344; Cell: 423-736-2511;
  • Middle Grand Region - Trish Farmer; Office: 615-313-4907; Cell: 615-663-6963;
  • West Grand Region - Amanda (Mandy) Board: Office: 901-348-3947; Cell: 901-355-7191;