Defense Logistics Agency Equal Employment Office officials hosted an information session at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Jan. 18 for managers and supervisors eager to learn more about the Workforce Recruitment Program.
The WRP is a 14-week federal program that provides internship opportunities for students and recent graduates with disabilities. It allows agencies to choose pre-screened candidates with interest or education in more than 100 career disciplines to fill gaps at no cost.
At the end of the 14 weeks, employers have the option of hiring the employee into a full-time vacancy, at which time the agency assumes funding responsibility. WRP participants give their perspectives on the program in this video.
Joe Schultz, WRP program coordinator from the secretary of defense Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, gave remarks on the program’s benefit across the Department of Defense. The ODMEO focuses on disability programs, advocacy and affirmative action for individuals with disabilities, Schultz said.
“As much as I’d like to say that I’ve helped them execute the WRP at Defense Logistics Agency, they’ve probably helped me far more,” Schultz said. “They’ve been great champions of the program and have taught me a lot about the things we can do to extend this program across the department and make it one everyone can benefit from.”
DLA has routinely met its goals for hiring individuals with targeted disabilities, but the Defense Department has yet to meet its 5 percent goal, he said.
“DLA may not be the largest component but proportionally, you’re leading the whole department and recruiting individuals with this program — and that’s a big deal,” he said.
The ODMEO has homed in on several focus areas for 2018 to meet evolving program and student needs, Schultz said.
“The WRP is a tool that all of us [can use] to boost the hiring of [those] individuals to meet this goal and bring in innovation,” he said. “We all know that individuals with disabilities bring in a very unique perspective.” Schultz also mentioned that being a disabled veteran and having a child with a disability has changed his perspective on what it means to have a diverse workforce.
DoD’s goal is to expand the WRP to a year-round program to allow for recruitment of as many eligible participants as possible. “We want to make it easy for participants to get in and get hired, and we want to make it easy for employers to reach the talent they need and get them on board,” he said.
Schultz pointed out that DLA has projected a goal of hiring 100 applicants from the WRP, more than any other DoD component. “From our office, we’re going to do everything we can to help DLA meet that goal.”
Schultz said other prescribed improvements to the WRP include better outreach to individuals studying science, technology and engineering and increased recruitment of minorities, veterans and students who are working toward professional certificates as well as those pursuing degrees.
Following Schultz’s remarks were presentations by WRP participants whose personal and professional lives have been significantly enriched by the program: Alyssa Schreiner, management and program analyst in DLA Finance, and Philip Hepperle, EEO director for the Defense Contract Audit Agency.
Schreiner, who is deaf, was hired through the WRP in 2011. She shared her thoughts about the program through an interpreter.
“My experience with the WRP really helped me get the skills and knowledge I needed to be an effective employee,” she said. “At the same time, it helped DLA overall because they now had a person who already had experience.”
Schreiner said she wanted to find a way to give back to the program. She was able to become an interviewer for other WRP applicants, to help evaluate their knowledge, skills and abilities.
“I feel the WRP gave me my success as an employee and helped me decide to work for the federal government,” she said.
Hepperle has served more than two decades with the federal government and shared his thoughts on growing up in a small Iowa town.
“I was the youngest in my family in a working-class [town] in the Midwest and had no real experience working for the federal government — that wasn’t even on my radar,” he said.
At college, Hepperle saw a flyer advertising internships at the Pentagon, where he interned. This led to another intern position at the Defense Fuel Supply Center, now DLA Energy. He said he was “ecstatic,” because he was in his early 20s and hadn’t chosen a career path.
Hepperle spoke of the importance of making connections as key to his career progression. “It’s one of the things I tell [students with disabilities]: Your job is to go out and make contacts,” he said. “Do a good job; make a good name for yourself. You represent not only yourself, but entire the disabled community.”
People with disabilities still face misperceptions and biases regarding individual ability, he noted.
“People … focus on what the individual cannot do as opposed to trying to focus on the value added to that individual coming in,” he said. “[WRP] is a program that really helps to educate the workforce. It shows the workforce what an individual with disabilities is able to do.”
Eventually, Hepperle was hired by DLA into an upward mobility position as an equal opportunity specialist.
“This year, I’m celebrating my 26th year of federal service,” he said. “Without this program, I would not be standing here today.”
To find out more about hiring through the WRP, managers can contact their WRP coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org and provide the required skills and background they would like the WRP candidate to have. If a clearance is required, employers should include those requirements as well.