Ten students from a university near my hometown in West Virginia had a chance at federal employment this year with my help. Some can’t see. Others are haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder or need a wheelchair to move around. But each has the education and drive to contribute to organizations like the Defense Logistics Agency on their own laurels. I simply gave them the opportunity by interviewing them and compiling their information in an online database managers use to select from individuals in a wide range of disciplines like accounting, engineering and business.
It was volunteer work for me, and the interviews were part of the annual Workforce Recruitment Program that places prescreened college students and recent graduates with disabilities in 14-week internships at federal agencies. The program lets supervisors assess candidates’ abilities with no strings attached. Nancy Rivera, DLA’s WRP manager, calls it a “free performance period” that helps managers determine whether a person is a good fit for the agency before offering permanent employment.
As a leading proponent of WRP with 64 internships throughout the agency this year, the DLA Equal Opportunity Office is looking for volunteers to conduct interviews for 2020 interns. Volunteers must have their supervisors’ permission and complete an hour of online training on topics including interviewing techniques, reasonable accommodations, and disability etiquette and disclosure. Training is available through Aug. 31, and interviews are conducted and candidate profiles completed in November. The WRP database then opens in December for one year to registered employers looking for summer interns or permanent employees who can be hired through the noncompetitive Schedule A hiring authority.
This is the second year I’m volunteering. Like so many DLA employees who volunteer for special projects, I feel fortunate to have the job I do and want to share my advantages with others. Being a writer and public affairs specialist doesn’t give me the kind of job experience I’d need to volunteer for a major endeavor like deploying with a DLA Support Team. But WRP recruiting mainly involves the kind of written and oral communication skills most employees already have. And though volunteers can use personal time to participate, I found recruiting to be just enough to shake me out of my routine without interrupting my nights or weekends.
What I enjoyed most in my first year of recruiting was working with students and graduates from my home state, which sorely lacks opportunities for young people. Volunteers note their preference of schools during registration and receive assignments in October. Volunteers are also asked to interview at least 10 candidates. That number nearly stopped me from participating last year, but scheduling help from campus coordinators streamlined the time I devoted to recruiting. It also helped that students chose from a group of interview dates and times that suited my schedule. Volunteering also didn’t interfere with the week of leave I had long ago scheduled during the interview period or negatively affect my co-workers. It helped that time management is one of my strengths.
Another reason I almost didn’t volunteer: I was nervous about communicating effectively with people with disabilities. Although I learned in training not to ask questions about a person’s disability – it’s up to the individual whether they disclose those details – I was concerned about being able to extract the information I needed to record in the database. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry. I found that most young people with disabilities express themselves with determination, probably from years of having to speak up for themselves. Tools like interview checklists and tips for interacting with individuals with disabilities also guided me through the process. Along the way, I learned that repeating or rephrasing questions helped those with a cognitive disability. And even though candidates may have taken extra time to process questions and consider their answers, each interview took less than 30 minutes. Not once did I end an interview without all the details I needed for my assessments.
Completing candidates’ profiles and entering interview notes into the WRP database is perhaps the most important part of recruiting because that information is what federal employers use to determine whether an individual has the skills and abilities they’re looking for. Data captured includes the candidate’s job and location preferences, as well as a list of requested job accommodations, if any. Recruiters also rate candidates from 1 to 5 in several categories and submit a 2-3 paragraph assessment that highlights the candidates’ interests, specialized skills and personality.
Knowing my efforts helped promote diversity and gave federal employers access to a pool of talented individuals from an area close to my heart was satisfying. But there are other benefits to being a WRP recruiter. It’s a nice addition to volunteers’ resumes. It also gives volunteers a first glance at prospective employees. After interviewing students with backgrounds in environmental science and information technology, I was surprised to talk to a recent graduate with a master’s degree in graphic design. Her work with desktop publishing programs would have made her a perfect fit for my office if we’d needed extra hands for layout of Loglines magazine.
I’m proud of DLA’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities, which make up about 14 percent of DLA’s workforce. I’ve written about a dozen stories highlighting employees like Tamala Jackson, who ensures military customers and schools receive regular deliveries of fresh bread, dairy products and soda as a tailored-vendor logistics specialist at DLA Troop Support, and Alyssa Schreiner, a management and program analyst for DLA Finance. The stories focused on their achievements, not their disabilities. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2014 put me in their league. My contributions are no less meaningful. Why should theirs be?
The WRP is run jointly by DoD and the Department of Labor, and volunteers made it possible for the 2019 database to feature over 2,100 candidates from 350 schools. To register to volunteer, visit https://www.wrp.gov/wrp?id=recruiter_landing_page.