Paula Vieillet, the CEO of Employment Options, is a Nationally Certified Vocational Evaluator helping people with physical, mental, and emotional challenges find suitable jobs for over 20 years. Paula is nationally recognized as a consultant, well-known speaker, and has consulted with the Social Security Administration on their Ticket to Work Program. She is the author of Disabilities/Different Abilities: A New Perspective For Job Hunters (EO Press), a nationally acclaimed workbook used in rehabilitation and counseling. Paula recently wrote her second book, Employment Options: The Ultimate Resource for Job Seekers with Disabilities and Other Challenges, which recently was awarded a place in the TheAuthorsShow.com publication, The 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading-2011 edition.
Employment Options is ranked in the top 5% of all Employment Networks nationwide. They are a Virtual company which makes them unique in that they can assist Social Security clients nationwide in any of the 48 land based states.
MO: What first attracted you to this type of work?
Paula: Like many people re-entering the workplace, I initially did not know what I wanted to do. I had not yet finished college and I needed something to supplement my income. I applied at a staffing service that assessed my skills and sent me out on multiple jobs. Working with a staffing service was perfect for me because it gave me the opportunity to experience the American workplace. One day, the staffing service asked me if I wanted to work in their office. I figured I would give it a try. On the second day working there, I knew job placement was for me. I was hooked. So in some respects, the job found me!
MO: How difficult is it to place individuals with disabilities or other challenges? Has this task become easier or more difficult over the years?
Paula: In spite of what you hear on the news, it has actually become easier to place individuals with disabilities and other challenges in to a job. Technology has opened up many new job fields and opportunities. Employers appreciate the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit that they can obtain for hiring a person with a disability. Many call center jobs that had previously been outsourced to other countries, have now come back to the United States. Many of these call centers are ‘virtual’, which makes it much easier for many people with disabilities, who might have mobility issues, chronic pain,fatigue or emotional issues; that otherwise would make it difficult for them to work out in the community. Many of these people have great work histories and skills levels. As you can see, not only does it benefit the person with a disability to go back to work, but employers also benefit as they have access to a skilled and motivated labor pool.
MO: Employment Options is ranked in the top 5% of all Employment Networks nationwide, how hard is it to maintain this impressive positioning?
Paula: It helps that Employment Options became an Employment Network in 2002, which is when the program first began. In many ways, you get what you give to a program. With my years of experience, I am pretty good at assessing people, which helps when you are hiring personnel. Employment Options ONLY gets paid when a person goes back to work and makes more than $720 a month. We have to be effective and fast at job placement. Therefore, I run a very tight ship. Many of my current staff came from my ‘caseload’ and I have the best staff ever! They are skilled, loyal, and put in many more hours than they claim on their timesheet. I keep close tabs on the work that we do. If I see someone pulling in the wrong work direction, I address this immediately, so as not to waste precious time looking for a job when the individual does not qualify or it would be detrimental to their own health.
MO: How important are your staff when dealing with people who are potentially vulnerable? How do you keep them motivated?
Paula: My staff has a huge impact on the outcome of our work. Part of the job as a counselor is to connect with their clients and guide them through the emotional, as well as, the technical aspects of returning to work. Sometimes our clients are in very sad and desperate situations, and to truly connect, it requires opening your heart, as well as, being able to keep their focus on the outcome (a job) when dealing with clients. Many of my staff have personally experienced the fear and challenge of returning to the workplace subsequent to disability, and so for them, the work itself is very motivating. They appreciate the opportunity to give back, what they themselves had once received.
That being said, my job as manager is to keep my counselors realistic and objective. I often remind them that “we cannot help everyone.” Keeping my staff from experiencing burn-out can be a challenge. Sometimes we spend hours and hours working with a client and the individual just stops returning calls. We may find out later that the person went back to work and just did not tell us. This can be very disheartening. People will be people whether they have a disability or not and humans are sometimes rude and inconsiderate. I coach my staff not to take it personally. Many of our beneficiaries are so afraid of losing their disability benefits, and they think if they do not tell us they are working again, that they can pull one over the Social Security Administration. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a beneficiary does not tell SSA that they are working and the beneficiary continues to receive cash payments when no longer eligible, it might be a year or two before SSA catches up with them, but when they do, the beneficiary will be in overpayment status and future payments to them will be affected. They also will have to pay SSA back. Paula Vieillet:
MO: The work that you’re doing is literally changing and improving people’s lives. Are there any specific stories that have really resonated with you?
Paula: Wow, there are so many great stories. One gentleman, Todd, worked in a warehouse where he got caught under a shelf that collapsed. He was only 35 when it happened and he lost his right leg and fine dexterity of his right hand in the accident. When I first met with him at a public library, he was homeless and hopeless. Working through the vocational process, we used my book and identified his strengths, skills, and interests. He felt that he would be great at making prosthesis, so I started calling companies in his area that made them. His ingenuity, mechanical ability, and construction background interested a company where he was hired. This company made artificial limbs for which Todd got trained to make and he subsequently made his own leg! Last time we talked, he was happily employed and no longer homeless!
Another story was a mom that I worked with who was a slow learner. Carol was a single mom who grew up without working role models; almost all of her family was on welfare. Carol had a 7 year old daughter when I first met her. They lived in a one bedroom apartment with multiple family members and little stability. Economics forced them to move frequently and Carol was determined not to raise her daughter that way. Because of her lack of work history and her impaired ability to learn, Carol only qualified for minimum wage type jobs. Even though she did not initially make much more money working in housekeeping at a hotel than she received from disability payments, Carol persevered. With a recent work history and some coaching, Carol was able to get a job at a factory, where last time we talked she was making $12.00 an hour. Carol was still working six years later and successfully completed the objectives of the Ticket to Work program and she no longer depends on the government to support her.
MO: What exciting developments are in store for Employment Options Inc.?
Paula: We have never been so busy. Employers are hiring by the hundreds! It is a blessing to be able to open the door for so many people to the workplace.
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