From the Desk of Birch CEO Matt Sturiale: The Labor Crisis is a Wake Up Call for Companies to Expand Opportunities for New Yorkers with Disabilities

Almost every employer I speak with these days is hiring and has been hiring for months as companies struggle to cope with major shifts in the labor market during the pandemic. The numbers speak for themselves: there were approximately 1.7 job openings for every unemployed worker in December, the highest rate in two decades.

Yes, we often hear the refrain that there’s a “talent shortage” but the reality is that many companies have yet to consider the entire talent pool.

When New York Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara proposed new legislation in January to boost job opportunities for people with disabilities in New York, he cited that only 23 percent of people with disabilities are employed compared to 70 percent of the general population. A recent report by the Center for an Urban Future found that the unemployment rate for New Yorkers who identify as having a disability more than doubled during the pandemic.

Many New York nonprofit and advocacy organizations providing services to people with disabilities say that at least half of their clients have lost their jobs or been furloughed during the pandemic and are just now finding new opportunities. The same is true for my organization, Birch Family Services.

In her recent State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul discussed the goal of making New York State a leader in employment for people with disabilities. During Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month, the time for action is now. As companies and organizations focus on recruitment and how to better retain talent and foster more inclusive workplaces, there is an opportunity to finally address these persistent inequities.

Through Birch Family Services New Frontier program, we connect local employers with eager and qualified candidates with autism and developmental disabilities who are ready for employment. The New Frontier program also provides the skills and training participants need to succeed, including resume workshops, interview prep, on-site job coaching, and employer training.

While we prepare candidates for their next role, we need forward-thinking corporate partners to take a chance on these individuals. Organizations like TD Bank, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, PNC Bank, LearningSpring School, Mount Sinai Hospital and dozens of others have discovered the unique skills and potential of employees like Brian, a former New Frontier participant who now works as an archivist at The Riverside Church in Manhattan.

“Brian is truly an ideal employee, he is responsible, hardworking, punctual, communicative, and has a wonderful personality,” says his manager. “He excels at the work he does — listening to and cataloging digitized audio files — which is quite technical and requires expertise and skill. Due to Brian’s work, the Riverside Church’s audio collection is now accessible to researchers and the general public.”

While Brian has found a role that meets his expertise and experience, many of his peers are still waiting for a call. If you are hiring, do not overlook the talents and strengths of these individuals.

With respect and admiration, 

Matt Sturiale
President & CEO
Birch Family Services