Companies that hire from challenged populations gain advantages while helping the hard-to-employ.

When Aaron Timmons needed a job, he turned to Job Developer and Employment Specialist Scot Howard at Greenleaf Job Training Services. "Scot helped me look for a job based on what I wanted to do, which is work with computers," he says.

It didn't take long before Howard placed Timmons at PCM Logistics in Lewis Center. Lab Supervisor and Network Engineer Chad Snyder recalls, "Once I met Aaron, I was really impressed and told my boss that we've got to get him hired."

Timmons joined the computer reseller in February 2015. "I work on computers and configure the equipment to the customer's specifications," he says. "I really like it here. It's great."

In a small accommodation, PCM purchased special tools for Timmons. With his cerebral palsy, he can more easily grasp screwdrivers usually intended to reach around corners. "It was an easy fix for a great employee," Snyder says.

Timmons and others with disabilities have a lot to offer employers. While companies are generally receptive, sometimes the first hire is the biggest hurdle.

"Once an employer sees that a worker with a disability can do the job, they understand what a good fit it can be. Employers see that they want what every other employee wants: to be independent and provide for themselves," says Susan Carmichael, senior client liaison and human resources specialist for Insperity.

"People with disabilities want to be seen as a regular worker. They don't want special treatment," says Jennifer Kuntz, Greenleaf founder and CEO. "Employers find that employees with a challenge work hard and are appreciative of the opportunity."

Achieving success in nontraditional job placements largely is attributed to following standard HR practices such as background checks, drug tests and skills tests. Central Ohio has dedicated individuals and firms that are committed to placing and hiring the disabled, veterans, the homeless and those recently released from prison as they look for meaningful work.

Redefining diversity

Greenleaf assists its clients with developing vocational goals and identifying geographic areas where they prefer to work.

"It's not about what you can't do, but rather what do you want to do. We take the disability into account and find a way to make it happen," Kuntz says.

Relationships with potential employers are critical. "We look for a good match that's a long-term opportunity for our consumer to be successful and for the employer to meet hiring goals," Howard says.

Some businesses may need to broaden their definition of diversity to include the disabled. "Today's diversity focus is about including people, not excluding them," Kuntz says. "That said, we're not in the business of talking employers into hiring someone using lesser standards or compromising the work that needs to be done."

Snyder says PCM Logistics couldn't be happier with Timmons. "We're thoroughly impressed with Aaron. He has the work ethic and he wants to succeed," he says of the technician who's now working toward his CISCO certification. "He's willing to learn, so I told him to go for it."

Greenleaf assists clients in meeting job requirements, but businesses need to be open to creativity. "It usually involves changes in how things are done, not in lesser outcomes," Kuntz says.

The Americans with Disabilities Act calls for "reasonable accommodation." Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, a state agency, reports most workers with disabilities need few or no accommodations. Most accommodations cost less than $50, while only 10 percent exceed $500.

"Accommodations are not a barrier to bringing these folks on board," Carmichael says.

Greenleaf can provide job coaches to increase employee retention at no cost to the employer.

"Let's say it takes four hours of training in a regular situation, but my candidate needs 10 hours. When they hit the four-hour threshold, our job coach steps in. Over time, the coach backs away until the employee is at the same level as other workers," Howard says.

The state of Ohio qualifies individuals to receive assistance from Greenleaf. "The situation must lead to eventual independence where, at some point, they no longer need a job coach," Howard says.

Another success factor is integrating an employee with coworkers. "It helps the person with disabilities get a job and helps coworkers grow in their perspectives," Carmichael says.

Coworkers should withhold judgment. "Just because they look like they can't do the work doesn't mean they can't do the work. They might be better at it than someone else. I'll put Aaron side-by-side with any other tech we have," Snyder says.

Placing veterans and disabled veterans

Pearl Interactive Network is a social enterprise that assists federal contractors in hiring veterans, disabled veterans, military spouses, people with disabilities and those living in geographically-challenged areas. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requires contractors to have eight percent of its workforce be disabled, veterans or disabled veterans.

"Hire veterans as you would anyone else. Consider aptitude, interest, desire and ability. The employee is providing productivity, so they must show value at the end of the day," says Merry Korn, Pearl Interactive owner, president and CEO.

For some clients, Pearl provides resumes of candidates. However, most clients prefer to use Pearl for contract staffing, with about 450 outsourced employees in 23 states on Pearl's payroll and managed directly by Pearl. "We're stringent about personality tests, background tests, skills tests and job matching. The people we hire must be able to do the job. Otherwise, it's disappointing for the company and the employee," Korn says.

Pearl specializes in administrative services, call centers and back office support. "We're accountable for the quality of the employees' performance and customer satisfaction ratings," Korn says.

"I believe that you cannot manage a severely disabled vet the same way as you manage someone without a physical or mental ailment," Korn says. "By having them on our payroll, we can be very forgiving and very compassionate. The approach works well, even though it defies the typical HR structure."

Pearl's employees work at clients' sites or from home. "Transportation is an issue for many disabled vets. Working from home allows them to be productive," Korn says.

Hiring impoverished, homeless and/or formerly incarcerated people

Hot Chicken Takeover is a for-profit social enterprise that operates a restaurant and a food truck. It employs 40 people who are impoverished, homeless and/or were previously incarcerated. HCT employees perform kitchen prep, food production and cashier duties. Some have advanced to become crew leaders.

"We're not charity or altruism. It's a tough work environment and our team works its tail off," says Joe DeLoss, founder and head fryer. "We have 60 percent retention since opening in April 2014. Our average wage is $10 an hour plus benefits. And we've not had any theft or other issues."

HCT's benefits support financial stability, personal stability and professional development. Customers are part of the team, too, as tips go into a fund that supports staff benefits. "We've crafted a different benefit structure that's relevant to employees' circumstances, such as an onsite finance manager that helps them with biweekly budgeting," DeLoss says.

As HCT addresses personal instability, it sees professional outcomes in employees' work ethic and loyalty to the company. "HCT is just along for the ride. Each employee must be committed to making the necessary changes in their life for long-term success," DeLoss says. "Our workers know that second chances are few and far between when it comes to job opportunities. They're loyal and a proud group that's committed to our product and team. Our business is stronger for it."

Lisa Hooker is a freelance writer.