The next generation of employees will be different by Neil Barnett, Director of Inclusive Hiring, Microsoft
This summer, Microsoft and the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) worked with Washington Vocational Services (WVS) to prepare teenagers who are blind and low vision to enter the labor market one day. DSB developed a career prep and internship program called Youth Employment Solutions (YES) designed to give high school interns experience working at Microsoft.
People with disabilities make up about 6 percent of the U.S. labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And yet, those with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed. The program is important because it has been found that 70% of blind adults are either unemployed or under-employed, in jobs unequal to their education.
YES II is a program developed by the DSB to combat unemployment for people in the blind and low vision community by providing strong work skills and habits to youth early on. This includes developing their interpersonal and communication skills and getting the feel for a professional work environment.
“Getting Microsoft involved with the YES II program was our goal from the beginning,” said Dan Misch, WVS Program Manager, who immediately set his sights on including Microsoft as a company offering an internship program. “When DSB requested our involvement with YES II, I felt we needed to deliver in a big way.”
Microsoft is a top tech company, not only in the world, but especially in Washington. Since 2014, under the leadership of the third CEO in the company’s history, Satya Nadella, the company’s mission to “empower every person on the planet to achieve more” specifically focused on empowering people with disabilities. From designing products to be inclusive for every customer to connecting people with disabilities in the community by Microsoft with engineers at the company working on new product features, accessibility and inclusion in the workforce are woven into fabric of the company’s culture. Dan knew that by adding Microsoft to the list of employers, it would create additional opportunity for students participating in the program to get real-world experience and be in an inclusive environment.
Microsoft was excited to participate for the first time. This year, 27 students from across the state participated in the program, spending their summer working and living in Seattle. During their internships, the students also reside on the University of Washington campus together, where they learn important daily living skills.
Teams from across Microsoft’s engineering and business groups sponsored four students.
Ryan Shugart, Program Manager, one of the sponsors on a Microsoft team said of the program: “When I was growing up, I never had an opportunity like what these students had, to sit on a job site, watch how things work, ask questions and experience – even in a broad way – what it’d be like to have a job. What a great opportunity provided by DSB.”
Over the five weeks, the students shadowed Microsoft employees to gain insights about working in a corporate environment, testing new technology and providing product feedback.
Jessie, one of the YES II students, shared what the opportunity to job shadow at Microsoft meant to her.
“I think getting used to a professional setting and being able to set goals for myself for work efficiency and being able to meet those goals is really fulfilling. I felt more valued for my experiences as a person with a visual impairment. It was refreshing to have all of the accessibility tools at my fingertips and be surrounded by positive attitudes about blindness.”
The five week job shadowing went by very quickly with students working with different teams across the company as well as experiencing life at Microsoft, including part of our One Week event in late July.
Crystal Jones, Accessibility Engineer, another Microsoft team sponsor said, “The students got to see a lot of awesome projects during the annual OneWeek Hackathon at Microsoft and meet a lot of people from all over the company. They were eager to learn and provide feedback, which makes our products better for the blind community. It was a great learning experience for many Microsoft employees.”
Misch said that Microsoft exceeded all of his expectations by providing students with a one-of-a-kind experience.
“The variety of skills they gained are invaluable and the students learned and contributed to a work culture that is encouraging, empowering and engaging,” said Misch. “The students who participated in Microsoft’s internship program walked away with an immeasurable investment toward their futures.”
“Microsoft provided these students with a life-changing opportunity,” said Misch. “Not to mention, the level of confidence they gained. One of the students excitedly approached me on the last day of the program and said, ‘I feel like a different person. I just made it at Microsoft. If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!’”
At Microsoft, we were all so happy to participate in the Yes II program and cannot wait to have Microsoft host more students next year. But our participation isn’t enough: in order to truly create opportunity for the billion people in the world with disabilities, and impact a static unemployment rate for people with disabilities such as blindness, we must seek and create opportunity for inclusion in the workforce.
Together, with opportunities like these, we can provide enriching job experiences that will empower youth with disabilities to pursue their dreams, enrich our employees with unique perspectives, and, together, we can break down the barriers to employment. We encourage other local companies to think about participating in this summer partnership with DSB & WVS.
If you’d like to learn more about Microsoft’s approach to inclusive hiring, visit our website. We would love to share what we know about creating an inclusive workplace with other business leaders in the Puget Sound region!