Continuing my month long celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness month, today I write about an employer stepping up and reaping the benefits of including disability in the work place. I had the honor of speaking with Harris Rosen, founder of Rosen Hotels and Resorts in Orlando, Florida and Dan Giordano, General Manager of the Rosen Shingle Creekhotel. In 2010 Mr. Rosen decided to become a Project SEARCH site for students with disabilities. Project SEARCH is a program out of Cincinnati Children's Hospital designed to rotate students through different departments over the course of a school year to give them practical work experience and skills.
The Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel is Rosen Hotels and Resorts site for Project SEARCH and so far has had 34 students participate. Of those 34, 20 students are now either full time or part time employees of Rosen Hotels. Hooray! These students are proving themselves and getting great jobs with great benefits. Seriously, I almost asked Mr. Rosen for a job myself when I heard the company benefits package. People make their careers at Rosen Hotels and now a great number of students who may not have otherwise had similar opportunities are as well.
I asked if there was any hesitation in starting a program like this at their resort. Not at all! Mr. Rosen was all in from the initial conversation with JR Harding who brought this concept to him. Mr. Rosen said, "JR shared with me the concept of this program and I was immediately incredibly enthusiastic about it." He saw this program would require some creativity and patience, qualities the Rosen organization has in abundance. The enthusiasm of Mr. Rosen in participating seems to be shared throughout the organization as Dan explained how the experienced employees take great pride in sharing their knowledge with the students in the Project SEARCH program and relish in the reward of seeing jobs click with the students. Mr. Rosen also noted that the project has demonstrated to employees that "we're not just a number crunching organization looking at cash flow, but an organization that cares about the things society cares about."
So what challenges have been seen with this effort? The biggest and only challenge I heard of was the tendency to coddle the students. Project SEARCH is designed to help students with cognitive disabilities learn to be independent. People seem to have natural tendency to want to help and protect the students. Dan observed that the less imposed boundaries were created the more the students have been able to achieve. The biggest surprise has been how quickly the students have spread their wings and achieved accomplishments that were not expected.
The Rosen Hotels and Resorts are certainly more likely to recruit people with disabilities into their organization now that they have learned the many ways these employees add value. If you would like to learn more about how to successfully recruit people with disabilities into your organization, please contact my company, Opportunity Works. We would welcome the chance to help you diversify your workforce.
Mr. Rosen and Dan, thank you so much for sharing your story. And thank you, Mr. Rosen for your entrepreneurial advice to me personally. You have a few years more experience than I and you certainly have great success. Rest assured I will follow the advice. And, next time I interview you two, I think I'll ask you to put the phone down and pick up some clubs so we can talk on that great golf course you have! Shameful we were talking about the fabulous weather instead of enjoying it!