I'll never forget when I was approached by Bayer Corporation about an opportunity to partner in an innovative way to address the lack of work experience barrier for people with disabilities. For years I had been discussing with Greg Babe, who was then CEO of Bayer, how companies would tell me they would hire people with disabilities if we could find people with industry experience. Yet with nearly 70% of working age Americans with disabilities being considered outside the workforce, I knew that the vast majority of these individuals would be seeking early career jobs. How were people with disabilities supposed to compete for experienced jobs with the odds stacked against them?

Working with Greg and Gary Dick, now with HM Health Solutions, the Careers2B program was developed with a goal of changing those odds. Greg and Gary agreed to sponsor an employee with a disability for a one-year contract. During that time, the employee would gain hands on experience in a corporate setting that they could then promote in the open marketplace. Since that first conversation, the program has grown to include multiple companies and we have hired our 100th program participant. When Covestro split from Bayer to form its own company, they brought the Careers2B program with them. I am so thankful for their continued partnership.

Rick Lapaglia is one of those participants. I have known Rick for several years and was excited to play a role in his career journey. There are companies who shy away from hiring people with a gap in employment, but they miss out when they skip over candidates who have the perseverance to recreate themselves after gaining a disability. These are people who have the strength of character to take on new challenges, overcome obstacles and identify new solutions. Every company needs employees with these characteristics. Watching Rick grow in confidence as he participated in this program, I knew he would get the most out of his experience at Covestro.

An Exciting New Direction

By Richard Lapaglia

Prior to my experience with Bender Consulting Services and the Careers2B program, I worked for over a decade in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I had attended culinary school and earned a 3.68 GPA allowing me to graduate with an honors distinction. I had been awarded a prestigious culinary internship working for Disney coming out of school and had big dreams of one day possibly opening my own restaurant.

All of that changed when disability became a part of my life. Even before I received any formal diagnosis of having a disability, it was impacting my future. My career in the restaurant and hospitality industry began to flounder as my disability had a physical impact on my body. I had never thought of sleep disorders as being a disability, but due to the impact of this very real medical condition, I wasn’t able to advance or thrive in my chosen career. Without a diagnosis, I did not know the proper way to manage my symptoms. This meant that at night, when my brain failed to send the proper signals to my lungs to take in oxygen, I would stop breathing. This would happen multiple times at night and in the morning, I would wake up not feeling rested. Fatigue would follow me throughout the day making it difficult to concentrate or, in some instances stay awake. Then one day I found myself in the hospital because my lungs were so starved for oxygen they were beginning to fail. During this time, it quickly became apparent that, due to the physical impact on my body, I would not be able to return to the industry I had once loved.

Facing the need to change careers from a very physically demanding job to one in a more sedentary environment was terrifying. I felt defeated and unsure of my future. What skills could a former line cook bring to the corporate environment? Who would take a chance on an employee who had been unemployed for several months due to a disability? The road ahead was intimidating, and my future felt unclear.

All of that changed when I received the opportunity to participate in the Careers2B program with Bender Consulting Services, working at Covestro in the procurement department. I remember when I first learned about the job, thinking that it sounded like something that I would enjoy doing. I worked with the team at Bender to ensure I was able to articulate the competencies I had gained working in kitchens that would apply to supporting corporate procurement processes. There were things I did everyday in my career that could be transferred to this role and I had a keen understanding of the importance of the procurement function, having seen firsthand the impact of ensuring that supplies and inventory are available to ensure smooth processes.

When Joyce contacted me to offer me the opportunity at Covestro, all that built up fear and frustration about my future began to change to excitement. Bender’s strong partnership with Covestro let me know that I would have support of a company that wanted to see me succeed. While Covestro’s reputation as a great company to work for assured me that I would be building competencies that would be useful in the job market, rather than a company that would just fill my day with office busy work.

My time at Covestro was nothing but positive. Every member of the team at Covestro, had a hand in teaching me something new, from department heads to my colleagues a cubicle or two over. The employees were very forthcoming with tips for success and suggestions for what I could do to learn more – everyone was interested in my professional growth. By the time I was concluding my Careers2B contract, I was nervous about the next step, but also excited and extremely prepared for what was coming. I knew the skills I had gained in the program would be valuable wherever else I would go.

I am currently employed as a buyer and customer service representative working almost exclusively with maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) items for a global distribution company. I would say my experience with Bender and the Careers2B program is wholly responsible for that. I don’t think I would have had a shot at gaining the skills to be gainfully employed in the procurement industry if it wasn’t for this opportunity, especially not to the level that I am now.

After my experience, I would urge anyone who is experiencing similar symptoms to talk to their doctor right away. Sleep disorders are serious and can have a destructive impact on your life if not diagnosed. I know that I probably should have been diagnosed and looked to transition to a new career long before I did. Facing the need to change careers due to disability is daunting, but don’t wait to get started – it’s a long frustrating process. Take advantage of resources available in the community for people transitioning careers or people with disabilities. When you’re used to relying on yourself, it is easy to overlook those resources that will make an impact, but it is worth it to engage – one of these resources may be the key to a great opportunity.

My manager at Covestro would tell me that when you are working, look around at your coworkers and supervisors – there is nothing they are doing at this moment that you can’t learn. That advice has stuck with me as I’ve transitioned to my new role and will continue to influence me as I advance in my career. If you are starting a new career, take time to learn something new every day, even if it is just one function in an Excel spreadsheet or how to insert a chart in Word. Keep learning and don’t let frustration or fear prevent you from taking even the smallest step forward. Remember, disability doesn’t have to be the last step in your career; sometimes it’s the first step in an exciting new direction.

 

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