By Chris Mueller, Cosmitto Digital
In the United States, nearly one in five people are living with some sort of a disability that leaves them at a physical or cognitive disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 19.1 percent of disabled individuals were gainfully employed in 2018, while the employment participation rate for those without a disability stood at 65.9 percent.
The jarring discrepancy is a glaring example of the unfortunate reality that exists for the disabled. Right, wrong or indifferent – they are not given an equal chance for employment.
Everyone doesn’t absolutely love their job. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to climb out of bed each morning and go to work day after day, week after week, and year after year. Many work to live, rather than live to work. But for those facing the uphill climb of living with a disability, the opportunity for employment can give their life an increased sense of purpose – a unique feeling of fulfillment that helps them overcome their daily obstacles in life.
And that’s where Life’sWork of Western Pennsylvania lends a helping hand.
Life’sWork strives to help those with physical disabilities, mental health disorders, autism and intellectual development disadvantages find and maintain meaningful employment that helps them achieve greater independence. Through interactive programs, professional development and training, youth services, and family/community initiatives, these people are given a chance to thrive just like the rest of society.
Life’sWork, which has served the community for more than 90 years, operates facilities at its headquarters in the Uptown section of the City of Pittsburgh, as well a regional office in the Mon Valley in Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County. Both offer multi-purpose manufacturing facilities that allow manufacturing and many other companies to outsource projects including light assembly, fulfillment and mailings using Life’sWorks employees for increased operational efficiency. In addition, through strong long-standing partnerships, Life’sWork takes its clients out to different on-site locations, meeting the company’s’ on-call staffing needs and providing the clients the opportunity to be more fully integrated into the workforce. The projects span several different industries, but recently, Life’sWork footprint has expanded into Pittsburgh’s thriving technology scene.
Life’sWork takes its clients out to different on-site locations, meeting the company’s’ on-call staffing needs and providing the clients the opportunity to be more fully integrated into the workforce.
“Our relationship with businesses – including technology companies – is not just bringing stuff to us and doing hands-on labor that they can economically outsource to us,” said Life’sWork President and CEO Tim Parks. “It’s also taking individuals on-site and immersing them side-by-side with their employees for unique and meaningful experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them.”
Life’sWork’s positive impact on Pittsburgh companies is real. Take Brian Bernard for example, the Operations Manager for DreBo America, a power tool manufacturing company considered one of the world’s leading manufacturers of carbide-tipped drill bits for concrete, masonry and stone. One morning, Bernard toured the Life’s Work production facility and was completely taken aback by the entire experience. He was greeted by an emphatically eager Life’s Work employee named Jeremy, who, while smiling ear to ear, immediately inquired about what type of work he could provide.
“You couldn’t help but be energized by his enthusiasm,” said Bernard. “So I guess you could say that was such a positive experience that it certainly led me to believe, if there’s more people here that are like this, Life’sWork is something you want to be a part of.”
Another Life’sWork partner is the University of Pittsburgh’s E-Waste Facility, which is responsible for recycling old technology parts that are no longer in use by the school. Typically, a trio of Life’s Work employees travels to Oakland three days per week accompanied by a job coach, where they assist in breaking down computer parts for redistribution
“All day long, they tear apart computers for us,” said Matt Sloan, Director of Business and Auxiliary Services for Pitt’s Logistics and Printing. “We recycle the metal frames; we recycle the metal processors, the hard drives. They’re really going at it and it saves us a lot of time.
“They’ve adapted so well. They get along with everyone. It has brought a more laid-back attitude to the area. Everyone’s having a great time with them.”
Eaton Corporation – a power management company providing energy-efficient technologies and solutions for customers who manage electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power – is one of Life’sWork’s primary outsourcing clients. Specifically, Life’sWork aids Eaton’s high-volume stamping operation that stamps outlet boxes for commercial space, and also helps with pre-fabricated assemblies for contractors.
“We utilize Life’sWork for a couple manufacturing processes when business demands it,” said Eaton Plant Manager Kerri Nitzschke. “For example, they assemble some screws into clips for us. They start doing some pre-wiring of devices that then come back into our facility for us to continue working on.”
Life’sWork has served as a reliable resource for Eaton for the past five years.
“It helps us with our efficiency, particularly when business is good and demand is high,” said Nitzschke. “It’s an affordable solution for us and a great way to support the community. For us, it has really been a nice partnership. We enjoy giving them work, because the diversity and inclusion with our suppliers is important. It’s nice to be able to support a business that brings that to the table.”
In addition, Life’sWork also has professional relationships with Pittsburgh-based tech companies Mitsubishi Electric Power Products and Uber Advanced Technology. As Life’sWork expands its growth, the goal is to continue its mission of providing gainful employment for disabled individuals who deserve to work, all while further establishing itself as a dynamic resource technology that companies can depend on.
“A lot of people think the kind of work our employees can do is for low-tech and mailing – and that’s true – but we can also go up the food chain of certain types of manufacturing operations,” said Parks. “And I think companies are buying into the concept of inclusion and diversity, and that doesn’t just mean ethnic and gender diversity. It also means those with special limitations. That’s what we’re about.”
Listen to Tim Parks talk about Life’sWork on TechVibe Radio.