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Untapped power: The missing piece to the employment puzzle

PHOENIX — Arizona companies new and old are working together to tackle the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.

An estimated 75 to 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, according to The Precisionists, Inc. (TPI), a Delaware-based company that creates jobs for individuals across a broad range of disabilities.

The primary goal for TPI in Arizona is to create 500 jobs for people with disabilities in the next four years in a partnership with Gov. Doug Ducey called the Phoenix Precision Project.

One of the first Arizona companies to partner with TPI was Salt River Project. The utility company now employs eight adults with autism.

People like Alex Polesky, who works in SRP Enterprise Systems Quality Assurance, have been given life-changing opportunities because of the initiative.

After spending the past eight years working multiple part-time jobs, Polesky said this is his first full-time gig.

He said a job like this means he can be financially independent and have a safety net.

“I was pretty much broke, just constantly, after I graduated high school back in [2011],” Polesky said. “Even with the multiple jobs at once it was never really enough to financially support myself.”

These jobs aren’t handouts – TPI is finding workers with the skills needed to do them.

“I’d like to think I’m more attentive and tenacious than I think a lot of normal people might be,” Polesky said. “It’s a lot harder for me to give up on a problem when it occurs.”

He’s not the only one who thinks so. His supervisor, IT analyst John Rannells, said Alex and co-worker Trent are on par with any other employee.

“They’re actually teaching me some things,” Rannells said. “Watching Alex code and Trent code, I actually learn to think about the problem a little differently. It’s actually helped my coding to improve.”

Rannells said working with TPI and has improved the overall work environment at SRP.

“It’s seemed to increase our team,” he said. “We can spread the work a lot more evenly now.”

While this integration of employees with disabilities looks to be a positive outcome for businesses, it’s providing something even more for families and caretakers.

Anne Kirchgessner is the TPI project leader at SRP. Her role is to be the liaison between SRP and TPI while also being a direct manager and resource for workers hired through TPI. She is employed by TPI but works at SRP to provide quality assurance for the company.

And it’s more than a day job for her. TPI’s mission especially resonates with Kirchgessner because she has a son on the Autism spectrum.

She said TPI’s collaboration with companies like SRP has provided a new vision of the future for families like hers.

“The thing being a parent of a child with special needs is you’re always worried for the future,” she said.

“To me this just provides both the individuals and parents with a whole other level of hope.”

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