Reverse Job Fair Connects Iowans with Disabilities to Employers

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DES MOINES, Iowa - It's not your typical job fair, and these aren't your typical job candidates.

In a partnership with the Iowa Department of the Blind, the Iowa Workforce Center, Easter Seals, Department of Aging, and Candeo, IVRS held its first "reverse job fair" for Iowans with disabilities at the Wellmark YMCA Wednesday.

Dressed for success, Jeff Schmidt was one of 24 Iowans with disabilities hoping to land a job Wednesday.

"I'm in search for a part-time or a full-time position. I'm just looking to start my career," Schmidt said.

Rather than bringing these 24 Iowans with disabilities into a crowded job fair and letting them loose, the format of the reverse job fair allowed for these job-seekers to showcase their skills and strengths in a one-on-one environment.

Over 50 employers walked through the fair, visiting Iowans at their booths, where they learned about their employment history, education, skills, achievements, and volunteer experience.

For Nichole Phelps, who is legally blind and wants a receptionist job, the fair allowed her to get ahead of the disabilities that would hold her back.

"Because I have not only the blindness, but I have cerebral palsy on my right side. So, I only type one-handed," Phelps said. "A lot of the positions in the field that I'm wanting to go into want you to take a typing test, and a lot of times they don't accept it because it's not fast enough for them."

But with the reverse job fair, employers can actually meet the candidates before turning them down.

"Many of our candidates, when you look at their resume, you might have a hard time connecting them to your job," said Michelle Krefft with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. "When you come and meet them in person, and you learn about all of their abilities, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I have to have this person. They just really fit in with what we're looking for. They really fit in with our culture. They have all of the skills we wanted that we couldn't see on the resume.'"

And recruiters love the idea.

"I think that maybe somebody with a disability might be a little bit intimidated by going to a regular career fair," said Kim Deskin, a recruiter for Wells Fargo. "There are thousands of people who attend, there might be long lines to come speak to somebody at Wells Fargo booth. So people might say, 'Maybe they don't have anything for me, maybe I'll just go ahead and skip that.' This was an opportunity for me to come to them."

Krefft says many employers walked away with a list of people in mind for open positions at their companies. In fact, many participants in today's fair will have multiple opportunities to choose from.

"People with disabilities have had to be innovative, because they've had to navigate the world differently than us," Krefft said. "And this job fair was an innovative way of introducing businesses to people with disabilities."

IVRS plans to host two more reverse job fairs in Iowa this year; the next will focus on disabled youth who are still in high school, seeking part-time work. The final job fair will be exactly like this one, focused on adults with disabilities looking for part-time and full-time jobs.