Skills Inc. participated in the CSUN 29th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, March 17-22nd. The conference is hosted by the Center of Disabilities at California State University Northridge (CSUN) and draws thousands of persons in the field of accessibility and technology, whether they are developers, engineers, researchers, or persons with disabilities who use the technologies. Conference sessions and topics included: web accessibility, blind/low-vision, learning disabilities, deaf/hard of hearing, and emerging assistive technologies to name a few. On March 20th, Skills helped sponsor the CSUN 2014 Tweetup. A tweetup is a real world social gathering for people who know each other through Twitter to meet in person. The social media presence at CSUN was widespread, with attendees and presenters alike sharing their experience throughout the week.
by Todd Dunnington
As a social enterprise, Skills Inc. is constantly weaving and linking our non-profit mission with our business enterprise.
For the past 40+ years we have been successfully carrying out our mission to train and employ persons with disabilities: 70% of our employees have an identified disability. Over the years we have also developed manufacturing processes which have enabled Skills to become recognized as a leading aerospace supplier.
With 300+ employees, we are one of the largest aerospace suppliers in Washington State, meeting stringent quality and governmental standards. In recent years, we have found new ways to expand our impact by joining forces with partners in the community who also have a goal of providing services to persons with disabilities.
In this newsletter, you will read about this expanded relationship and the internal structure and activities at Skills that make this possible. As a designated Community Rehabilitation Program, we are working with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to assess and place individuals who have turned to the state for employment assistance. We also train and teach high school interns from Federal Way and Enumclaw School Districts. These, and other initiatives, are allowing us to expand our social enterprise model. Linking the social and enterprise missions at Skills Inc. is a win-win for all involved.
Tuan Bui came to the United States from Vietnam in 1995, with his parents, sister and brother. After studying electronics and networking at Renton Vocational Technical Institute, he learned about Skills from a friend, and he joinied us in 1999. At the time, Skills Technical Services consisted of just a few people working onsite in a hardware testing lab on the Eastside.
As the business unit has grown, Tuan has had new opportunities, and has grown along with it. For the past few years, he’s been working on a major product advancement that moves beyond the traditional user interface to a more natural way of interacting with information and hardware.
“So that’s how I started – working part-time – and now I’m stuck!,” Tuan said with a laugh. His sunny disposition shines through in every interaction. Tuan thrives on the daily challenges presented by electronics and product development. “I am very glad to be working on this team,” he said. “It is very creative; never boring! Every day, there are more things, more things….I am learning every day; I like that!”
Recently, Tuan’s boss was leaving his position as Lab Manager, and he recommended Tuan for the job. Cheryl Roe, Skills’ Director of Programs and Development, was delighted when Tuan was offered the position. “He’s tenacious and talented, plus he knows the Lab inside and out,” she said. “What’s really special about Tuan is that he enjoys his work – and he tries to make sure that everyone around him is enjoying their work, too.”
When he’s not working, Tuan keeps busy with computers, his family, and especially his five-month-old son.
Looking to the future, Tuan is excited about developing more Technical Services work for Skills, meeting the daily challenges of product development, and helping his son grow into a strong man. Thanks, Tuan, for your commitment and contributions to Skills!
This is my last column for the Skills Newsletter. This month I retired as CEO, leaving the organization in the capable hands of Todd Dunnington, who has served Skills as Chief Operating Officer for the past three years. The board conducted an extensive search for my replacement and selected Todd as the most capable to carry on the mission of Skills.
My eight-plus years at Skills give me a good vantage point to view our progress. In 2000 we were at a quarter of our current revenue. We could provide employment for fewer than 110 persons with disabilities, and could not train people the way we can today. Skills has faced its share of challenging times: two Boeing strikes, the 9/11 recession in the aerospace industry, and having to become certified to meet numerous industry standards. I’m proud of the fact that together, we’ve not only met all of these challenges, but we have consistently grown in our capacity to serve and employ persons with disabilities, faster than anyone could have imagined.
We have training programs for our employees that help them gain marketable and practical skills, that can be applied here at Skills or in the community. Our management team and supervisors are in tune with the mission of Skills. We are positioned for further growth in the aerospace industry as well as in other commercial endeavors. Skills Technical Services has grown to include engineers, and this makes us more competitive in the technology sector. Our Aerospace Internship Program is in its eighth year and provides education completion, job training and a new career track for at-risk special education students. Our sales staff is finding new opportunities for our people so Skills can continue to grow.
I will miss the many fine people I have had the pleasure to work with and get to know through my involvement with Skills. But I am happy knowing that Skills, Inc. is in good hands, and I look forward to watching it continue to change lives and achieve its
mission for many years to come.