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Building a More Inclusive Future in the Workforce

Throughout 2022, Special Olympics Illinois and local partners worked together to create opportunities to build a more inclusive workforce. Special Olympics Illinois values these partnerships as they allow athletes to interact in different job settings to learn new skills.

As of October, the unemployment rate of those with disabilities was 7.4%, nearly double the rate of those without disabilities. Statistics such as this are alarming and prove why implementing job shadow events are pertinent. This movement is much more than just placing athletes within companies — it’s about creating a shift in the culture.

Initiatives like this are imperative to growing awareness of an over-looming issue in today’s workforce. These events open access to new employment opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities and help shift towards a more inclusive environment. Those with disabilities face many barriers to joining the working world, and these job shadow events help eliminate them.

“Having the ability to connect our athletes to employment opportunities has been such a great experience for us at Special Olympics Illinois, our partners and our athletes,” said Dave Breen, CEO, Special Olympics Illinois. “Making strides to create an equitable workforce is important to us, and we are extremely happy about the progress made this past year.

In April, Special Olympics Illinois partnered with Hyatt Hotels to host a job shadow event, Career Builder Day. This event was the first of the year and took place at four locations throughout the city of Chicago. Athletes spent the day meeting members of the staff and learned what working at Hyatt would entail.

Some of these jobs included different aspects of guest services, housekeeping, as well as preparing food and beverage items. Through these activities,

a group of people standing in front of a window

athletes were able to learn the importance of working as a team and the comradery necessary to make a company like Hyatt operate.

View photos from Hyatt Career Day.

Similarly, in November, Amazon Fresh held a job shadow event that took place in both Norridge and Oak Lawn. Here, Special Olympics Illinois athletes were able to experience different hands-on training within the grocery store. This training included maintaining inventory, working in the kitchen, helping prepare delivery orders and greeting and checking out customers.

One athlete from the job shadow, Nick Lorenz, was recently hired and had his first day as an employee on December 6. Nick is the perfect example of why this initiative is so important and how we can break the stigma surrounding people with disabilities in the workforce.

View photos of the Amazon Fresh job shadow day.

For the most recent job shadow, Special Olympics Illinois partnered with Formula Fitness Clubs to host an event at its Park Ridge location. This event allowed students from Ridgewood High School and Maine South High School to go through various roles within the organization. These roles included greeting members at the front desk, housekeeping, personal training, membership services and working in the café.

At the conclusion of their work, all the students came together and took part in a group fitness activity. This was the perfect opportunity to match athletes’ passions in sports and apply it to a potential employment opportunity.

View photos of the Formula Fitness Clubs job shadow day.

Hyatt, Amazon Fresh and Formula Fitness Clubs join the ranks of Steak 48 and United Airlines, who both have athletes currently on staff. This success with previous partners provides encouragement and hope that athletes will be able to build relationships during the event and potentially be offered a position with the company afterward.

In 2023, Special Olympics Illinois is excited to continue working with new companies to further this initiative across the state of Illinois. If you or your company are interested in getting involved in this initiative, reach out to Jennifer Kelso at jkelso@soill.org.