On-the-Job Training Proves Its Worth for Young Woman with a Disability

Yelanie Cruz photo

FT. MYERS, FL – When asked how long she has worked at Auto Glass Warehouse, Yelanie Cruz clearly and confidently states, “I’ve been here a year, a month, and two weeks.” It’s that attention to detail that has endeared Yelanie, or Yo-Yo, as her co-workers call her, to everyone she works with. “We’re just blessed,” says Ernie Gonnelly, owner of Auto Glass Warehouse and Yelanie’s boss. “We’re really, really happy that it worked out so well, and we have Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to thank, because if it wasn’t for your program, honestly, we would never have hired her if she just walked in.”

Ernie is talking about VR’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) program, where employers train potential employees and give them the opportunity to experience working in a real-world setting. VR pays the employee’s salary during OJT, along with reasonable training costs and any accommodations needed. It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

Yelanie, who has a learning disability, needed the extra training time that OJT provided to learn how to answer the phones and file properly. Having lived in Puerto Rico until she was 15 years old, she also had to overcome a language barrier, since English is her second language. Yelanie worked closely with her job coach, Jessica Salois with the Southwest Florida Job Squad, to learn what was expected of her in the new job.

As an additional benefit, Ernie and his employees learned how to work with someone who has a disability. When Yelanie first started working at the Warehouse, the training was not going well. Yelanie is a visual learner, and she needed a more hands-on demonstration of her job duties. By following Jessica’s example, they discovered a better way to teach Yelanie, and things really improved after that.

Now Yelanie not only answers the phones and files paperwork, she also enters business transactions in Quick Books, calculates price quotes, talks to insurance companies, and does anything else that needs to be done. Ernie is very proud of Yelanie’s progress. “She’s been with us for over a year now, and she knows things that people don’t know in this business after five years,” he says.

Yelanie first met VR counselor Lynn Engle when she was a senior in high school. After discussing her career options, they decided that Yelanie should attend High Tech North to learn computer and phone skills. “From the very beginning, she was a hard worker and didn’t give up,” says Lynn. “She knew her limitations, but when someone was willing to work with her, she gave 100 percent.”

For Ernie and Auto Glass Warehouse, hiring Yelanie has had other benefits. “We deal with a lot of Spanish-speaking people, and because Yelanie’s bilingual, I’ve actually picked up a lot of business because of her. We don’t speak Spanish, so any customer who only speaks Spanish, we give to Yelanie and she takes care of them. We now have a pretty big Spanish clientele, and it’s all due to Yelanie.”

Ernie has become a firm believer in VR’s On-the-Job Training program, because it gave him the chance to hire a new employee when times were tough. “It gave me the opportunity to have another employee and see how the program works, and now that I understand it, I think it’s a great deal,” he says. “Yelanie even trained the next OJT person. So it went from Yelanie, who probably wouldn’t have been hired otherwise, to now she’s training the next person. I think that’s a tribute to VR.”

Yelanie is thankful that she found Lynn and VR. “VR helped me a lot,” she says. “Lynn helped me figure out what I would be good at. She connected me with Jessica, and she helped me find this job – the one that was right for me.”

For Lynn, Jessica, Ernie and Yelanie, VR’s On-the-Job Training program has proven its worth. Lynn sums it up best, “It shows how a team can work together to help the business and the individual.” If your business would like to participate in the On-the-Job Training program, contact your local VR office at (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org for a list of offices near you.

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,018 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.