All in a day’s work: Bringing employment and training to Minnesotans with disabilities

Job opportunities central to dignity, respect and self-sufficiency, says MDI

In 1964, Sister Anna Marie Meyers had 14 high school students with disabilities about to graduate in St. Paul without job prospects.

She, like educator and businessman John DuRand, believed that employment was essential to personal identity, dignity and self-sufficiency.

The two established an independent occupational training center, christened it Minnesota Diversified Industries—and Minnesota’s first supported work program was born.

MDI has now been providing work opportunities to persons with disabilities for more than 50 years.

“The best thing we can do for people with disabilities is provide real work and career opportunities,” says Peter McDermott, president and chief executive officer of MDI. “Think about how important your job is to you and the respect that comes with it. We believe people with disabilities should have real work opportunities that positively impact the community.”

MDI operates four facilities across Minnesota, specializing in producing plastic tubs and trays for the U.S. Postal Service and other commercial customers. The organization also offers production services, medical assembly and recycling. MDI currently employs 491 people, 208 of whom have documented disabilities.

“One thing we put a lot of emphasis on is investing in our people. About 18 months ago, we developed a program called Career Skills, with the first phase focusing on Career Skills 101,” McDermott says.

The free, 28-hour program, offered on company time, teaches participants soft skills—“like the importance of a firm handshake and eye contact,” he says, “or how to develop a resume.”

MDI has put around 100 employees through the Career Skills program so far and has classes lined up for 2019. The organization also offers a program aimed at helping employees with disabilities secure jobs in the community.

“If someone wants to apply for a job external to MDI, we’ll help them. When they leave to another job in the community, it opens up a spot for someone else to kick-off their career,” notes McDermott.

Enbridge is committed to improving the quality of life in the communities near our operations and projects, including the Line 3 Replacement Project—a $2.6-billion private investment in Minnesota.

In 2018, we invested more than $400,000 in community-minded initiatives in Minnesota. Our recent $10,000 donation will help support MDI operations, and encourage diverse and inclusive workplaces.

“We wouldn’t be able to run these programs without external support,” says McDermott. “We try to be highly self-sufficient, since we do sell our products and services, but we’re unable to build in program costs into the price of our products. We have to remain competitive, meaning we rely on donations like this one.”

(TOP PHOTO: Process technician Seth jarvi operates the Flexo Press at MDI's facility in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.)