There are over 60 million people in the United States with at least one disability, and while they provide a ready source of talent for America’s businesses, they have traditionally been underemployed. However, in recent years, trends are changing as Vocational Rehabilitation and the newly implemented Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act are paving career pathways that help fill waiting jobs across the country with trained and credentialed workers with disabilities.
The Vocational Rehabilitation or “VR” Workforce Studio Podcast has emerged over the past few years as the nation’s voice for sharing these powerful and compelling stories of disability employment.
Rick Sizemore, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center (WWRC), one of the nation’s eight VR Training Centers, hosts the podcast along with WWRC’s Foundation Director Anne Hudlow. While Rick takes care of all the audio production, he’s fortunate to have his brother Randy Sizemore, of Sizemore Design, involved in managing the website, the RSS feed, and all the technical aspects of the podcast.
Over the past few years and 63 episodes, the stories have resonated not only with individuals with disabilities but with business and industry leaders who hire individuals with disabilities and the VR professionals who work in vocational rehabilitation.
Rick started the podcast after repeatedly hearing leaders at the local, state, and national levels describe a real need for VR success stories. As the WWRC Director, Rick works with over 2,500 different people with disabilities each year who are training for, and going to, work. So he started interviewing them about their disabilities and employment training experiences.
Take, for example, the story of George Dennehy, born without arms, who came to the Center to learn to drive and train for a job. As it turns out, George not only learned to drive with his feet, he also learned to play the guitar with his feet and posted a video that landed him a spot on tour with the Goo Goo Dolls.
Then there is the episode with Brian Evans who woke up under a guardrail looking at the stars following a motorcycle accident that almost caused his death. Brian shares his story of recovery and returning to work as a bank vice president and how vocational rehabilitation made working again possible.
Last year, the podcast shifted to a 30-minute format, with the exception of special episode live podcasts that have been extremely popular at national conferences.
While the total audience size may never be huge because of the niche nature of the audience, the listener base is nearing 40,000. Rick feels podcasting has been the ideal way to reach this tightly defined group of followers and bring unique, highly valued inspiration, education, and affirmation to listeners. In addition to the typical website posts and associated apps like Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, TuneIn, Breaker, and others, recent shows are formatted for radio and broadcast on the Global Impact Today network and Virginia Voice.
The shows are recorded at WWRC in an audiologist test booth, after hours, and the room is ideal for recording. Rick uses a RE320 EV microphone and Anne uses a Heil PR-40. With in-studio guests, they use AT-875 shotgun mics which work great in the quiet recording environment. Everything runs through a Behringer Mixer which simultaneously feeds a Zoom H6 and a Tascam DR-60D to capture two separate recordings. Rick uses Ableton software and in recent years has adopted the practice of running all final mixes through Auphonic. The site as well as the shows are fully accessible, so individuals with disabilities can read the full transcripts using “screen readers.”
Rick describes a breakthrough moment in the growth of the VR Workforce Studio happening when he was extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. While attending a national meeting with numerous industry leaders, Rick convinced the program planners to let him close the conference with a recently recorded “sizzle reel.” This opened up opportunities for work with national associations and other industry contracts who have been extremely helpful in building the audience.
Rick worked with Erik K. Johnson, Podcast Talent Coach, to develop the sizzle reel, which highlights some of the shows most compelling moments. Johnson tells PBJ, “Rick and Anne have a tremendous podcast. The way they have been able to marry stories and interviews from clients along with the teaching from professionals in the vocational rehab industry is admirable. The national recognition they have received is proof of their professionalism and dedication to improve.”
Rick and Anne met Erik and Dave Jackson through the Podcast Review Show which is also credited with helping the podcast develop its final format and define their host and co-host style. Rick also credits Erik and Dave as the two key and perhaps the most influential podcasters in his network of many within the podcast community. The podcast is featured on the industry’s leading website through the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Reach out to Rick Sizemore on Twitter @vrworkforce or by e-mail email@example.com