SOUTHFIELD — An 18-month-old staffing company in Southfield is finding success in finding jobs for the disabled.
Adam Kaplan is founder and CEO of Big Tent Jobs. He said he founded the company to honor his daughter, who died of complications of cerebral palsy in 2009 at age 5.
Kaplan is a native of Haifa, Israel who was raised in New York City. He worked for an online publishing company and other businesses before a marriage to a woman from Southfield brought him to the Detroit area.
He said he started the business after being “dismayed by the employment statistics for people with disabilities.” About three-quarters of the total working-age population participates in the labor market. For the disabled, though, that figure is a dismal 20 percent.
Kaplan aims to turn that around — including for one client who is a nuclear engineer from Ann Arbor who taught himself to be an Android programmer.
“He has difficulty speaking but he’s tremendously talented,” Kaplan said. “Like anybody else, the challenge is to find the right fit, and you also have to get them through the interview process.”
Other people with other disabilities may have other difficulties — a deaf candidate would have to do a chat interview rather than a phone interview, written tests may be difficult for the blind or those with cerebral palsy.
Kaplan said he’s got three contractors working for him now, and is running at a placement or two a month.
“We are definitely a small business but we are growing and excited about what 2013 will bring to us,” Kaplan said. “We provide access to a talent pool that many companies don’t know how to engage with. We don’t want special privileges, we just wantt the opportunity to present our people and let them compete fairly for jobs.”
And Kaplan noted that the “nice thing about IT is that many IT professionals are a little bit different anyway. The idea of being a geek or a hacker or someone who is different is in some ways in the DNA of the IT professional. You’ve got a lot of people who have ADD that work in IT, people that have Asperger’s, high functioning autism.”
Kaplan’s clients include a financial services company, a restaurant franchisor and a consumer goods manufacturer.
“I like to work with entrepreneurial companies that are open minded about the types of people they are willing to bring in,” he said. “Every disability is different. Every position and person is a case by case basis.”
And he said Detroit and Michigan are good places to be building his business.
“What we’re seeing in Detroit with the growth downtown is extending to the suburbs and the western part of the state,” Kaplan said. “This is a great time to start a new business in Michigan and to be building IT businesses in Michigan.”
And Kaplan noted that there are brilliant brains out there, just waiting to be used.
“There are accommodations for people with very profound physical disabilities,” Kaplan said. “Look at Stephen Hawking.”
Kaplan has also been appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Council for Rehabilitation Services.
The MCRS’ mission is to provide Michiganders with disabilities with resources and opportunities to achieve meaningful employment and independence.
More about Big Tent Jobs at www.bigtentjobs.com.