DISRUPT: How One West Seattleite is Creating New Solutions For Job Placement Services

I can do it differently. I can have a different model. That’s how you start to change the industry.
— Andrew Harman, Founder & CEO, Supported Solution

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Harman

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Harman

Meet Andrew

  • Native Texan
  • West Seattle Homeowner
  • Aspiring Seattle City Council Member

BENT: A Queer Writing Institute

I meet Andrew Harman on a warm summer evening at Shadowland, a bar in the heart of West Seattle's popular Alaska Junction. Though its exterior reads dive bar, inside the space has an approachable, well-loved-by-the-regulars feel. We order "Happy Reds," and start catching up.

But first: Andrew, 34, and I originally met at the now demolished MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) building in the University District on a rainy November night in 2010. We were there performing in the BENT Showcase, an annual event for queer writers to share their work with the general public. Of BENT, Andrew recalls that "[it] was a really cool time in our lives age-wise and also a really unique experience." He brightens and tells me he heard Tara Hardy (founder of BENT: A Queer Writing Institute) recently on local radio station KUOW. Listen Here. 

Throwing Out the Book

Andrew works in a relatively small industry of direct service agencies that support people with disabilities with job placement at businesses across the country. When we meet up, Andrew has just returned from the national conference in Portland.

I ask Andrew how he got to this place: attending a national conference in a niche industry. It started just a few years ago when he was an employee a large service agency.  While there, Andrew created a day-long training for supportive employment professionals on the side. Shortly thereafter, he took a leap and left his non-profit job to grow his budding company, Supported Solution.

"When I branched out on my own, I knew there were a lot of people who weren’t going to take me seriously," Andrew says. "There wasn’t anyone who left an agency and started another one. It’s just not something that’s done." 

Andrew takes issue with the way direct service agencies are operating. "As the need for services grows, the agencies that exist are working on building capacity. The problem is that [agencies] treat the service like it can be done on an assembly line," Andrew says. "I feel like we should encourage newer, smaller agencies to be part of the capacity-building piece of getting people into services."

To Andrew, the overhead costs at large-scale agencies are effecting the quality of service to both clients and businesses. The money that agencies receive are public tax payer dollars. "This is money that the legislature set aside for these services. [King] County reimburses agencies $70 per hour for direct service." Andrew explains. "The person who is actually providing that service is making about $17 per hour and that's inadequate and unnecessary. You can’t retain employees on $17 per hour and you aren’t going to be getting the top service providers at $17 per hour. That’s what the taxpayers are paying for." 

Free resources in the community being under-utilized, Andrew points out. Money that could be going to direct service is instead redirected to things like middle management and large buildings. "Why would I do that?" Andrew argues. "I don't need a building. I can meet clients at the library. They have free meeting rooms." 

While his approach has received mild enthusiasm within his industry at the local level, Andrew is undeterred. "There are things about the way it is being done that are harmful to the service itself," Andrew says. "Instead of just being verbally critical, I can be an example."

The Pitch

In his quarterly trainings with King County, Andrew walks new supportive employment consultants through the steps of how to get up and running with job development, offering tools & best practices. "I noticed [that] one of the biggest barriers to them feeling successful in this field is that they came to it with a social work background, but social work doesn’t make you a good job developer," Andrew says. "What makes you a good job developer is having sales and marketing skills. You’re essentially doing sales and marketing for your client. You have to be able to talk to business owners in such a way that you’re not sounding too social worker(y)." Andrew hopes that new job developers will walk away from each training knowing what method is going to be the most effective for them. 

What’s exciting is that I get to steer the ship. I get to decide how it will be. People in the industry are starting to see that I’m legit. I’m still around and self-employed and I’m still going to meetings and representing my company. 
— Andrew

Andrew Harman for Seattle City Council Position 1. 

"What's next? What's your life dream?" I ask Andrew.

Continuing to build up his business such that he can take on employees is one. The other, he says, is public service.

There's a seat opening up in 2019 for Seattle City Council Position 1 (Andrew's home district). "I don’t have the expectation that I would win the first time, but you keep running and people start to know who you are. The woman who is a city council member here (Lisa Herbold) won by 39 votes. It’s very local. Very West Seattle."

As is Shadowland. 

West Seattle Staple | June 2017

West Seattle Staple | June 2017

To learn more about Andrew's work visit: www.supportedsolution.com