Developing business and leadership skills is essential to NIB’s mission of enhancing opportunities for economic and personal independence of people who are blind. Launched in 2003, the Business Leaders Program has provided training and work experiences to more than 8,000 people who are blind or visually impaired to help them advance in their careers. The program, which until recently consisted of five tracks – the Fellowship for Leadership Development, Business Management Training, Leaders at All Levels, Business Basics and Effective Supervision – added a new track, Emerging Professionals, for 2017.

Emerging Professionals prepares high-potential employees at NIB associated nonprofit agencies who are blind for upward mobility using learning and development strategies from several Business Leaders programs – the hands-on work experience of the Fellowship, the formal training of Effective Supervision and the distance learning offered through Business Basics – while participants remain at their agencies, in their current jobs. During the eight to 12-month program, employees develop new skills through on-the-job training, job shadowing, coaching, and independent learning, and take on new responsibilities.

The desire for an agency-based talent development pathway using in-house, hands-on training had been percolating at several agencies for a while, but development was hampered

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by a lack of time and resources. At NIB, Business Leaders Program Director Karen Pal had the same idea, but didn’t know of an agency with the time and resources to devote to developing and piloting a program. So when Mark Plutschak, human resource (HR) director at Outlook Nebraska Inc. (ONI), called Pal to pitch the idea, she was all-in.

“We [at NIB] thought it was a great idea because it would help agencies attract and retain employees and would help us all achieve our missions – to improve the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired,” says Pal. “We welcomed the opportunity to collaborate and make the program a reality.”

The program is customized based on each participant’s skillset and developmental interests, and the timeline is flexible, allowing agencies to respond to unanticipated events. NIB provides various types of support, helping HR professionals gain leadership buy-in, clarifying roles and responsibilities, setting up enrollment and program launch, identifying appropriate workplace experiences and providing learning opportunities. Agencies carry out the program, which requires a high level of involvement by HR staff, the employees’ managers, and other supervisors throughout the organization.

The first pilot program launched at ONI in the spring of 2014. By fall of that year, two other agencies – The Lighthouse for