Culver’s gets DWD Exemplary Employer Award

Shawano restaurant, owner recognized for giving jobs to people with disabilities
Lynn Zaffrann

Culver’s Restaurant in Shawano was presented Oct. 20 with an Exemplary Employer Award by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) for its strong commitment to recruiting and hiring job seekers with disabilities.

The Exemplary Employer Award highlights businesses that recruit and hire people with disabilities and helps to encourage other businesses to provide opportunities for this skilled, dedicated and capable workforce.

Brian Lovelien, owner-operator of the Shawano Culver’s, said that recruiting individuals with disabilities is a hiring focus of the restaurant, 1220 E. Green Bay St., Shawano, ever since it opened in summer 2018.

“The longer I’ve been doing this, the more successes that I’ve seen, and the more opportunities that we’ve given to people of different abilities has illustrated how important this is to the success of Culver’s,” Lovelien said in accepting the award.

Michael Glaser, business services consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, noted that “businesses that go above and beyond to incorporate individuals into the regular workforce can see the same successes that Brian has.”

“I just want to thank Brian and his group for being a dream maker, because that’s what you do,” Glaser said. “The individuals that are looking for the employment that you provide, it changes their lives and actually makes their dreams come true.”

Lovelien employs about 40 employees at the Shawano Culver’s. Five are individuals with disabilities.

“The nomination for the award was made through the Bay Area Workplace Development Board staff,” said Danielle Williams, DWD assistant deputy secretary.

Bay Area is one of 11 DWD local employment and training areas. Staff at the board were aware of the efforts and successes Lovelien has made to hire and sustain disabled workers, which meet the award’s criteria. Multiple service providers work through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to refer individuals to Lovelien for job placement. Referrals also come to Lovelien through Shawano Community High School.

Some of the individuals are provided job coaches for a few days, to a few weeks, until they become acclimated to their positions.

“I’m often surprised with what they can achieve” in their jobs, Lovelien said.

Lovelien isn’t new to being acknowledged for creating job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. He was presented with the Exemplary Employer Award by DWD once before, when he was with the Culver’s in Sheboygan.

“It’s a big deal and I’m happy that for a second time we’ve won this award,” he said. “If you put the time in from the beginning, you see that things pay off in the end.”

Culver’s has sponsored hiring of individuals with disabilities since its first restaurant opened in Sauk City in 1984.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM 2021), an annual celebration dedicated to raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the incredible contributions of people with disabilities. This year’s theme is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion”. The theme reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Wisconsin. Evers called on Wisconsin employers to recognize “the critical role that workers with disabilities play in strengthening” Wisconsin’s economy, “especially as we continue to bounce back from the unprecedented economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As the state’s talent development agency, DWD connects employers with a robust pool of skilled workers and assists job seekers with disabilities in achieving their employment potential.