FAIRMONT - Four days per week, Jason Subbert, general manager for Torgerson Properties in Fairmont, takes time out of his schedule to share a riddle with a group of high-schoolers.
They are there as part of a work program, using time during the school day to get real-life experience.
"It is something for us to do every day together," Subbert said, but the routine isn't just because he likes to tell jokes.
Subbert is watching how they interact with him and each other, always thinking in the back of his mind how students might fit into a job vacancy at Torgerson Properties.
Subbert spoke this week to students from area high schools about how to get a job, during a Career and Technology Workshop for special education students put on by Community Transitional Interagency Committee.
Laura Becker, a co-coordinator for the event and special education teacher at Blue Earth Area schools, said the committee's goal is to help students with disabilities move from school to postsecondary education or the workplace.
The committee brings together parents, organizations devoted to helping people with special needs and school districts once per month. In addition to holding pertinent discussions, the group organizes its two main events - an annual workshop devoted to a different topic and a field trip for students to a community college.
Becker estimates the committee serves 400 to 500 students from Fairmont, Martin County West, Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Truman, Blue Earth Area and United South Central. Students' disabilities range from learning disorders, to physical and mental illnesses.
"It can sometimes be hard when these students do go out and get a job because they don't always look different, but they have special needs," Becker said.
Subbert said Torgerson Properties is known for its willingness to work with people with different abilities. In Fairmont, the hotels and restaurants owned by the company make it the fifth-largest employer in town.
"[Hospitality] is a great industry to get a first job," he told the students. "You all have great potential."
Subbert has a history of seeing people use their abilities to succeed. Not only was his mother involved with serving people with special needs when he was a child, but he himself has dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs a person's fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read.
"Focus on what you can do," he said, "not on what you can't. You have all kinds of abilities."
Subbert said that when Torgerson Properties hires someone with special needs, it takes time to make sure the employee can accomplish the tasks - even if they are accomplished in a different way than other employees complete them.
"Our industry has the highest turnover rate," he said. "I could put the energy into the front end and train people or constantly be hiring new people. ... We want to find a way for it to work long term."
During the workshop this week, students also heard information about technology aids, such as text-to-speech software; keyboards with large lettering; adaptive mouses; and got tips about how to go about applying for jobs from Minnesota Workforce Center.