Building Resilience: How Inclusive Apprenticeship Programs Are Responding to COVID-19

By Elise Gurney

Work-based learning experiences – like apprenticeships, job shadowing, and internships – serve a vital role in helping youth with disabilities transition into the workforce. In particular, they allow youth to develop job skills, identify strengths and career interests, and build their resumes. Yet, just like school-based learning, work-based learning has faced significant disruptions due to COVID-19. While some work-based learning can be easily transitioned to an online format, other programs pose greater challenges. 

Apprenticeships are one area where states are grappling with how to continue providing opportunities for youth with disabilities. Apprenticeships include on-the-job training and related classroom instruction, and result in a portable and marketable credential. According to the DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) Apprenticeship Inclusion Models (AIM) initiative, “building, scaling, and sustaining apprenticeship programs can be challenging under ordinary circumstances,” and the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced additional hardships. While some classroom components can be conducted remotely, many on-the-job training components can’t be – particularly for hands-on industries like manufacturing or construction. 

The AIM team is leading a webinar to discuss how apprenticeship stakeholders are responding to the current crisis and designing more resilient programs for the future. “Emerging Lessons for Inclusive Apprenticeship Programs Managing Through Crises and Beyond” is the latest installment of AIM’s Research Brief Series, and will feature experts in the inclusive apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship spaces. 

The webinar will be held on Wednesday, September 16, from 1pm to 2:30pm EDT. Register here: https://www.addevent.com/event/zb5072251 

AIM is a collaboration between Social Policy Research Associates (SPR), Wheelhouse Group (Wheelhouse), and Jobs for the Future (JFF). To learn more about the AIM project, please visit the AIM website at https://www.spra.com/aim/.

Inclusive Apprenticeships: How States are Supporting Skills Training for People with Disabilities

By Elise Gurney

Apprenticeships are on the rise. Employers are increasingly turning to apprenticeships to build strong pipelines of talent, and states are investing in apprenticeships as important workforce development tools. Inclusive apprenticeships – that is, apprenticeships that provide skills training to people with disabilities – provide additional benefits. In particular, they can help employers and states increase the hiring and retention of people with disabilities. States are taking a number of approaches to make apprenticeship programs more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities.

Inclusion can be considered at various stages in the apprenticeship process. This includes:

(1)Developing Apprenticeships, to ensure that apprenticeship programs consider the unique strengths and needs of people with disabilities from the start;

(2)Preparing Apprentices, to ensure that people with disabilities have the proper skills and training to enter apprenticeship programs;

(3)Hiring Apprentices, to ensure that people with disabilities are targeted for and connected directly with apprenticeship opportunities;

(4)Supporting Apprentices, to ensure that apprentices with disabilities have access to the resources, supports, and protections they need to be successful.

Below are examples of where states have incorporated inclusion into each of these four stages of the apprenticeship process.

-Developing Apprenticeships

  • In order to develop accessible and inclusive apprenticeships from the start, states are incorporating voices and entities from the disability community – including Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies – into apprenticeship planning discussions and the development of apprenticeship grants.
    • California Assembly Bill 1019 amended Sections 3071.5 and 3073.3 of the California Labor Code to add the Director of Rehabilitation and the Executive Director of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities to California’s Interagency Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships, and to create a subcommittee focused on apprenticeships for the disability community. These efforts are collectively intended to “encourage greater participation for the disabled in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.”
    • Wisconsin’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards collaborates with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and writes the Division into its grants, to ensure that a disability perspective is being incorporated into apprenticeship development.

-Preparing Apprentices

  • As part of their strategy to prepare people with disabilities for apprenticeships, states are increasingly turning toward pre-apprenticeships (which prepare individuals for entry into registered apprenticeship programs). In particular, states are designing pre-apprenticeship programs specifically for people with disabilities, targeting people with disabilities for those programs, and/or providing additional supports to ensure that people with disabilities are successful in their pre-apprenticeships.
    • Pennsylvania’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation – in collaboration with other local government and private sector entities, including a community rehabilitation provider – developed a pre-apprenticeship program in the warehousing sector. Warehousing companies in the state have agreed to hire graduates of the pre-apprenticeship program, resulting in over 28 individuals with disabilities attaining registered apprenticeships.
    • New Jersey Senate Bill 688 proposes that pre-apprenticeships and school-to-apprenticeship linkage programs include training and services that help maximize program participation by individuals with disabilities. These services include counseling, life skills training, math and literacy training, and one-on-one tutoring.

-Hiring Apprentices

  • States have taken various approaches to support the recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities for apprenticeship programs. This includes connecting people with disabilities directly to apprenticeship opportunities and supporting them through the application process, as well as providing tax incentives to businesses that hire apprentices with disabilities.
    • Ohio’s Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) Vocational Apprentice Program collaborates with Ohio state agencies to identify their workforce needs and develop apprenticeship opportunities that align with the goals of students and adults with disabilities. The program assists participants throughout the application, interview, and onboarding processes.
    • New Jersey Senate Bill 1159 proposes to provide tax credits to businesses for each apprentice that they employ, and to provide additional incentives if those individuals are “underrepresented in that career field” based on a range of demographic characteristics, including disability.

-Supporting Apprentices

  • States have developed a range of resources and protections to support people with disabilities throughout their apprenticeships. This includes facilitating peer-to-peer mentoring, to help apprentices with disabilities navigate the challenges they face in the workplace and prohibiting discrimination against apprentices on the basis of their disability.
    • Michigan House Bill 4579 proposed the establishment of a peer-to-peer apprenticeship mentoring program for people with disabilities (along with other under-represented groups), to provide “mentoring and support services…and establish a network of peers involved in apprenticeship[s].”
    • Virginia House Bill 1252 amended and added to § 40.1-121 of the Code of Virginia, to prohibit sponsors of registered apprenticeship programs from discriminating against apprentices or apprentice applicants on the basis of disability (among other demographic characteristics).

Building Inclusive Apprenticeships: Upcoming Webinars Discuss Design and Funding Strategies

Elise Gurney

As states work to involve more youth with disabilities in the workforce, they are increasingly turning to work-based learning initiatives. Exposure to work-based learning – including internships, apprenticeships, and job shadowing – is one of the strongest predictors of eventual employment success for youth with disabilities, as it allows youth to develop hard and soft work skills in a hands-on setting. 

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30 Years of ADA: Webinar Series Reflects on Our Progress and Charts Out a Future for Disability Inclusion

Elise Gurney

July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has transformed protections, access and opportunities for people with disabilities. The anniversary provides an occasion to both commemorate the ADA — to reflect on its significance and the progress we’ve made over the last three decades — and to map out an even more inclusive future.

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