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

By Elise Gurney, Senior Policy Analyst

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).