On July 22, 2014, the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was signed. It is meant to streamline, consolidate and improve workforce development and training services for youth with disabilities. Locally, there are renewed efforts to help youth move from high school to competitive, integrated employment in the community. This includes new programs to reach students earlier with workplace readiness skills training, career exploration services and counseling, self-advocacy training, job shadowing opportunities, and work-based learning experiences.
Local efforts led by the New Castle Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) will forever change the way we think about students with disabilities and work to build a stronger family involvement process as student transition into adulthood.
“We are growing and expanding our reach to work with youth and families through new initiatives under the expansion of our Pre-Employment Transition Services,” says Gail Steck, District Administrator of OVR. “We think this provides a wider variety of programs and services to support youth to move towards competitive employment.”
Employers are also getting involved. Many of our local employers are entering partnerships to offer work-based learning experiences and/or On-The-Job Training Contracts where students can learn about the workplace and have support while they gain job skills and gain more confidence. For example, Lawrence County Community Action Partnership (LCCAP) is offering paid student internships at various work sites across Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties and they are seeking to work collaboratively to develop work sites for these learning experiences. In addition to LCCAP, other service providers include Vocational & Psychological Services, Lark Enterprises and AHEDD.
“At LCCAP, we are dedicated to investing in our local youth to prepare them to become emerging leaders in the 21st Century workforce. If we train them while they are young, they will be equipped to perform as workers, entrepreneurs, and outstanding community members,” said Tom Scott, CEO.
Businesses can play a significant role in this process by thinking creatively as they think about filling open positions in their companies. Can you offer a class for high school students or recent graduates that teaches them entry level skills needed to be hired at your company? For example, one business in Butler County is offering a career skills program that covers blueprint reading, measuring tools, basic shop review. Evening or weekend sessions would be able to serve not just students but also adults wanting to change fields into a new career.
From a parent’s perspective, this changes everything says Melissa Allen, Transition Program Manager with Disability Options Network the Center for Independent Living which serves Beaver, Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties.
“Parents have worked as tireless advocates to get our kids included in the general education classroom,” says Allen, who is also the parent of a ninth grader. “Now we will have increased opportunities for our kids to join the workforce with more experiences than ever before.”