Each of us had a first job—a starting point in our career that taught us the basics. It may have been a part-time job during high school or a full-time summer job. It’s where we learned soft skills like how to keep schedules, maintain good attendance, show respect, communicate with peers and customers, solve problems, and accept constructive criticism. Often, we learned the hard skills once we were on the job.
This first job helped form the foundation we needed to be successful in our careers. The same applies for people with disabilities. They need a first job or "first step" to gain access to the possibilities that lay within and ahead of each of them.
A 2019 study titled The Inclusive Talent Pool: Employing People with Disabilities showed 81% of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have a job—and of those, 46% would like one. Through comprehensive training at the Skills Center, we enable each student to have that chance.
Training at the Skills Center allows graduates to move forward in a new career.
Before opening the Skills Center, we conducted thorough research. We toured several vocational training facilities and found most accept only a small number of students with diagnosed disabilities. Applicants were also required to academically test into the program, with only the highest functioning admitted.
We also spoke to our local school districts. We asked them what was missing in regard to vocational training for people with disabilities. They told us students with behavioral issues were not allowed to train, even if they had been academically accepted. They also told us that, for those who were not accepted into traditional training, field trip-style work experiences were provided. However, there were no fully developed programs with assessment documentation or proven results of sustained employment. These teachers feared the supports and services after graduation were even more scarce.
In 2017, we also surveyed young people and adults with disabilities and asked these questions regarding their desires and barriers to employment:
And finally, we talked with businesses. We were glad to hear that many were eager to employ adults with disabilities. However, since they did not know how to hire and train this unique population, they had not pursued the idea.
Pairing all of this research with federal regulations under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), we strongly believed it was time to provide a vocational training facility specifically for people with disabilities. And today, the Skills Center is a reality that is meeting the needs of our community, our schools, and the growing demand for a skilled workforce.