Department of Labor Funds Apprenticeship Expansion for Youth and Adults with Disabilities

Apprenticeship programs are on the rise nationally due to employer demand and proven results, and the 2017 Executive Order on Expanding Apprenticeships in America calls for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to strengthen its work in this area. Recognizing this priority, DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) recently awarded Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) a two-year contract to develop innovative pathways into existing apprenticeship programs for youth and adult job seekers with disabilities. Today, 1 in 4 Americans has a disability, creating a large pool of individuals who want to apply their unique talents and skills to the growing workforce.

The project team, led by SPR, includes partners Ethos Strategic Consulting, JFF (Jobs for the Future), and Apprenti, the nation's first registered apprenticeship program in technology. Over a two-year period, the team will select and manage up to four pilot sites committed to explicitly building apprenticeship pathways for youth and adults with disabilities into high-demand, well-paying careers, such as information technology (IT) and healthcare. United by a community of practice, the sites will receive key training and technical assistance from the project team to test new innovative approaches. The results will provide key insights for employers and others about how to use and scale up the apprenticeship model to recruit and hire people with disabilities and tap a pipeline to diverse new talent. 

“We think that apprenticeship has the potential to solve the modern paradox, which has some job seekers sidelined even when demand for talent is high”, says SPR’s project director, Vinz Koller.  “It does that by moving talent development into the workplace. Expanding apprenticeships for people with disabilities can reduce societal inequities by nurturing talent everywhere.”

"JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning is excited to be part of this innovative project to advance apprenticeship opportunities for people with disabilities—a proven practice for which these workers have not always been included,” said Eric Seleznow, senior advisor at JFF. “Given the tightening labor market and need for skilled workers, we hope to advance entry into high-quality apprenticeships for people with disabilities to provide increased economic opportunity for these workers and to provide employers with the skilled workers they need."

Apprenticeship is a proven strategy to more efficiently connect workers with the skills they need to secure and maintain good jobs in high-demand careers. Because apprenticeship combines on-the job training and related classroom instruction with a steady paycheck, it offers an ideal solution for the 68 percent of job seekers with disabilities who are engaged in employment-related activities, according to a Kessler Foundation survey; this includes people with disabilities who are preparing for work and the job search, actively searching for jobs, currently participating in employment, or seeking to improve their employment situation. Apprenticeship also strongly benefits employers seeking to find new pipelines to talent in an economy with unemployment rates at record lows. By focusing on talent defined by competency rather than a degree, apprenticeship programs can help bridge the skills gap by quickly training skilled employees in the tech sector and other high-demand occupation areas.

“Apprenti bridges the talent gap in tech by offering higher-wage, mid-level apprenticeship opportunities to diverse talent,” says Apprenti Executive Director Jennifer Carlson. “These pathways are critical not only for people with disabilities, but also to shift the tech industry’s misconceptions on hiring them. The reality is everyone will benefit from diverse hiring.”

For more information about the project and how to get involved, visit www.spra.com/APM.