Creating inclusive learning programs for people with disabilities is a proven strategy that can lead to high salaries, a pathway to future career opportunities, and sustainable permanent employment in high-quality jobs.
By Sophia Yager
The unemployment rate for one in four American adults living with a disability is more than double the unemployment rate for people without a disability. Barriers to training and employment contribute to an activity rate of 38% for people with disabilities compared to 78% for people without disabilities. Labor shortages are forcing governors and policymakers to engage previously untapped talent, especially among underserved populations, including people with disabilities, to develop resilient pipelines that meet current and future demands workforce and provide equitable access to employment and economic opportunities.
Creating inclusive learning programs for people with disabilities is a proven strategy that can lead to high salaries, a pathway to future career opportunities, and sustainable permanent employment in high-quality jobs. States can work to expand access to apprenticeships for workers with disabilities to develop a more diverse and skilled workforce through strategies such as:
- Develop pre-learning programs and provide complementary supports,
- Leverage the role of the state as a model employer and
- Educate employers on the benefits of sponsoring apprentices with disabilities.
Develop pre-learning programs and provide holistic supports
Pre-apprenticeship can be a useful tool in recruiting and preparing people with disabilities to succeed in apprenticeship programs which, in turn, lead to rewarding and well-paying careers. Pre-apprenticeship programs provide participants with an introduction to the training program, experiential learning opportunities, and connection with potential employer sponsors. For people with disabilities, pre-apprenticeships provide a supported on-ramp to an apprenticeship program, helping them meet entry requirements and identify accommodations they may need at the start of their apprenticeship program. In addition to pre-learning programs, the provision of wraparound supports can help facilitate a smooth transition and lasting success in learning. Access to transportation, childcare, job shadowing, mentoring, benefits counseling and other services can reduce barriers to accessing training and employment.
Launched in December 2021, the New Jersey Career Pathway Partnership for Employment Accessibility is a collaboration led by the state’s community college system and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association to foster inclusive career paths for people with disabilities. This includes coordinated pre-registration services, benefits advice and placement services for work-based learning programs, including pre-apprenticesships and apprenticeships. Additionally, in 2020, the New Jersey Legislature enacted a pilot program that provides apprenticeship transportation and child care allowances on a priority basis for underrepresented populations, including people with disabilities.
Make the state a model employer
State governments can leverage their own status as large-scale employers to model best practices for private employers in hiring and retaining workers with disabilities, including through learning from state governments. States. Governors can lead coordination among state agencies in developing statewide plans, goals, and actions to recruit new employees with disabilities and better support tenured employees with disabilities. These strategies may include a fast-track hiring policy, a supported application process, flexible scheduling policies, funding and procedures for reasonable accommodations, and training for managers and human resources staff. States can incorporate these policies into inclusive learning programs that expose people with disabilities to careers in state government that offer pathways with opportunities for advancement. States that successfully implement these policies can benefit from reduced recruitment and onboarding time and costs and increased diversity as they work to educate employers on the value of learning for people with disabilities.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued Executive Order 2019-03D in January 2019 to establish the state’s Professional Apprenticeship Program. Administered by Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, the program provides those eligible for vocational rehabilitation services with learning opportunities within the state government to create a pathway to permanent employment in the state, including exposure career path and work-based learning experience. The program includes application and interview assistance as well as a $15/hour salary. As of November 2021, the program has successfully placed 23 apprentices in programs at 17 state agencies, with apprentices who transition to permanent employment in the state earning an average hourly wage of $20.
In May 2013, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued Executive Order 13-02 which sets a goal for 5% of the state government workforce to be comprised of persons with disabilities by June 2017. The order requires agencies to State to develop annual employment plans to increase the representation of employees with disabilities (with recommendations and guidance from a designated Disability Employment Task Force). Complementary legislation enacted in 2015 also requires all state agencies with 100 or more employees to annually report the number of employees with disabilities (including new hires through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation or Department of Blind Services ) as well as internship opportunities leading to permanent employment. use. Additionally, in February 2021, Governor Inslee issued Executive Order 21-01 to support the state’s network of enterprise resource groups, including the Disability Inclusion Network which “promotes universal access and creates an where people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of the workplace,” and to promote the state as an employer of choice that is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion within its workforce.
Engage, educate and motivate employers
As an employer-driven model, apprenticeship requires strong engagement with businesses to ensure programs meet employers’ needs while providing high-quality on-the-job training to participants. As states strive to create more inclusive apprenticeships, they will need to educate employers about the benefits of sponsoring apprentices with disabilities and provide support to help both employer and apprentice succeed. This includes the business case and demonstration of how diversity in the workplace increases innovation, productivity and retention, as well as the benefits of apprenticeships for employers, including personalized training and a pipeline of enduring talent. State partners can also help educate employers about inclusive workplace practices, including flexible hours, accommodating diverse learning styles, and providing mentorship opportunities. To provide additional support to employers, states may consider deploying disability employment specialists to work directly with employers to optimize their success in hiring and retaining apprentices with disabilities, as well as offer incentives such as tax credits to employers who sponsor apprentices with disabilities.
New York offers several tax incentives to support employers who sponsor apprenticeships for people with disabilities. The Disabled Workers Tax Credit provides businesses that hire people with developmental disabilities with tax credits of up to $5,000 for full-time employment and $2,500 for part-time employment after six months of employment, and can be combined with the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The Workers’ Employment Tax Credit offers businesses that hire people with disabilities (who are also receiving or have recently received tax credits for vocational rehabilitation services) up to $2,100 after one year of employment . The Empire State Apprenticeship Tax Credit provides businesses with a tax credit of up to $6,000 per eligible apprentice they employ, as well as an enhanced apprenticeship tax credit considered disadvantaged youth, including those participating in the Ticket to Work program or who are a member of a family who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The Empire State Apprenticeship Tax Credit also provides an additional $500 tax credit for each apprentice who is mentored.
The Tennessee The Disability Hiring Tax Credit provides employers with a one-time tax credit of $2,000 for part-time employment or $5,000 for full-time employment of a person with a disability who also receives government services directly related to his disability. The employment of the disabled person must also create a net increase in the number of disabled people employed by the company, and the employee must be enrolled in the employer’s health insurance program.
This commentary is supported by the NGA’s participation in the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a unique state-federal collaboration facilitated by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy of the United States to help state and local governments adopt and implement inclusive policies. and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and a stronger, more inclusive American workforce and economy.