The National Collaborative for Workplace Diversity for Youth (or NCWD/Youth) is a US-based initiative that was formed to respond to the challenge that many youth with disabilities have in finding gainful employment. Composed of partners in disability, education, employment and workforce development, the collaborative has as its goal to supply relevant information that can help youth with disabilities make successful transitions into good jobs. As Canadian youth with disabilities face similar employment barriers to those in the US, the information provided here will be useful to Canadians in the field as well.
NCWD/Youth’s Innovative Strategies initiative reviews US workforce development programs and practices serving youth with disabilities in order to identify exemplary programs, which are those that meet the following basic criteria:
- Provide workforce preparatory experiences;
- Provide youth development and leadership opportunities;
- Tailor services to individuals;
- Demonstrate awareness and attention to serving youth with disabilities;
- Have quantitative or qualitative outcome data; and
- Are demonstrably effective, as validated by an outside source within the past five years.
On the Innovative Strategies web page, NCWD/Youth provides Practice Briefs which feature exemplary employment programs and practices that serve youth with disabilities, either as a target population or as part of other youth populations, organized into the following categories:
- Engaging Youth in Work Experiences
- Youth Development and Leadership: Opportunities to Develop Connecting Competencies
- Youth Development and Leadership: Opportunities to Develop Thriving Competencies
- Using Career Interest Inventories
- Career Exploration in Action
Taking “Engaging Youth in Work Experiences” as an example, this brief observes that work experiences are beneficial to youth with or without disabilities by enabling them to gain the following: career readiness skills, knowledge of specific occupational skills and workplace settings, a demonstrated work history and connections to employers that can aid in future job searches, an understanding of different occupations in order to make informed career choices, and the ability to acquire higher wage jobs. Work experiences can include internships, summer jobs, youth-run internships and part-time jobs.
The Brief then identifies six practices for effectively engaging youth in work experiences:
- Prepare youth for work experiences through training and guidance in important every-day soft skills, e.g., communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, and lifelong-learning skills.
- Train youth in technical skills needed for a particular career pathway or work setting in order to prepare them for work experiences in a specific occupation or sector.
- Have dedicated staff, often referred to as job developers, who devote significant time to developing and maintaining relationships with employers who agree to provide worksite and on-the-job supervision in internships, summer jobs, and part-time jobs.
- Clearly communicate, via worksite partnership agreements, what is expected of employers, youth, and families before the start of a work experience.
- Carefully match youth to work experience opportunities based on their interests and skills, as discovered in interviews, career interest inventories and observations of the youth in other program activities, which ensures that youth feel motivated from the start.
- Provide on-going support to youth and employers during the work experience, whether that be on a daily or weekly basis or by monitoring the youth’s progress via worksite visits in the beginning, interim and final stages of the work experience.
The material provided on the NCWD/Youth’s Innovative Strategies web page will be of interest to practitioners and policy makers who wish to explore different approaches to assisting youth with disabilities to enter and thrive in the labour market.