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Applications: Job-Driven Customized Training in State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Historically and to the present, unemployment rates for individuals with disabilities have been high. Today, the public vocational rehabilitation (VR) system is experiencing an expansion in the types of training and placement models being used to prepare VR clients for employment.

This section of the customized toolkit will cite some of the emerging models based on employer partnerships involving Customized Training (CT) with VR. 

CT is job-driven. This means that it’s a training that meets specific needs in the labor market as defined by an industry, an employer, or a group of employers.

Partnerships involve creative collaboration between an employer and others, such as a training provider like a community college or community rehabilitation provider (CRP), VR, and/or other workforce development agencies. Funding resources vary depending on the program, and cost sharing is frequently used as a strategy.

CT programs make good sense. Baby Boomers, individuals in the workforce born in the generation after WW II, are retiring. The need to replace these workers, as well as the need to hire workers with a specific skill set, has employers searching for ways to find or to train skilled workers to match their labor needs. 

VR is developing even more ways to connect with employers. The result is employer/VR partnerships that are expanding from a placement partnership to one of training and placement. This trend is happening in many states and industries, and has the potential to increase the number of people with disabilities entering and succeeding in the workforce.   

VR Customized Training Models

On-the-Job Training (OJT)

On-the-Job Training (OJT) is a CT model with a long history in VR. This program involves a client being placed with an employer in a competitive work setting for a specified amount of time to acquire job skills. Wages are often paid or supplemented by VR funding. 

In a sense, all types of CT could be considered OJT. However, new models (which we will explore below) have emerged.

Registered Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship combines a full-time job with training that prepares the individual to enter a specialized field. While not new, this model has expanded greatly in recent years thanks to increased government funding, and is now known as the Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program in the US. 

No longer are apprenticeships associated only with the trades. RAs can now be found in many industries, including information technology, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation to meet current labor market needs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “With a network of over 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations, ApprenticeshipUSA is developing a new generation of workers to help our nation succeed in the 21st-century economy.”

See the ExploreVR Registered Apprenticeship fact sheet [PDF] to find out more about the opportunities for individuals to “earn while they learn.”    

Webinar View ExploreVR webinar on Registered Apprenticeships, presented by ODEP and the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, RA 101: Introduction to Registered Apprenticeships for VR Professionals.

Industry-Specific or Sector-Based Training

Industry-specific or sector-based training offers exciting opportunities for business/VR partnerships. In this model, CT is developed to address a particular need that an industry or business has identified. Partners can include a specific business or group of businesses, a training partner such as a community college or CRP, and a workforce partner such as the US DOL or a VR agency with clients to refer for training. 

Nebraska VR uses such a model, and has developed a variety of certificate programs: HVAC, Auto Tech, Welding, and Electrician’s Helper. The certificate programs are the result of a partnership with a local Nebraska VR office, core business partners in the area, local schools and a community college.  

The certificate programs were inspired by the Project SEARCH concept. Nebraska’s programs are business-driven, short-term, real-life trainings that teach both technical hard skills and soft skills. Each gives workers the opportunity to acquire the skills that they need to pursue in-demand jobs and careers. Learn more about these programs.

Community College-Based Training

VR also has a history of sending clients to community colleges for industry-specific training that has been developed by the college via grants or partnerships with specific industries. For example, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants were funded by the Obama administration and awarded to nearly 270 community colleges in the latest 4-year TAACCCT grant cycle. 

All grantees partnered with employers within growing industry sectors, such as manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, energy, transportation, energy, and agriculture to train workers for middle-class jobs that will help make sure the US stays economically viable into the 21st century. See the awards for 2014, the final year of awards.

In the next section of the toolkit, we’ll look at some promising CT models that are providing VR clients with training and successful employment opportunities.