New laws are making it easier for vocational rehabilitation (or VR) departments to strengthen local partnerships with Florida school districts. These partnerships support high students with disabilities to transition to employment after postsecondary education.
One way that students can access VR’s services before completing school is through a work-based learning experience (WBLE). While participating in a WBLE, students spend their time in a real work environment, taking on workplace responsibilities, acquiring skills, and gaining insight into their own work interests and the requirements of careers. A WBLE also requires that students take an active part in the program, learning new skills and evaluating themselves on their progress. WBLEs are open to students with disabilities ages 14 to 21 who are still in school.
In 2018, VR, the Home Builders and Contractors Association (HBCA) of Brevard County, and other partners created WBLEs that took place over the summer. Students from five Brevard County public high schools participated. Five employers from the association offered WBLEs and two service provider agencies working with VR helped match the students with the employers. Each student worked with a VR counselor to choose a service provider and interviewed with the employers offering WBLEs through that provider.
Once the students were matched, they participated in the WBLEs over two three-week sessions. Students were given a variety of specialized construction, maintenance, and clerical tasks, often taking on a variety of tasks each day. Some became interested in learning specific skills, such as welding, and in pursuing careers in the construction field, and at least one student plans to enter into an apprenticeship upon graduation. The partners compiled a video showcasing these work opportunities that is available on YouTube.
Most often, a local VR counselor and an employer form a partnership to create one or more WBLEs at one or more of the employers’ sites. However, the partnership between VR and the HBCA was based on a sector strategy—a plan to address the needs of an industry with a high demand for workers with specialized skills. The home-building and contracting industry offers potentially high wages and is experiencing high demand for such workers, as well as a looming skills gap as many workers in these fields prepare to retire in the next seven to ten years. This partnership was given a name that captures the spirit of sustaining the construction industry through this sector strategy: “Brevard Internships in Construction Knowledge – Brick by Brick: Building our Talent Pipeline.”
To increase the students’ sense of responsibility for their work, the employers assigned some more experienced students greater leadership roles. Although the $11 per hour was a strong motivator for many students, the increased responsibility also improved students’ motivation and work performance.
The WBLEs offered students the opportunity to take on many types of work at an apprentice level. They also introduced employers to new people to add to their talent pipeline. The partners considered the WBLEs successful and plan to offer three times as many opportunities next summer.
For more information, please contact:
Amanda H. Armetta, M.S.
Business Relations Senior Consultant
Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
4070 Esplanade Way
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-7016