Creating new career pathways for people with disabilities

Business woman sitting in a wheelchair looking at a computer while a male trainer helps

Finding, developing, and retaining quality employees is no easy task. This is especially true for employers who are committed to hiring people with disabilities. PRIDE Industries, one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the country, knows, firsthand, some of these challenges. But along with challenges comes incredible opportunities to find more adaptive and innovative approaches to recruit the right talent.  

As the dean of education and training for PRIDE’s new initiative PRIDE Ascend, I am excited about the incredible opportunities that lie ahead with respect to leveraging existing career pathway programs in new ways that promote economic self-sufficiency and advance individual capacity in support of creating jobs for people with disabilities. For the past eight years, I have been blessed to be a part of a forward-thinking non-profit organization that provides base-wide operating support services to military installations nationwide on a competitive scale with other award-winning manufacturing and logistics companies but with a workforce largely composed of individuals with severe disabilities.

Key partnerships

The need for transition programs that are built on the foundations of industrial and educational partnerships has been the focus of much of my doctoral research. As such, I continue to believe that if we empower people with disabilities through training and skills development, we can and will resolve the growing skills gap across the country. That is why I am so excited about PRIDE Ascend. This new initiative addresses the limited educational opportunities available for people with disabilities. Through a series of apprenticeship-type courses, candidates will receive training from experts in craft career fields, internships as well as externships, and job placement assistance upon program completion. Toward this end, PRIDE Ascend’s curriculum prepares students for careers in facility maintenance or construction with training standards that meet the accreditation requirements established by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Students who complete the curriculum will have benefited from hands-on training in these industries as well as earned an industry-recognized certificate that puts them on a firm path to employment and self-sufficiency.

PRIDE Ascend also addresses many compliance requirements and community needs. For example, the program, working in concert with and support for the Workforce Investment Act as well as the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act, meets Vocational Rehabilitation efforts that stipulate the major focus of creating state plans needs to be directed toward work-first options for transition-age individuals with disabilities or those who fall within the underserved population. It also ensures compliance with federal department mandates that state “training must be directly linked to an in-demand industry or occupation that leads to economic self-sufficiency and encourage(s) the attainment of recognized postsecondary credentials when appropriate” (Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act of 2014, 2015). In addition, it also fulfills PRIDE’s overall goal of providing community support by offering resources that can assist with hiring, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities as stated in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Accreditation is progressing

As PRIDE Industries is currently in the process of becoming accredited as a licensed Career School and College through the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), PRIDE Ascend has been granted an exemption by the TWC in support of transitioning disabled, special-needs students or clients until a license has been acquired by PRIDE. In addition, the program has also acquired a letter of support from the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Assistant Commissioner.

I cannot stress enough the importance of expanding our thinking about the potential of people with disabilities and the career paths we can provide by building meaningful partnerships with purpose. PRIDE Ascend has been built on the premise that all people with disabilities can succeed, so let’s work together to educate others that disability only means diversity and thereby offer life-changing apprenticeships to help pave the way for those most often excluded from education, skills development, and career opportunities.

Feel free to contact me directly with your thoughts and questions. I would love to hear from you and how we can continue to build our partnership base in support of creating jobs for people with disabilities.



Lonny Wright