Student transition programs build our future

Students working in a machine shop

Change is inevitable, and in today’s environment organizations are required to be agile, adaptable, and collaborative. These attributes can address two important needs: a growing skills gap in today’s labor force, and chronic underemployment of individuals too often left out of the workforce: people with disabilities. Forward-thinking organizations can invest in new opportunities or leverage existing career pathway programs through partnership. Sustainable training programs which promote economic self-sufficiency can advance a company’s capacity while simultaneously contributing to social good.

In a previous article, I addressed the training and employment of individuals with disabilities through industry and higher education partnerships. This article introduces another initiative being implemented by my employer, PRIDE Industries, in partnership with the Ysleta Independent School District of El Paso, Texas. Mirroring the Department of Labor’s Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), PRIDE Industries and the Ysleta Independent School District have begun a pilot transition training program for high school students with disabilities.

Apprenticeship programs can provide a gateway to opportunity for students with disabilities. Too often, young adults with disabilities leave high school without real training or employment options unnecessarily moving to social services for support. Programs can take the form of school-to-apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, and pre-apprenticeship programs. The idea is to promote successful movement for individuals with disabilities from high school to post-school activities including employment, postsecondary education, adult services, independent living, and community participation.

PRIDE Industries has leveraged its accreditation to sponsor the Ysleta Transition to Life Career Center (TLCC) as an accredited training and education facility.  The curriculum prepares students for careers in facilities maintenance or construction with training standards that meet the accreditation requirements established by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).  Students who complete the curriculum have completed hands-on training in these industries and earn an industry-recognized certificate, putting them on a path of employment and self-sufficiency.

The program consists of three phases and takes three to four years to complete. The first phase is a core program introducing students to safety, construction math, blueprint reading, material handling, and employment soft skills, among others.  Phase two focuses on skills development in carpentry, plumbing or general maintenance depending on the student’s interests. The third phase incorporates a hands-on internship opportunity with PRIDE Industries or other industry partners with the potential for employment.

The program is designed for students ages 18-21, primarily with intellectual disabilities, who are enrolled in Special Education Vocational/Transition to Life Career Center training and have a post-secondary goal of employment. The pilot program is being run with six students. In success, and with industry support, it will be significantly expanded.  Future projects include one other El Paso area school district and a high school program in Las Cruces New Mexico.

The initiatives I have covered in this blog series highlight alternative career paths, continuing education and training opportunities in industries where there is growing demand. They demonstrate the positive impact that coaching and mentoring can have in creating better futures for people with disabilities. In turn, businesses are rewarded with a skilled and loyal workforce that can help them address key labor shortages and move their companies forward.

It’s time to expand our thinking about the potential of people with disabilities and the paths we have provided them in the past. Let’s work together to recognize that disability is diversity, sponsor an industry/education partnership, offer a life-changing apprenticeship, and help to pave the way for those most often excluded from employment.

Please feel free to contact me directly with your thoughts and questions. I would love to hear from you.


Dr. Lonny Wright