Apprenticeship: Building a Future that Works

by Josh Christianson, Wheelhouse Group

Since 2014, I have focused my work on increasing the employment of people with disabilities.

A quick skim of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will alert you to the startling fact that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is close to double the rate of people without disabilities. And, during high times of unemployment like we’re in now, the gap only grows.

While employers increasingly understand that disability is a strength that benefits their bottom line, they remain challenged by the processes of finding and retaining diverse candidates with the skills they need.

Recently I have become increasingly excited by the promise of apprenticeship to help close this gap. This is a workforce model that has been used effectively in other countries for decades but is still in its infancy in the U.S.

Woman with disability working

This “earn while you learn” model is also expanding beyond blue-collar trades to a wider range of high growth, high demand jobs in information technology, healthcare, and finance.

Apprentices receive structured mentoring, earn progressively higher wages during the program, and enter the job market with an industry-recognized credential. More than 90 percent of registered apprentices remain employed after program completion, and their average starting wage is more than $60,000.

It’s a win for both workers seeking to start, change, or advance their careers, and for businesses navigating skills shortages as new technology surges through workplaces.

The Apprenticeship Inclusion Models Initiative

For the last two years, the Wheelhouse Group team has been supporting Apprenticeship Inclusion Models (AIM), where we partner with apprenticeship organizations to bolster disability inclusion in their programs.

For example, one apprenticeship organization had a mission to support women, veterans, and people of color enter technology apprenticeships. They had not formally focused on disability inclusion, though they had requests for support from many of their wounded warriors.

Once we started working together, they found that a significant number of their apprentices self-identify as having a disability. Given technology’s central role in life and work today, we gave particular attention to modernizing the organization’s technology to be as accessible as possible. We helped make their online recruiting and screening processes accessible and developed disability primers and tip sheets on topics such as navigating accommodation requests and how to self-disclose a disability.

Through the AIM partnership, this organization was able to gain valuable insight into their practices and enhance their apprenticeship model. They are now able to better recruit and place people with disabilities into high growth apprenticeship programs.

There are a lot of unknowns in the job market today with the rapidly changing COVID landscape. But one piece of bright news is the promise of apprenticeships in helping to get more people with disabilities into good jobs.

If you are interested in learning more about inclusive apprenticeship, please visit AIM for resources. If you are interested in digital inclusion resources and inclusive telework read PEAT’s Telework and Accessibility Toolkit.

Josh Christianson, Wheelhouse Group

Josh Christianson
Sr. Consultant, Wheelhouse Group
Josh Christianson has a 20+ year proven track record leading successful public programs by building partnerships, momentum, and teams to support big goals. Josh currently serves as Co-Director for the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) and is a consultant for the DOL-funded Apprenticeship Inclusion Models project.