DIEP RRTC

Episode 16: Disability Inclusion in Apprenticeship Programs

Disability inclusion in apprenticeships has long been lacking, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicholas Wyman, executive director of the Institute for Workforce Skills and Innovation, sees an opportunity to change that.

Apprenticeships are grounded in the same experiential learning that many with disabilities benefit from, but have historically excluded disabled people, particularly those with significant disabilities. It is essential to disrupt and reverse this trend, and coming off a pandemic that altered the entire workforce, employers have an opportunity to reevaluate hiring practices in apprenticeship programs and beyond.

Wyman discusses the importance of investment, at local, state, national and even international levels of government, in apprenticeships, especially as it relates to people with disabilities. He discusses structural and attitudinal barriers that have historically prevented people with disabilities from participating in apprenticeships and argues that additional investment is necessary and shares his experience with learning of the impact that apprenticeships can have for individuals with disabilities and the disability community collectively. He highlights that apprenticeships can not only help alleviate the disability employment gap, but they can also help individuals with disabilities find meaning in their lives from a more universal perspective. In doing so, he describes the constant emphasis on employee background and how it hinders the opportunities people with disabilities have for employment more than it ensures applicants have the skills they need for jobs, even within apprenticeship programs.

These are reasons and opportunities for the government to improve its investment in apprenticeships, he says. However, improvement will require changes and a recognition of the role apprenticeships could play across society and the approach other nations, including Switzerland and Germany, take. Such changes would make a difference in addressing the disability employment gap, but they won’t happen if the US continues its “program approach,” where individual programs are arranged in different directions. Wyman discusses how there needs to be more of a systematic, unified approach to ensure apprenticeships and the impacts that would have on the disability community are widespread and long lasting.

Nicholas Wyman
Nicholas Wyman
executive director of the Institute for Workforce Skills and Innovation
Michael Morris
Michael Morris
Podcast Moderator, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University

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