Apprenticeships Help People with Disabilities Enter Workforce

The aim is to provide employers with insight on how to use and scale up the apprenticeship model to fill much-needed roles

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek November 29, 2018
Apprenticeships Help People with Disabilities Enter Workforce

​The U.S. Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is turning to apprenticeship programs to help job seekers with disabilities enter the workforce and employers fill much-needed positions.

ODEP has awarded a two-year contract to Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) in Oakland, Calif., to develop pathways into existing apprenticeship programs for people with disabilities.

SPR will select and manage up to four pilot apprenticeship worksites for high-demand, well-paying careers in such fields as information technology and health care. The employer participants at the sites will receive training and technical assistance to test new approaches. The aim is to provide employers with insight on how to use and scale up the apprenticeship model to recruit and hire people with disabilities.

Under the ODEP contract, SPR will partner with Ethos Strategic Consulting, a woman-owned small business in Washington, D.C.; Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit headquartered in Boston; and Apprenti, the nation's first registered apprenticeship program in technology, located in Redmond, Wash. Apprenti is a program of the Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute.

The team will select three or four apprenticeship pilot model sites and provide technical assistance as well as subject matter experts to work with employers to hire and retain people with disabilities. Observations and resources will be gathered through site visits, case studies and other data-collection strategies, and those findings will be shared at the practitioner and policy-maker level, according to SPR.

"Given the tightening labor market and need for skilled workers," said Eric Seleznow, senior adviser at Jobs for the Future, "we hope to advance entry into high-quality apprenticeships for people with disabilities to provide increased economic opportunity for these workers and to provide employers with the skilled workers they need."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Government and Other Resources for Employment and Training Programs]

About 22 percent of people in the United States have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their unemployment rate of 9.2 percent in 2017 was more than twice that of U.S. workers with no disability (4.2 percent).

While nearly half of all persons with a disability in 2017 were ages 65 and older, employment of persons with a disability across all age groups was much lower than for those with no disability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A 2017 national employment and disability survey for the Kessler Foundation found that employers were striving to recruit, hire, train and retain people with disabilities, but only 28 percent had hiring goals that included hiring people with disabilities. By comparison, 57 percent of the 3,085 supervisors surveyed had hiring goals for other types of diversity.

The Kessler Foundation, located in East Hanover, N.J., is a charitable organization focused on rehabilitation research and community employment programs for people with physical disabilities.

Its survey is the first national one from the supervisors' perspective to look at the effectiveness of the practices that employers use to recruit, hire, train and retain people with disabilities in their organizations.

The foundation noted in its report that findings suggest that "while many in an organization may support the goal of hiring people with disabilities, when it comes to the details of realizing that goal, there may be less commitment and support than needed from upper management."

Find more information about the ODEP pilot project and how to get involved at



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


Find your peers in SHRM's online community.

Find your peers in SHRM's online community.

Join SHRM Connect


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.