The Career Pathways approach is an effective dual customer model that benefits both individuals with disabilities and business (see effective business engagement). The model addresses both the business and job seekers’ with disabilities needs. Labor market trends are showing growth in certain industries nationally and at the state level. Many of these industries have career ladders and opportunities for advancement but are struggling to find job seekers with the skills needed to fill those positions. How can VR position itself to assist in creating a pipeline of qualified candidates? How can VR ensure individuals with disabilities have access to industry approved certified trainings in order to make them competitive to meet the hiring needs in these industries?
In 2015, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) awarded the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration project to four State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia, to establish models designed to promote partnerships to develop and use career pathways to help individuals with disabilities to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials. Each state VR agency identified high-wage, high-demand career pathways in their states. In determining which industries to focus on, they looked at state level labor market information (LMI) gathered by Business Relations staff, IPEs, and conversations with businesses and workforce partners to determine where their focus would have the greatest impact. The VR agencies worked with businesses, community partners, and educational institutions to promote the various career pathways in their states.
This toolkit highlights two of the model demonstration projects, the Nebraska Career Pathways Advancement Project and the Virginia Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities Project. To learn more about the four demonstration projects, watch the archived webinar or download the webinar powerpoint. Listen to the Career Pathways presentation podcast from the 2017 Fall Conference of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Nebraska is the first VR agency in the country to use the upskill / backfill model to promote economic self-sufficiency for Nebraska VR clients. The upskill / backfill model was identified as a best practice by the National Governor’s Association and their Center for Best Practices. It was chosen as the CPAP vision to promote autonomy, stability, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. The goal is to provide assistance for individuals to obtain a single, stable, well-paying job with benefits to replace entry-level jobs currently held to make ends meet for many individuals with disabilities.
CPAP staff foster relationships with businesses to upskill their incumbent workers with disabilities. In filling higher-level positions with incumbent workers, the businesses then have vacancies in entry-level positions that can be filled by other job seekers with disabilities. Nebraska’s goal is to backfill these vacated positions with individuals with disabilities from the VR program that want to enter the same career pathway. The benefit to the businesses is it helps them retain their key talent and they have access to an untapped talent pool of qualified candidates with disabilities that can fill the vacant position. This can ultimately reduce costs by increasing worker productivity and decreasing staff turnover. Job seekers benefit from free access to workforce training programs, which help them acquire the necessary skills for advancement.
Nebraska’s upskill/backfill model focuses on career advancement along career pathways within the high demand industries of Architecture and Construction, Healthcare, Information Technology, Distribution and Logistics (TDL), Manufacturing and Transportation. They identified these industries based on the following criteria:
- Growing industry sectors in Nebraska;
- Access to postsecondary curricula that integrate education with training; and
- Training programs have a flexible design and multiple entry and exit points for individuals with disabilities.
The CPAP project focuses on out of high school youth and adults with disabilities. They conducted focused outreach to 2,000 successfully employed Nebraska VR clients from 2015 to 2020. Download the CPAP factsheet (PDF) (Word) for an overview of the CPAP grant and project statistics including the number of people served, type of disability, services received, and wage changes.)
CPAP staff provide the same services as VR but pay stipends. In order for clients to be eligible for CPAP they had to meet VRs’ eligibility criteria and they had to have been a past Nebraska VR client successfully closed in one of the five career clusters/pathways. The clients were offered the opportunity to pursue training that would allow them to advance within their career pathway. Download Nebraska’s CPAP eligibility criteria document (PDF) (Word). It emphasizes that the individual must meet VR eligibility criteria, be involved in one of the five career pathways, and have the desire and ability to pursue further training to advance.
A CPAP recruiter also reaches out to businesses to determine if they would like to advance their incumbent workers with disabilities, even if they hadn’t worked with Nebraska VR in the past. Each business decided how they wanted to educate and promote the CPAP services to their employees. Typical strategies included presentations at staff meetings; hanging CPAP posters in break rooms, and adding CPAP brochures in paycheck stubs.
In order for a client to be successfully closed in CPAP, they must obtain a credential and have been working successfully for 90 days. Credentials included industrial certifications and post-secondary training such as a diploma, Associate degree, Bachelors degree, Masters degree, and Ph.Ds. A large number of clients chose to advance through industrial certifications. For example, clients completed short-term 3-day training for food processing and safety regulations at the University of Nebraska.
Learn more about Nebraska CPAP’s success stories:
Sara Stewart was a mechanic in the US Army but was discharged when she hurt her back. She could not continue doing work as a mechanic and identified being a CDL driver as her new goal. CPAP assisted her in getting her CDL license along with several other certifications. Watch Sara’s Video or listen to the podcast.
Todd’s BBI worked with the CPAP team to help some of their employees advance in the company. David Kelley had secured a job there originally with Nebraska’s VR help and got the training he needed to be able to advance to Plant Manager. For all the vacancies created through the upskill, VR was able to backfill with other VR job seekers. Watch David’s Video or listen to the podcast.
Chris Olsen was working in Information Technology but did not have the required degrees to advance. After completing the necessary credentials, Chris was able to secure a job in Information Systems Management with a new company. Watch Chris’ Video.
Arnuflo Gama has a passion for automotive. While he was working in the field, he wanted to change the type of work he was doing. CPAP supported him getting the required credentials in auto body and auto technology. Watch Arnuflo’s Video.
According to the National Skills Coalition only 40 percent of Virginia’s workers are trained for these middle-skill jobs.">Virginia’s CPID project focuses on youth and adults with disabilities. Virginia uses a business-driven approach focused on high demand industry sectors: Manufacturing, Healthcare, Information Technology, Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL), and Auto mechanics and welding. CPID attempts to innovate the job selection process with a heavy emphasis on labor market information and career progression. They offer the individuals with disabilities a range of academic and training programs within the identified industries to create a pipeline of qualified candidates with disabilities. CPIDs provide opportunities for independence by building access to career pathways for individuals with disabilities through provision of additional services, tutoring, training and getting the accommodations and assistive technology needed to train, obtain and maintain employment. The CPIDs are built with multiple entry and exit points that allow individuals with disabilities to enter and exit at their current skill levels and build up to higher levels of skill.
CPID partners with local businesses to develop new training programs that align with the needs of Virginia’s to provide the needed supports for a smooth transition for the job seekers from training to employment. Labor market information estimates that more than half of Virginia’s forecasted 1.5 million job vacancies in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. According to the National Skills Coalition only 40 percent of Virginia’s workers are trained for these middle-skill jobs. CPID targets these jobs by creating a pool of qualified workers trained with the necessary skillset.
Virginia DARS and DBVI worked collaboratively with partners in the development of the program. The Career Pathways Work Group includes VR, adult education, postsecondary education, and the workforce system to develop strategies for sector partnerships and career pathways. They developed a shared definition during the writing of the strategic plan:
“We define our career pathways system as a series of connected education and training programs and support services that enable individuals to secure employment within a specific industry or occupational sector and to advance over time to successively higher levels of education or employment in that sector. Each step on a career pathway is designed explicitly to prepare for the next level of employment and education.”
Collaborations among the partner agency leaders have resulted in systemic changes, including co-located services and enhanced awareness of the benefits and support associated with training and hiring individuals with disabilities.
Learn more about Virginia CPID’s success stories:
Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center Manufacturing Technology Training (MTT) program helped Joseph Hugues figure out a career path that fit his skills and interests. He secured work at Provides US in Assembly Work and has aspirations of moving into management. Watch Joseph’s video.
Laura Williams is a graduate of Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center’s Manufacturing Technology Training (MTT) program and is working at ComSonics as a mechanical assembler. She received two certifications and will be able to grow with the company. Watch Laura’s video.
Bently Woods works as a Peer Recovery Specialists. He found a Career Pathways that would allow him to work with and help individuals with substance abuse problems through his work with Virginia DARS and DBVI. Listen to the podcast.
Andy Poole is working as an Information Security Officer at the Department of Historic Resources in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He received computer repair training and his A+ certification at the Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center’s Manufacturing Technology Training (MTT) program. Listen to Andy’s podcast.