Promising Practices

Customized Training in VR: Promising Practices

Characteristics of a Customized Training (CT) partnership include flexibility and innovation. Below you will information about CT programs that involve partnerships with community colleges and programs based on the industry-specific or sector-based training model where VR is a key partner.


The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act contains new specified uses for VR funds for business engagement. These include creating opportunities for work-based learning, and training workers with disabilities. Partnerships between VR and community colleges can help meet these requirements. This ReviewVR brief, Vocational Rehabilitation and Community College Customized Training Partnerships: Practices and Challenges highlights practices from 5 VR agencies and their community college partners. In this brief, VR agency and community college staff discuss how their partnerships were initiated and are maintained, and how VR and community colleges engage businesses to develop and implement customized training programs for people with disabilities. 

Representatives from Delaware Division of VR and South Carolina VR Department explain their partnerships with the community college systems in their states. 

Podcast Series: Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation: Cynthia Fairwell, Delaware DVR’s business relations manager, and Sandra Miller, its transition coordinator, discuss the agency’s partnership with Delaware Technical and Community College in this 10-chapter podcast. 

Podcast: South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department: SCVRD’s Stephen Marshall, the agency’s business services coordinator, and Kim Mann, from its business services unit, discuss how SCVRD works with the statewide technical college system to design training programs that meet the needs of VR consumers and businesses in this 4-chapter podcast.

The Nebraska VR & Southeast Community College and Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services & Community College of Baltimore County videos below showcase the perspectives of Nebraska VR’s counselors, consumers, employment specialists, instructors, and employers on the agency’s certificate training programs and recounts the history of the Maryland DORS customized training model, and the partnership between the community college and this agency’s workforce technology center.


Walgreens Distribution Centers

An example of a successful disability employment initiative was developed and implemented by Walgreens in 2007 at the Anderson, SC distribution center. Walgreens developed partnerships with disability service agencies, including VR, to recruit and train people with disabilities to work at their center. 

The company exceeded its hiring goal to have 30% of staff be people with a disability, and since then has replicated the model in Windsor, CT. Their success prompted other companies, such as Lowe’s, Proctor & Gamble, Best Buy, and Toys “R” Us to explore and initiate similar training programs within their distribution centers.

Following the success of training and hiring folks with disabilities to work in their distribution centers, Walgreens created the Retail Employees with Disability Initiative, also known as the REDI Program. In this program, Walgreens partners with agencies in the community to assist them in preparing their clients for their business, or for a business that requires similar retail and customer service skills.

Learn more about the Walgreens training programs [PDF].


Connecticut Industry-Specific Training and Placement Program

As cited above, Walgreens opened a distribution center in Windsor, Connecticut and partnered with the Connecticut VR agency, the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS), to recruit participants for their training program.

Connecticut BRS contracted with Community Enterprises, a CRP, to provide support to VR clients during their training at Walgreens. The success of this partnership prompted CT to develop their own industry-specific training and placement (ISTPP) program with other employers. In the ISTPP model, contracts are developed with various CRPs to train and provide support to VR clients in the business partnership training programs.

Read about how CT BRS has developed ISTPP programs with many large and small employers.  

CT BRS Contact Information: Mark Henry:, phone: 860-424-4859


The following are videos of two successful CT programs developed by BRS.


Connecticut BRS, Mohegan Sun Casino, and Community Enterprises, Inc.

The CT program at Mohegan Sun Casino is a partnership between VR, a CRP-Community Enterprises, Inc. which provided onsite training support, and the casino, one of Connecticut’s largest employers.  The video offers insight into the program from the perspective of various key players and successfully employed VR clients.  It opens with BRS Employment Services Director Mark Henry citing how success with the Walgreens distribution CT program provided the agency with the learning to create a foundation for developing other CT programs. 

 CRP manager, Carla Gaouette, reports that about 150 people have been served by the CT program with 125 successfully placed individuals.  Mark concludes the video explaining that these (CT) programs are not just designed to get the individual into the world of work but to enable them to see a career path in his or her chosen industry.


Connecticut BRS and Utitec

BRS and Utitec, a manufacturer of precision form metal components for the electronic and metal industries, have developed a CT program where consumers are trained by company staff.  The video has interviews with key players from company management, HR, a BRS employment consultant, and VR clients now working successfully at Utitec.  


Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) Customized Training (CT) Model

Maryland DORS developed Partnership Programs through the VR Workforce Technology Center (WTC) with the Community College of Baltimore County, and the business community.

The following are videos of some of the Customized Training (CT) programs developed by the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) through their Workforce and Technology Center (WTC) in northeast Baltimore.  The WTC offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities get ready for work including work readiness and career training programs.  For more information, contact:

James Evans, Workforce Technology Center, DORS Assistant Director of Workforce Services:

Sue Page, Director Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS)

“Partnership is the key to success”.

Jim Evans, Assistant Director for Workforce Services for the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), Workforce and Technology Center (WTC)  

“Maryland’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation developed a “Job Driven” Customized Training model….and the business community responded”.

Jessica Hawes, Supervisor-Workforce Technology Center (WTC) Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS)

“ A strong internal communication and marketing system is essential when a VR agency is building Customized Training programs”.

Melanie Hood-Wilson of the Community College (CC) of Baltimore County recounts the history of the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) Customized Training (CT) Model and the partnership between the CC and the Workforce Technology Center (WTC).  

“Local businesses provide critical input into the development of customized training programs”.

Auto Detailing Program at the Workforce Technology Center (WTC) Interview with Doug Pindell

"Ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of our students are employed”.

Warehouse Technician Certification Training

A brief interview with student: Rashad


Safelite Auto Glass Repair and Installation Technician Training Program

“ VR clients receive the same high quality Safelite training as any other candidate: on site, and in a real world setting”. 

Auto Collision Training Program at the Workforce Training Center (WTC), Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS)

Internship Site Business Partner, Tony Brooks of Heritage Mile one Collision Center, Baltimore, MD

“We’re kinetic learners in our industry and (you) really learn by touching…there are great openings for this industry

Professional Animal Workers Program (PAWS)

The PAWS program is a 10 week program developed by the VR agency in partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County.  Following the training, participants partner with a business like the Axiom Pet Resort shown here for OJT “…and the result is almost always a great job match”.



VR’s Evolving Role: Maryland DORS Training Partnership with Starbucks and the Community College of Baltimore County

How do you partner with businesses to provide job-training programs for job-seekers with disabilities? Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) in Maryland partnered with local Starbucks to offer VR consumer students training at the Starbucks Inclusion Academy.  

At the ExploreVR National Conference, Maryland DORS, CCBC, Starbucks, and a VR client who graduated from the training program presented a panel about their partnership.  

Watch the panel to learn how this partnership was initiated and how you can adapt a training program like this in your state! 




Resources and terms mentioned in the video:

Nebraska VR – Customized Training Certificate Programs

This brief video provides a look at several of the certificate programs developed by Nebraska VR providing customized training (CT) in selected occupations. You will have the opportunity to hear about these programs from the viewpoint of the VR Counselor, Consumer, Employment Specialist, Instructor, and Employer. To develop certificate programs Nebraska VR consults with business representatives to identify their hiring needs and then the representatives work with the community colleges to build a hands-on curriculum that then meets the needs of area employers.



Mark Schultz – Director Nebraska VR offers this concluding statement, “We work with employers and community colleges.  Once we brought that team into it, that’s when it (CT certificate programming) really took off because we got the buy-in of our staff.  They know who their consumers are on their caseloads and we were able to make better matches and better fill the needs of employers by taking that approach”.

View a presentation about how middle-skills training evolved in Nebraska VR: “On the Origin of Species”: Evolution of Middle Skills Training by Natural Selection [PPTX]

For more information about Nebraska’s certificate programs, visit:


Starbucks Inclusion Academy Program

The Starbucks Inclusion Academy, “part of Starbucks national initiative to create pathways to opportunity for people facing barriers to meaningful education or employment,” was first implemented at the Carson Valley Roasting Plant & Distribution Center in September of 2014. The company established a partnership with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation for trainee recruitment.

The curriculum was tailored to individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities and minimal work experience. It included a six-week career pre-training program using classroom instruction (soft skills, resume building, interviewing, etc.). Classroom training as well as hands-on training on site was provided in manufacturing and distribution roles. 

The program is still underway and has been consistently successful. After graduation, candidates can apply for positions with Starbucks or other companies within the local area using skills they’ve gained while attending the academy. 

A similar program has been created at the Starbucks roasting and distribution center in York, PA, with VR again playing a vital role for client recruitment and follow-up.


Orion Industries 

Orion Industries in Auburn, WA is a social enterprise that operates two for-profit businesses under the Orion umbrella: aerospace manufacturing and call center services. Orion staff provide training and transitional employment within these businesses. Once training has been completed, Orion job developers facilitate job placement for successful participants. 

In 2015, Orion assisted 124 individuals into jobs and worked with 86 employers. Jobs included production, machine operation, assembly, labor, skilled manufacturing, administrative, customer service, retail, and other roles, such as food service, and human services positions.

The average wage at placement was $13.41/hour, and almost all jobs came with benefits.

Today, 65% of referrals come from VR, and VR staff are involved in participant program planning throughout the training period at Orion.

Orion Contact Information: Kathy Powers, M.S., CRC Vice-president of Services 

Orion Industries: Phone: 253.661.7805

The CT programs created by Starbucks and Orion are both profiled in the archived webinar Job-Driven Customized Training: Exploring Innovative Models.


Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)

Another example is the Pharmacy Technician Training Program created in partnership with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). This has become one of CVS Health’s signature training programs, and serves as a model of Massachusetts’s commitment to job- driven training.

The program is an innovative eight-week training session for MRC consumers who are seeking employment and have shown interest in careers in health services. To support the program, CVS Health has shared its pharmacy technician-training curriculum and provided access to its learning-management system. MRC provides added resources and expertise around soft-skills training and job readiness to meet the needs of MRC consumers while addressing CVS Health’s staffing needs. In March 2015, over 40 consumers of the second training class received certificates of completion. CVS pharmacy technician graduates gain knowledge and job skills, and develop professional relationships with peers, MRC staff, and CVS Health mentors.