A win–win–win proposal

The number of people diagnosed with Autism and other disabilities is steadily rising. Children with these challenges are enrolled in special education programs and allowed to remain in school until age 21. In their high school years, they participate in the transition process for post-high school life. To quote one parent, “They transition from school to the couch to linger and ferment.”

Unable to find gainful employment, they depend on the largess of taxpayer-funded programs for their needs. Some enter sheltered workshops where staff do their best to make their days meaningful but real work is often in short supply.

Meanwhile, local companies struggle to find dedicated employees to fill positions. Some jobs are beyond the abilities of those at the sheltered workshop but others are not especially if they are afforded specialized training to do the task.

The problem is sheltered workshops are often clueless to the specific needs of employers. If a mechanism could be put into place to enhance communication between employers and workshops then custom training could be done at sheltered workshops so that their clientele could secure real jobs that pay a living wage and get off public assistance. The local Chamber of Commerce is one way to facilitate this communication and I believe that such an initiative has been explored.

What I am envisioning is that sheltered workshops assume roles similar to vocational schools where real-world skills are taught. This does occur on a limited basis now but needs to happen at a much greater level. To make this feasible, local employers need to communicate with the workshops what skills their employees need. Specific training joined with an on-site job coach, who would fade as expertise is gained, could help many people currently facing a lifetime of limited opportunities. Then they would truly transition into independent productive adults. When this happens, the employee, the employer, and the taxpayer ALL WIN.

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