LEADOn! Article

BBS in Action

| Blending, Braiding, and Sequencing: Strategies for Success

In fall 2021, a diverse group gathered in Collinsville, Illinois to discuss building a program for high school seniors with disabilities to successfully participate in U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeships. The group wove together multiple partners to provide support: the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Registered Apprenticeship, Madison County Employment & Training Administration (ETA), the City of Collinsville, and the Collinsville School District. In a matter of months, the collaboration began its first cohort.

Notably, no specific grant developed this program; instead, stakeholders braided funds together. Secondary Transition Experience Program (STEP) educators wrote and taught the curriculum for the apprentices. The STEP Program receives funding and support from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) for successful program outcomes. The Regional Office of Education is the liaison between the STEP Program and DRS and assists with outcomes and referrals to adult services. Madison County ETA’s On-the-Job Training program subsidized half of the wages for each apprentice. As the employer/apprenticeship sponsor, the City of Collinsville worked with all stakeholders to develop orientation handbooks. Together, they also built customized strategies for each apprentice.

The five students in the first cohort worked hard to prepare for success, too. In their junior year of high school, students in the STEP program, through the Illinois DRS, explored the different apprenticeship options available with the City of Collinsville, including events support, housekeeping, and landscaping. Starting in the spring, the students toured each track, and, at the end of the school year, the students applied and interviewed for the apprenticeship of their choice. At the start of their senior year, the students began the Registered Apprenticeship for the City of Collinsville, which lasted for one year. Students earned wages from day one, starting at minimum wage with incremental pay increases as they reached competencies.

At the start of the apprenticeship, students received high levels of support that gradually faded as students gained experience and mastered new skills. Family involvement was vital, and monthly meetings with all stakeholders helped the program mature as the students did. Trained frontline staff worked alongside each apprentice, providing support and mentorship.

At the end of each apprenticeship cohort, the team leads select one staff member to be “Mentor of the Year” to receive an award alongside the apprentices obtaining their certificates. So far, out of 10 student apprentices from the first two cohorts, five completed the apprenticeship and received an employment offer from the City of Collinsville. Two of the apprentices employed for the City of Collinsville concurrently take post-secondary education classes. Now, the program is on its third cohort of apprentices. In addition, the collaborators behind the program have recently expanded their efforts with additional school districts, employers, and Registered Apprenticeships.

For more success stories, visit the LEAD Center’s new webpage, Employment Success Stories.