Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development


Organization Profile: The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion, and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development. DEED facilitates an economic environment to produce jobs and improve the quality of the state’s workforce. These actions support the economic success of Minnesota individuals, businesses, and communities by providing opportunities for growth. DEED partners with other state agencies; cities, counties, and communities; the Governor’s Workforce Development Council; local workforce investment boards and workforce service areas; and public, private, and non-profit service providers.

Program Structure/Design: Minnesota’s Pathways to Employment (PTE) program brings together employers, businesses, government, and service providers to help increase competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities and to meet state workforce needs. PTE has been funded by a comprehensive employment Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) funded through the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

In 2005, Minnesota DEED established the Strategic Plan for Pathways to Employment and launched its first pilot project under the plan. The full implementation of the Strategic Plan began in 2006 and is scheduled to end its active phase in December 2011. In the last year of the grant the major portion of the work will be directed at sustaining and embedding the promising/innovative programs developed in the previous six years into the appropriate state and local agencies/entities.

PTE aims to increase the employment rate and earnings of people with disabilities and to meet the needs of Minnesota employers through full use of the state’s workforce. Some of the desired outcomes for PTE are:

  • An increased rate of competitive employment of people with disabilities;
  • Increased numbers of employers who recruit and hire people with disabilities and thereby better meet their workforce needs;
  • Improved quality of life of competitively employed people with disabilities;
  • Greater earnings by people with disabilities; and
  • Well-coordinated services and supports that prepare people with disabilities to enter and succeed in the competitive workforce.


Besides DEED, the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the State Council on Disability are the primary partners. Otherpartners across the PTE project include: The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, public and private industry across the state, the Minnesota Department of Education, local community and technical colleges, state colleges and universities (academic staff and disability services staff), secondary schools, Workforce Centers, and the Social Security Administration.

Funds from the MIG included a grant competition entitled Building Capacity to Create Work Experiences and Competitive Employment Opportunities for High School Students with Disabilities. The purpose of the grant is to help local school districts improve employment outcomes for transition-age students with disabilities. In early January 2010, eight sites were chosen and awarded funding of approximately $25,000 each. Each funded project is using these funds to support interagency planning with a focus on increasing opportunities for work experiences leading to competitive employment and on building and strengthening local partnerships with community employers and other key stakeholders.

States of Operation: MN
ODEP Funded: No


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: One of PTE’s six goals is Youth Transition: Strengthen transition services and work experiences for youth and young adults. To this end, DEED and other stakeholders work to strengthen coordination, assessment, and support for youth in transition from school to work; create early work experiences; and promote best practices in career development so that youth with disabilities are prepared to move into employment, improving their community integration and providing opportunities for a higher standard of living.

Several PTE initiatives create early work experiences for youth with disabilities:

E-mentoring: Called E-Connect, this project connects youth with community partners from local businesses in a classroom based e-mentoring program. Utilizing the Guideposts for Success framework, E-Connect connected over 280 students with 149 mentors from 47 businesses across the state in 2010. PTE staff work with schools to integrate the program into the existing educational setting and local businesses are recruited to become involved in the program. Training, which is provided to all e-mentors, includes information on youth development, inclusion, and the program structure. The PTE staff works with the school to match student and e-mentors. The program provides youth with the opportunity to connect with a caring adult in the community and explore the world of work through a weekly e-mail exchange.

The E-Connect curriculum (available online) used in the program was developed by the Institute on Community Integration and adapted from an earlier program called Connect to Success. E-Connect supports the academic programs already in place at the school and provide further career exploration for youth. Students meet their e-mentors in two group events arranged and supported by the school and business. E-Connect offers school staff an opportunity to support the transition goals on the students’ individualized education program through a variety of activities. The success of this program lies in connecting local schools with local business and developing a supportive network of individuals and resources within the community.

Camps to Careers: This model is an integrated system for providing youth with disabilities with career planning support. Using industry “camp” experiences as the organizing mechanisms, service providers, educators, and businesses work together to structure a “hands on” learning experience for students. Typically housed at a local post-secondary program the model is replicable across regions and uses different economic sectors for camp subjects. Nineteen camps – health care (six camps), manufacturing (eight camps), art (one camp), digital media (one camp), and robotics (three camps) – were held in the summer of 2010. The camps provide youth with opportunities to practice skills and interact with local industry professionals at their workplaces or in the classroom. For example, in the health care camps students worked on skills necessary to become a Certified Nurse Assistant. All camps provide career information including information on post-secondary programs and employment in the related industry. Visit the website to view a video about Camps to Careers.

The Zone: Located in several Minnesota Workforce Centers (WFCs), the Zone is a physical and virtual space where youth can become skilled job seekers. The Zones utilize the career exploration technology offered by the Workforce Centers in a youth friendly model. Students register at the Workforce Center and explore labor market information, learn about related training/educational opportunities and community resources, and practice job-seeking skills. Local schools schedule time at the local Zone. The Workforce staff work closely with the school programs to tailor a program at the Zone that will meet the needs of the school group. Zone staff also visits the schools providing additional information to students on job seeking skills. Because some youth have transportation or mobility challenges, limited internet access, or live in rural communities, some Zone sites have added a mobile component that brings the computer-based resources and information to youth in community settings outside the Workforce Center.

Internships: PTE’s “State as a Model Employer” initiative has created internships throughout state government for people with disabilities, including youth with disabilities.

Disability Mentoring Day (DMD): DMD is a national initiative to promote career development for students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, on-site job shadowing, and ongoing mentoring, leading to internship and employment opportunities. PTE’s DMD model included collaboration with the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD). In conjunction with 2009 DMD, MSCOD hosted the annual employer awards luncheon and held a Town Hall Forum on “green” jobs, coordinating efforts to connect youth and others with disabilities with employers and job opportunities.

Project SEARCH: Project SEARCH is a model initially developed by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that is now being implemented in Minnesota. It develops work experience opportunities for people with disabilities within community businesses.

View a video highlighting several of these PTE programs including the Zone and E-Connect.

Youth Development and Leadership: While PTE primarily focuses its youth activities on career exploration and work-based learning, the initiative also engages youth in experiences that increase their self-determination, social and life skills, and connections with supportive adults. As they explore career pathways, youth who participate in the Camps to Careers program build a wide range of skills they will need in all areas of life through group-based hands-on activities and interactions with peers, instructors, and advisors. Many of PTE’s programs enable youth to connect with caring adults who serve as positive role models and mentors. For example, the Generating Leaders in Disability Employment (GLIDE) Mentoring Program facilitates mentoring relationships between college students with disabilities and professionals who are members of the Governor’s Workforce Development Council and work for various state government agencies. A quote from one student illustrates how youth benefit from their mentor’s support:

“GLIDE has helped me to realize that I can achieve the goals I set for my future. Though life is still an uphill struggle, I now have my mentor and professional contacts that provide me with support and encouragement.”
(Source: GLIDE Final Report 2008)

Connecting Activities: Through the various PTE programs, youth gain access to additional information, training, and supportive services young people often need to achieve their goals and make a smooth transition to adulthood. For example, the Zone is conveniently located within the Minnesota Workforce Centers where youth can easily access other community services such as vocational rehabilitation services, mental health services, and benefits planning assistance. Resource Coordinators, formerly called Disability Navigators, help youth learn about and connect to the other social services offered by Workforce Center partners based on their individual needs. One PTE resource available to all youth is Disability Benefits 101 (DB101) Minnesota. DB101 is an online tool that helps workers, job seekers, and service providers understand the connections between work and benefits. Originally developed for use in California, Minnesota is developing a state-specific site that will be integrated into the state’s current information infrastructure and include youth-oriented information and tools. DB101 offers workers a way to explore the impact of work on their current financial situation. The online program is supported by local staff that is available to answer questions and offer further information.


Systems Change: The PTE project encourages young people to envision themselves in the world of work and explore work options in different settings, through different types of activities. It is a supported process, not an event, and youth are encouraged to find what fits best for them. Youth begin career development through skill acquisition, networking, resume-building, and accessing resources that will serve them throughout their working years. PTE expects that businesses will recognize the value in the underutilized talent pool of people with disabilities and seek to improve their business success. PTE also sees that secondary and postsecondary schools, youth-serving organizations, workforce development institutions, and businesses profit from building relationships with one another to improve each one’s capacity and success.

PTE has identified the common elements that create successful models:

  • Projects are planned and directed by a broad collaborative that represents all key local stakeholders, including the local Workforce Center. This collaboration includes people and institutions with the skills and resources needed to carry out the project;
  • Senior management of all partners are involved in and support the projects.The lead agency has flexibility and is not bound by institutional policies;
  • Grant funds are available for seed money to get the project planned and started;
  • Project planners recognize the importance of benefits planning. Benefits planning and education is built into the project, beginning early and continuing as a part of the service;
  • Meeting employers’ needs are as important as other activities. Businesses must be able to retain their autonomy in making hiring and workplace decisions. When creating work experiences the project builds on a real business need and finds youth who are enthusiastic and a good fit; and
  • Projects have built-in mechanisms for supporting and tracking individual youth through the process. The young person receives the support they need to be successful. There is a system for helping the young person process their experiences, make decisions, and move to the next career exploration/development step.


Organization Name: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
Organization Director: Commissioner Mark Phillips
Program Name: Pathways to Employment
Street Address: 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E-200
City: St. Paul
State: MN
ZIP: 55101-1351
Phone Number: (651) 259-7359
Website: http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/All_Programs_Services/Pathways_to_Employment/…

Contact Person: Rod Haworth
Contact Title: Program Director
Contact E-mail: rod.haworth@state.mn.us