Program Summary: The Manufacturing Technology Training (MTT) Program is one of the many career pathways offered by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center (WWRC). The MTT program was developed as a pre-apprenticeship program through close collaboration between the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) and the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board (SVWDB). The SVWDB’s Valley 2 Virginia Apprenticeship Initiative seeks to get more individuals engaged in apprenticeship opportunities throughout Virginia. With this push, it is also necessary to prepare individuals to be ready for these apprenticeships. WWRC has designed the MTT program in partnership with the SVWDB and employers to create a place for individuals with disabilities who are interested in a career in manufacturing to gain the skills needed to enter an apprenticeship. Both SVWDB and WWRC realize the benefits of apprenticeships and by working together they have created a continuum of support for individuals to reach full-time employment with competitive salaries. WWRC is working to add additional pre-apprenticeship opportunities that can connect to other SVWDB apprenticeships.
The MTT program provides training in the skills needed to enter a manufacturing position, such as warehouse worker, machine operator, or instrument technician. It also prepares students to sit for the industry recognized Manufacturing Specialist (MS) and Manufacturing Technician, Level 1 (MT1) exams. Students in the program participate in a highly specialized combination of classroom learning and hands-on work experiences with support from highly qualified staff. For example, a behavior specialist works with the students before the program begins and is in the classroom every day for the first third of the program. WWRC’s close relationship with employers and apprenticeship programs throughout the state have helped them to design a training program that directly aligns with employer needs and to create a seamless path to employment after graduation.
Program Structure/Design: WWRC is a residential facility that provides job training in preparation for integrated competitive employment and medical rehabilitation services that assist individuals to work towards independence and employment. WWRC works with 35 field offices throughout the state that share information about its training with individuals with disabilities and develop relationships with business partners. When an individual enters a field office, staff begin the conversation with learning about where that participant wants to live in Virginia, what kinds of opportunities are available in that area, and a general understanding of what his or her interests are in the workplace.
Once students come to WWRC, they complete a hands-on work readiness evaluation that prepares them for the program and helps staff to begin developing accommodations. These evaluations review individual work skills, academic preparation, and interests and are conducted by vocational rehabilitation counselors trained to provide specific work samples. Students entering the MTT program begin with a two-week Readiness Group. During this time, students develop skills in stress management and teamwork activities that prepare them for the rigorous and group-work-focused program. Each cohort in the MTT program ranges from 12 to 16 students who are typically 18-24 years old. The program lasts 16 weeks and is a combination of classroom, lecture style, and hands-on learning experiences. Students are grouped into four-person teams and progress through the program in those teams. The content is divided into 10 modules focusing on chemistry, electricity, fluid power, hydraulics, and business. The design and curriculum of MTT was developed in direct collaboration with business and community partners based on WWRC’s years of work and development of specialized teaching methods. The teacher has a Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) teaching license and has also completed the Manufacturing Skills Institute (MSI) Manufacturing Technician Level 1 (MT1) Foundational Training and Certification. Five weeks before graduation, Business Development Managers in each of the field offices throughout the state begin sharing information about the upcoming graduates with their business partners and information about potential job openings with the upcoming graduates. Through a close partnership between the business community and WWRC, graduates are often sought out and hired to work.
State of Operation: Virginia
Youth Targeted: Program is open to individuals with disabilities of all ages but typically serves those 18-24. Minimum education requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent, a Silver Level Career Readiness Certificate, and 6th-8th grade reading and math skill levels.
ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2018
School-Based Preparatory Experiences
Stress Management and Preparation Pre-Program: The MTT Program is a rigorous program that combines learning in a classroom setting with hands-on training. WWRC understands that the rigorous program may be challenging for some of its students, and, with that knowledge, it has developed a preparatory program that takes place two weeks before the program begins. This two-week pre-program is called the Readiness Group, and a behavioral specialist helps students to develop skills to deal with stress, such as compensation strategies and preparing for the triggers that they may encounter in the program. The behavioral specialist joins the students in the classroom for the first third of the program and is gradually phased out. By helping to prepare students for what they may face when they enter the program and providing support as they transition into the program, students are more likely to have the strategies necessary to be successful in completing the program. By being in the classroom, the behavioral specialist is able to assist students as they practice using the strategies that they learned in the Readiness Group and further develop those skills. This may allow more focus during MTT on job preparation skills because some of the other skills have already been addressed.
Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning
Individualized Career Supports: As WWRC works with their participants to prepare for both entry into the program and for the workforce after the program, they put a priority on understanding what skills the participant already has and what else they might need to be able to fulfill the duties of a particular job. One of the components of WWRC’s process is a high-quality and detailed evaluation when individuals arrive at the center. The hands-on evaluation is conducted by trained vocational rehabilitation counselors and uses different types of assessment to cover a range of skills and preparation, including cognition, fine motor skills, interests, and best work environment. The vocational rehabilitation counselors conducting the evaluation are trained to review highly specialized work samples that WWRC developed to better match the individual to a specific career pathway.
After this comprehensive evaluation, WWRC is able to provide a suggestion to each incoming student for where they might fit best, but, in the end, it is always up to each individual to choose which program they would like to enter. By providing a comprehensive evaluation at the beginning, WWRC staff obtain a high level of knowledge of each student that enables them to provide individualized support from the beginning of the program. By understanding their students, WWRC has been able to provide the support necessary for the career program they would like to enter.
Utilizing Business Partners: WWRC has developed an advisory network of business and community partners who advise WWRC administration on job opportunities, the skills that graduates will need to fill the openings and potential openings, and the development and ongoing improvement of the curriculum used in the MTT program. WWRC meets with these advisors regularly to understand the evolving employment needs and gather feedback. By collaborating with businesses, WWRC is able to provide students with training that is directly informed by the business that will be hiring their graduates. Several businesses reach out to WWRC when they have upcoming hiring needs to find out if there will be a new cohort of graduates that can fill these positions.
Connection to Apprenticeships & Employment: The connections between WWRC and the workforce enable participants to connect to apprenticeships or jobs immediately upon graduation. WWRC has 35 field offices throughout the state with business development managers who form relationships with employers and are able to support the transition efforts for students finishing the program. About five weeks before graduation, business development managers begin reaching out to employers to inform them about the upcoming graduates and the skills they possess upon finishing the program. Due to the business relationships that WWRC has built and the high quality of training, graduates are often able to secure interviews in the Virginia region. Alignment with the Valley to Virginia (V2V) apprenticeship program has enabled graduates from WWRC to graduate with the necessary skills and to be highly prepared for the program. WWRC and V2V work closely together to provide a continuity of programming and services to ensure success among students and graduates, designing a complementary path to competitive, integrated employment.
Youth Development and Leadership
Developing Teamwork Skills: WWRC has had some students in their program who have very strong technical skills, but may demonstrate difficulty with teamwork, which is an important component of the manufacturing program. In addition to learning stress management skills in the two-week pre-program Readiness Group, students practice teamwork skills that will help them to succeed in the program. MTT is designed to have students divided into four-person teams with whom they complete their training. In these teams, students complete work-like tasks in an environment that is designed to mimic the manufacturing environment allowing students to translate these experiences directly to their future worksite. Business partners have emphasized the importance of being able to work as a team, and WWRC has designed its training to prepare students in this way. By recognizing that students may be well suited to manufacturing and just need extra support in working with others, WWRC is opening up this opportunity to students who may not have known manufacturing was a good fit for them before.
Opportunities to Develop Leadership Skills: Students in the MTT program are continually given opportunities to develop leadership skills by sharing their training with business leaders and community members and through interviews on the WWRC podcast, VR Workforce Studio. One of WWRC’s strategies to developing relationships with businesses and the community is by inviting them to WWRC to learn about the training. During these visits, participants share about the training they have experienced, the skills that they have learned, and what they will be able to share with their future employer. Additionally, WWRC hosts a podcast about what is happening in vocational rehabilitation in Virginia. Participants and graduates are often guests on the program to share about their life, their training, and their career. These opportunities help students develop skills in speaking and leadership through sharing their experiences.
Self-Advocacy Skills: Throughout all of WWRC’s career pathways, staff work with students to assist them with developing their self-advocacy skills and learning what this means in the workplace. These skills are viewed as an integral part of work readiness and career preparation and not superfluous. As students are in training to prepare for their career, they are also working to understand what accommodations they might need for that career. Students discuss what disability disclosure is and what they may or may not want to disclose to their employer. Students discuss these topics in their classroom settings as well as individually with their counselors.
The WWRC works closely with partner agencies in the state such as the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), the Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI), the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board (SVWDB), and Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID). These agencies work together with WWRC to coordinate services to meet each individual’s emotional, social, and academic needs to create personal independence through employment. DARS refers individuals to the MTT program after a vocational evaluation and provides placement assistant after graduation. DBVI provides assistive technology equipment and accommodation support for participants with low vision. The SVWDB offers technical assistance to WWRC on the trends in manufacturing throughout the state. CPID provides funding support for a learning environment with the most up-to-date equipment and assistive technology support in a universal design model. Through these partnerships, participants receive holistic and individualized support throughout the process from recruitment to job placement.
Each cohort of the MTT program is capped at 12 individuals, and they typically range in age from 18-23. Most participants are male with an average of one female per cohort.
There is no cost to students for the MTT program. The majority of the funding comes from the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) grant with some additional funding from the traditional budget and the WWRC Foundation.
EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS (INFORMATION AND ANALYSIS)
Data and/or Third Party Documentation: Twenty-one out of thirty MTT participants (70%) passed their Manufacturing Specialist (M.S.) exam. In addition, 19 out of 30 MTT participants (63%) passed the Manufacturing Technician One (MT1) exam.
Of the 2017 cohort, 13 of 17 graduates (76%) were employed ten months after graduation. Of these graduates, nine were employed in their field of training and four were employed in other fields. Of those working as manufacturing technicians, graduates earn an average of $13.46 per hour and work an average of 39.46 hours per week.
Organization Name: Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center
Program Name: Manufacturing Technology Training Program
Street Address: 243 Woodrow Wilson Ave.
Contact Person: Rick Sizemore
Contact Title: Director
Contact Email: Rick.Sizemore@wwrc.virginia.gov