Audience: Employer

Employers who actively develop and engage in work-based learning opportunities for youth with disabilities see real and concrete benefits. These employers create pipelines of qualified and job-ready employees that help shield them in the unpredictable and ever-changing labor market. They realize a reduction in the time and cost of recruitment, screening, selecting, and training new workers. Important opportunities are created for current employees to hone training and mentoring skills and gain practical understanding of reasonable accommodations in the workplace. A more diverse workforce is created, helping these employers to better mirror their customer base. An increase in their workforce’s overall comfort with people with disabilities is also seen. Finally, these employers often have an opportunity to influence the curriculum design and learning focus for students in local school districts, which helps to better prepare young people to meet specific employer skill level needs when they graduate.


1. In what work-based learning experiences can an employer participate?

Work-based learning programs involve youth as observers, trainees, or employees. Experiences will definitely vary and may range from a one-time occurrence (such as a site visit or tour) to a summer or year-long internship. Work-based learning programs are designed to meet employer needs, as well as the needs of young people, depending on their age level and experience.

For younger or less experienced youth, work-based learning usually focuses on general career and industry awareness and exploration activities that might include:

  1. Site visits and tours: Site visits and tours typically involve a group of young people (accompanied by an adult chaperone) visiting a business in order to learn about real-life work environments. The visit is designed to give youth an overview of the different facets of a particular industry. Site visits provide a cost-effective and efficient means by which to expose large groups of young people to a place of business.
  2. Job shadowing: Job shadowing is a motivating activity designed to give youth a closer, more in-depth look at the world of work, while bridging the gap between academics and the adult world. During a job shadow, a young person accompanies an employee as his/her work is performed in order to learn about a specific occupation or industry. Job shadowing also provides an excellent opportunity for adult workers interested in mentoring.

For older or more experienced youth, work-based experiences often focus on acquisition of specialized occupational skills, as well as the development of good work ethics and etiquette. In addition to employment opportunities, other experiences might include:

  • Internships (paid and unpaid): Internships are situations in which students are trained to perform work for a specified period of time, in order to learn more about your particular industry or occupation. Activities may include special projects, a sample of tasks from different jobs, or tasks from one specific job. Internships provide direct career exposure for youth.
  • Mentoring: Internship and apprenticeship opportunities naturally generate mentoring opportunities for youth and adult workers. These opportunities may be structured as a formal relationship or as an informal one, where someone at the work place chooses to “look” after” a young person. Mentoring experiences are enjoyable and instructive for both the young person and the employee.
  • Apprenticeships: Apprenticeship is a federally recognized training system for occupations requiring a wide and extensive range of skills and knowledge. It involves on-the-job training combined with related (i.e., classroom) instruction. In the United States alone, there are currently more than 800 different apprenticeable occupations. Apprentice wages are based on the level of their skills and increase incrementally to the journeyman level upon successful completion of the apprenticeship.
  • Entrepreneurship: Any business-sponsored opportunity provides youth with invaluable experiences in organizational skills, task orientation, persistence, and determination. Work-based learning programs focusing on entrepreneurship can help young people design and operate a small business. In turn, they will be practicing leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking skills – just what the employer community is seeking! Entrepreneurship experiences are a terrific way to bridge the gap between academics and employment.

Regardless of the particular details (site visit, internship, or mentoring), opening a place of business to young people provides a wonderful opportunity to expand and create a more knowledgeable workforce for tomorrow.

Principles of Work-based Learning


Some important principles for employers and jobsite supervisors to keep in mind when participating in work-based learning experiences for youth are:

  • Help youth to set mutually agreed upon learning and skill development goals. Work closely with the young person and the referring school or organization to ensure an individualized learning plan is in place that supports and complements the work-based experience and summarizes the goals, expectations, and logistics of the experience.
  • Be a compassionate source of advice, support, and guidance. Help youth to understand the connection between school, work, and their future goals. Model positive and appropriate workplace behavior.
  • Challenge all youth to perform well. Expect the best. Assess performance regularly, and plan regular meetings with the youth to provide constructive and honest feedback and guidance.
    Give suggestions about how to increase his/her chances for future career success. Provide necessary orientation, training, and feedback, as needed.

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2. How can an employer effectively locate and work with a high quality partner when implementing a work-based learning program?

The local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) is the lead strategic planning workforce development organization for local communities. WIBs are uniquely positioned to focus attention on promoting work-place learning for all young people (ages 14-25) in their communities. WIB’s can also help develop or improve the necessary connections between the employer community and the wide array of institutions involved in workforce preparation to promote work-based learning opportunities. They can also provide information on child labor laws and other employment-related issues.

Some other potential partnering agencies include:

  • Your local high school or community college. Ask for the career center, school-to-work transition specialist, or the person responsible for workforce development.
  • The local chamber of commerce or economic development group. Ask about their connections with local educational institutions.
  • Local industry associations or other employer networks. These might include The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), The National Retail Federation (NRF), The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), and The International Consortium of Hospitality and Tourism Institutes (ICHTI), to name a few.

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3. What should employers know about including youth with disabilities in work-based learning programs?

The most important thing to know about including youth with disabilities in work-based learning programs is that youth with disabilities need exactly what their non-disabled peers need in order to achieve success—a chance! Unfortunately, only one third of youth with disabilities who need job training and work experiences receive it, leading to exceptionally high levels of unemployment and underemployment.

Often employers with limited experience working with people with disabilities are fearful of including youth with disabilities in their places of business. The following facts should help ease any discomfort with including youth with disabilities in a work-based learning program.

Five Facts about Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace


Some important principles for employers and jobsite supervisors to keep in mind when participating in work-based learning experiences for youth are:

  • Youth with disabilities do NOT require any additional or special insurance considerations on work-based learning sites; they fall under the same worker’s compensation and/or liability coverage as any other student participating in such a program. In fact, youth with disabilities rate average or better in job safety as compared to other persons in work-based learning sites.
  • Including youth with disabilities in the workplace generally improves an organization’s practical understanding of reasonable accommodations. In fact, according to the Job Accommodation Network, 50% of all accommodations in the workplace cost under $50 (with 31% at no cost to the employer!). Most accommodations in the workplace fall into the category of “creative thinking and problem solving.”
  • Including youth with disabilities in the workplace will help to diversify your organization’s workforce. People with disabilities represent a significant, and largely overlooked, pool of potential applicants, who repeatedly get high marks from managers on job-related issues. Employers prepared to work effectively with this important source of workers will not only be better able to meet their legal obligations, but will have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining the most qualified work force possible.
  • By contacting your local Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC), you can receive no-cost training on disability awareness issues. Ten regional centers act as a central, comprehensive resource on disability issues in employment, public services, public accommodations, and communications. Each center works closely with local business and other professional networks to provide information and assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • You may be eligible to receive tax credits. There are three tax incentives available to help employers offset the cost of accommodating employees with disabilities and to make their places of business accessible for work-based learning programs, employees and/or customers with disabilities.

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Work Based Learning Manual
This manual was created for school personnel implementing work-based learning opportunities, as well as parents, employers, and other community members interested in increasing their knowledge of work-based learning.

Developing Work-Based Learning Opportunities
This Website reviews critical issues in developing work-based learning opportunities and provides relevant resources.

The Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer Labor Services (OATELS)
OATELS is a consolidation of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training and the new responsibilities of the employer and labor liaison. OATELS engages in partnership activities both internally and externally, ensuring quality service and customer satisfaction.

Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration
The state and local workforce systems are key providers of workforce services through the local One-Stop Career Centers. Large, multi-state employers with hiring needs across the country experience varying challenges connecting to these One-Stop Career Centers. Partnerships for Jobs is designed to ensure that national businesses recognize the value of the workforce system and are connected to the full range of services.

Career OneStop
Career OneStop is the nation's publicly funded resource for jobseekers and businesses. Identify job-ready workers with the right skills. Locate public workforce services in your area.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The US Chamber of Commerce website includes information about managing a business, job opportunities at the national Chamber of Commerce or at local offices, as well as locating a local office for specific information.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
SHRM serves the needs of the human resource management professional by providing the most essential and comprehensive set of resources available.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
The NAM is an industrial trade association representing manufacturers and employees in every industrial sector. NAM is working toward the mission of enhancing the competitiveness of manufacturers and to shape legislation toward economic growth, and increased national understanding of the importance of manufacturing in America’s economy.

The National Retail Federation (NRF)
The National Retail Federation (NRF) is a trade association with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores as well as the industry’s key trading partners of retail goods and services.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA)
ITAA is the trade association representing the IT industry. Their website provides information about this ever changing and growing field, issues in the IT industry, publications and seminars.

Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTAC)
DBTACs were established by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to provide no-cost training, information and technical assistance for those included under the ADA. All centers provide technical assistance, material dissemination, public awareness, local capacity building, education and training, and information and referral.

Tax Credits
A Department of Labor provided list of tax incentives for business along with detailed information such as effective dates, how the incentive works, and how to get more information.

Business Leadership Network (BLN)
The BLN is a national employer led program that engages the leadership and participation of companies throughout the United States to hire qualified job candidates with disabilities.

Bridges from School to Work, Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities
The Bridges from school to work program works with young people exiting special education and with local employers to develop mutually beneficial job placements. A stepping-stone for employer and youth, the program facilitates an employer/employee relationship in which the needs of each are met.

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