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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace

Summary & Conclusion

The following paragraphs summarize the authors’ main points, which could serve as important lessons for the fields of transition and workforce development, especially in relation to the development of relationships with employers.

Why Employers Host Youth

Several factors motivated this sample of employers to create work-based learning opportunities for youth with disabilities. These factors ranged from chance encounters with school or workforce programs to proactive and sophisticated efforts to recruit and screen youth. Several employers indicated more than one factor that influenced their participation with youth transition and workforce development programs. These include:

  • Meeting a perceived community need (NASA, Kemtah, Microsoft);
  • Meeting an ongoing industry need (NASA, Microsoft, Generac, Safeway, Cincinnati Children’s);
  • Meeting a company-specific need (Generac, MacWorld magazine, Kemtah, Port Discovery, Safeway, Cincinnati Children’s, Old Colony Insurance); and
  • Encounters with specific individuals representing youth (MacWorld, American Cancer Research Institute, Safeway, Old Colony Insurance).

What Made it Work for Employers

Some common themes were expressed by the employers:

  • It is essential that employers work with competent professionals and organizations to link them with youth, assist with matching the youth to assignments in the company, ensure effective accommodations, and provide follow-up to the youth and the company. Without these intermediary links, their ability to offer work experiences for youth with disabilities would not be possible.
  • Whether the employers’ motivation for inviting youth into the workplace was to meet a company, industry, or community need, employers provide work experiences to youth because they benefit in some way.
  • Internal champions often arise within companies that make work experiences beneficial for both youth and the company.
  • Providing work experiences is often a no-risk way for employers to screen potential new employees.
  • Some companies see work experiences for youth with disabilities as one aspect of a larger diversity initiative.
  • Disability awareness and training, either formal or informal, for the youth’s co-workers is integral to the success of most work experiences.
  • Most employers prefer to follow typical human-resource procedures when bringing youth with disabilities into the workplace, but they are willing and able to make extensive accommodations and adaptations to procedures when they have competent help from disability professionals.
  • Work experience options can be expanded when employers and youth programs share resources and sometimes costs.

What it Means for the Field

The following items are a few recommendations—sometimes implied, sometimes directly stated—that these employers suggest for practitioners.

  • To recruit companies for work experiences, market the competent service of the professional or organization representing youth with disabilities and the potential benefits to the company. Avoid charitable appeals based on disability.
  • Get to know the industries and companies in your area; careful screening and matching are not possible without this knowledge.
  • Seek out and cultivate internal champions who can advance the concept and the value of such work experiences within companies.
  • Be ready to provide both formal and informal disability awareness training, tailored to the needs and circumstances of the company.
  • Make the processes for establishing work experiences as straightforward and as uncomplicated as possible.
  • Organize continued follow-up services for the company; that is, provide service to both the employer and the youth.

In the long run, it is important to continue to seek out and listen to the voices of employers. What they expressed in this collection of essays is that neither disability nor youth necessarily dissuade employers from hosting work experiences. With improved focus on the employer’s needs, there is good reason to expect improved adult employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. Ultimately, if one of the most important activities of transition and youth development programs is to help youth with disabilities enter the workplace, then it is essential for stakeholders to understand and address the circumstances of those who might provide these opportunities.

Table of Contents

Cover Page


Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion

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Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.