This guide helps employers from all sizes and industries foster best practices for inclusion and accessibility into on-the-job training (OJT) for their apprentices. Whether you are an employer with a current apprenticeship program or plans to launch one in the future, this resource provides you with the crucial information needed to enhance your efforts. It also links to resources that will drive your efforts in this pursuit.
People with disabilities can bring diverse perspectives and skill sets into the workplace, yet their talent is underutilized in the workforce. In 2022, only 38% of adult job seekers with disabilities are in the labor force compared to 77% of adult job seekers without disabilities. Through adopting inclusive and accessible OJT for the apprenticeship lifecycle, employers can create career pathways that support full access for job seekers with disabilities. Employers can thus expand their talent pools, attract and retain other diverse and underrepresented workers, and move closer to achieving their goals for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA).
The U.S. Department of Labor has set a national utilization goal for equal employment opportunity in which Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAP) should ensure that at least 7% of their enrolled apprentices are people with disabilities. It also aligns with broader efforts to promote DEIA, such as the White House Executive Order on the federal workforce and its emphasis on apprenticeships and other forms of inclusive work-based learning.
As an employer, you play a key role to help your company or agency achieve, and hopefully exceed, this crucial goal. You set the stage for how your business can prioritize inclusion and accessibility and how it integrates related best practices into its apprenticeship programs. You have the power to create fully inclusive and accessible OJT in which apprentices and workers with diverse races, genders, disabilities, sexual orientations, and ages can feel valued and achieve their highest potentials.
A wide range of apprenticeship program models abound, but all these models always include a focus on both OJT and classroom instruction. OJT represents a critical component of the approach taken by apprenticeship programs to support work-based learning. Through their engagement in OJT, apprentices can actively use skills and knowledge they learned in the classroom in workplaces (in-person, virtual, and hybrid) to gain real-world, hands-on experience. Apprentices will spend the majority of their time working under the supervision of a mentor or a manager. The supervisor is available to answer questions and ensure that the apprentice has adequate support to complete work tasks.
When we talk about accessibility in the context of apprenticeship programs, we include access to digital tools and technologies for workplaces and classrooms. This means virtual meeting platforms and digital documents. It also involves access to inclusive communications practices, such as providing support for captioning and American Sign Language interpreters, and developing curricula that make use of principles of Universal Design. Employers and other sponsors of apprenticeship programs should also adopt accessible workplace policies and practices, such as flexible work schedules and work spaces that can reduce barriers that may hinder performance.
“Apprenti addresses systemic gaps in the American workforce by removing barriers to employment for underserved and underrepresented groups, including individuals with disabilities. Apprenti advises employers and training providers on strategies for establishing inclusive and accessible workplaces and providing all apprentices with equitable opportunities to succeed.”
– Jennifer Carlson, Apprenti Co-Founder and Executive Director
An accessible OJT experience can take many forms:
- When conducting a virtual training to learn a new skill, the employer chooses a platform that enables auto-captioning so an apprentice who is deaf can engage with the content.
- All digital documents used during training go through an accessibility checker to ensure everyone can effectively engage with the material.
- An apprentice who is autistic working in an office wears their noise-canceling headphones to block out distractions that hinder work, such as nearby chatter.
- After receiving approval from their manager, an apprentice with ADHD turns off email and chat notifications to stay free from distraction.
- An apprentice with bipolar disorder works with their manager to set a work schedule that can accommodate weekly therapy appointments and allows for telework three days a week.
Like with any step in the apprenticeship process, employers must prioritize access needs of their apprentices with disabilities in OJT. By doing so, accessible OJT can and will help create a truly inclusive apprenticeship program that enables people with disabilities to sharpen their skills and talents and build their careers.