Employers should take four key steps to ensure that the OJT components of their apprenticeship programs are accessible and supports the access needs of apprentices with disabilities:
- Cultivate a Culture of Inclusion
- Ensure Accessible Communication
- Use Different Teaching and Training Styles
- Build Support Systems and Partnerships
PIA partners with Apprenti, a non-profit organization that helps place job seekers from diverse and underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, into apprenticeships that focus on technology fields and skills. Building from this company’s experiences working with apprentices with disabilities and with employers to grow and enhance apprenticeship programs, we outline these recommendations to help your business drive inclusive and accessible OJT:
A culture of inclusion is one where people of all races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, ages, disabilities, sexual identities, veteran status, socio-economic status, and religions feel valued and respected by their employers and colleagues so they can realize their fullest potentials; a workplace driven by a culture of inclusion ensures all spaces, technologies, and communication channels are accessible.
Building accessible OJT begins with an inclusive organizational culture—within the organization facilitating apprentice placement and learning and within the company where the apprentice is training on the job. These tips can help you start on this journey:
Create a Support Team
Your company can create a team, unit, or program that can help support full inclusion in your apprenticeship program and aid efforts to implement best practices for accessibility. Apprenti makes use of an Access Team, which supports people facing challenges while they are enrolled in an apprenticeship program—including people with disabilities. For example, an apprentice may experience access barriers, such as workplace technologies and procedures that are not accessible. They can connect and speak with the accessible apprenticeship program manager and accessibility consultant to discuss workplace accommodations and steps to support better access.
Starting and expanding employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can offer a great way to foster an inclusive and accessible apprenticeship program and workplace more broadly. An ERG is a voluntary, employee-run group designed to address the unique needs and issues of a diverse workforce. ERGs provide an internal forum for discussion and collaboration among diverse workers and allies that can enhance a company’s DEIA efforts. Learn how to create a successful ERG.
Disability presents differently in every person, so people with disabilities may benefit from a wide range of work accommodations and supports. For example, Apprenti has experience working with several apprentices with mental health conditions. Some of these apprentices benefit from tools that can reduce distractions, such as white noise machines, while other apprentices thrive with other accommodations and supports, including flexible work schedules. Building your knowledge base and training your staff on different types of disabilities, work accommodations and supports, and best practices to meet access needs can help create a more informed and supportive workplace for everyone:
- Train Staff: Make DEIA training available to all employees, including managers, mentors, and staff. Read and share these Staff Training Resources from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) and PIA’s resource on how to develop and sustain an inclusive culture.
- Know Your Company’s Accommodation Process: Encourage managers and mentors to become familiar with your company’s accommodations process and how to create an accessible workplace before an apprentice(s) starts OJT. Read PIA’s resource on providing workplace accommodations.
- Utilize External Resources: The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has many resources that can be helpful for all workers, including apprentices and other trainee workers. JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource allows people to search for information about accommodations and supports by type of disability, work function, or barrier. Your regional ADA Center will also provide resources, and it may offer assistive technologies that an apprentice could borrow and test out.
- Communicate Commitment and Encourage Disclosure: A large portion of the apprentices in Apprenti’s program (14%) have disclosed having a disability. Apprenti encourages employers to express their commitment to creating an inclusive workplace during orientation and training sessions for apprentices. Communicating this commitment can help create a space in which apprentices can feel safe to disclose their disabilities and feel included in the workplace.
- Be Transparent: Employers should ensure a clear and easy process for an apprentice to request a work accommodation. Apprenti’s process for making an accommodation is listed on its website and is discussed openly during apprentice orientation. Providing accommodation information via both written and verbal communication can help demystify the process and makes apprentices feel more comfortable seeking support.
- Provide Opportunities to Disclose: The Apprenti program also provides multiple ways for apprentices to self-disclose via surveys throughout the apprenticeship lifecycle, and it shares resources to help them understand their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Apprentices may have concerns that if they do not disclose a disability on their initial paperwork they cannot request an accommodation later in the process. Thus, employers should provide opportunities for employees to disclose at regular intervals during the lifecycle of an apprenticeship program.
Another best practice involves ensuring your communication with apprentices is accessible. Apprentices take in a large amount of information and resources over the course of their programs. Thus, Apprenti makes sure that their materials are as accessible as possible. During orientation, apprentices receive a handbook to review. The orientation is captioned and recorded so that apprentices can watch it again if they missed something, and the orientation ends with clear action items for apprentices to complete. This process benefits people with disabilities and all other apprentices because it ensures they can refresh their memories about key information presented in their onboarding:
- Make Meetings & Events Accessible: The virtual meeting platforms your organization uses should provide captioning, and apprentices should be allowed to record meetings to review content at their own pace. Read, “7 Steps to Make Your Virtual Presentations Accessible.”
- Use Accessible Materials: Ensure that presentation slide decks, digital training manuals, and other documents, including PDFs, are accessible at the forefront. Run slides and documents through an accessibility checker and read “Making Documents Accessible.”
- Be Consistent and Clear: Use a consistent method for sharing assignments and instructions and be explicit about expectations. Inform your apprentice what “good looks like” for assignments, when engaging in team meetings, and when collaborating with colleagues, etc. Offer consistent feedback.
OJT requires apprentices to absorb a large quantity of information in a short period of time. Not every apprentice learns the same way, so instructors should teach new material through a variety of methods. Apprenti provides managers with an OJT Work Plan template which includes prompts for them to consider what success means for their apprentices, as well as what specific resources will ensure apprentices’ success. Strategies for creating different types of learning environments that promote success include:
- Present Information in Various Ways: Apprentices differ in how they may process information. Make use of diverse teaching styles, such as using video, written materials, audio, and images or graphics. Additionally, breaking down large amounts of content into smaller digestible bits can help foster learning. Using bullets in text can help!
- Encourage Apprentices to Assume the Role of the Instructor: Teaching concepts to others can help solidify information for learners. To test that an apprentice is fully competent in a skill, have them take over the role as teacher and walk you or their fellow apprentices through a training module.
- Provide Clear Expectations: Apprentices want to be successful in their on-the-job training, but in the early weeks of their program they might not know what success looks like. Be explicit about what “good” and “excellent” look like for assignments, engagement in meetings, team collaboration, and other office norms in the workplace. Similarly, be consistent in when and where you post assignments so an apprentice always knows where to find information. Providing clear and consistent processes can help benefit all employees.
For apprentices and apprenticeship programs to achieve success, employers should ensure support from stakeholders across the apprenticeship ecosystem. This means taking efforts to:
- Provide Mentorship: All apprentices must work with a mentor who supports their progress and provides guidance throughout an apprenticeship program. The mentor should work as a competent guide and teacher; this means provide consistent and actionable feedback, and be available to the apprentice when they need support.
- Create Partnerships: Identify and reach out to organizations in your network that can support your recruitment efforts. State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies, community colleges, universities, and community organizations can refer candidates with disabilities to your program. Though employers can benefit from building partnerships with national organizations that reach across multiple states, they often yield stronger results when collaborating with partners at local, municipality, and state levels.