Spencer Clark’s Career Pathway to IDX with Reflections from a panel of top VR and CPID experts.
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Rick Sizemore: You’re listening to a special episode of the VR Workforce Studio. Thank you so much for joining us as we welcome guest co-host. Emily West is the project manager for the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities grant here in Virginia. Welcome, Emily.
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Emily West: Thank you, Rick. I’m thrilled to be here and be here with the CPID team.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s great to have you on today’s show. In our big inspiration showcase, we meet Spencer Clark, a young man with a disability who became interested in manufacturing, went through a Dream it. Do it. academy vocational training and now works as a mill operator at IDX up in Fredericksburg. In the showcase, we hear Spencer’s exciting journey on the career pathway and then Emily and I talk with a panel of distinguished experts from CPID. On today’s special episode, we partner with our good friends at George Washington University and join our podcast through webinar. Emily, let’s get the show started. Welcome, Spencer. Tell us how you got interested in manufacturing.
Spencer Clark: I was watching this World War II movie, it was Pearl Harbor. And after the main part of it, it was showing how after that everyone decided to work but they were in these factories producing all these things. It was just giving to everybody. That’s what kind of made me want to choose-
Rick Sizemore: That piqued your interest.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, it really did. It was kind of what they used to do.
Rick Sizemore: Okay. So you’re a young man in high school. You have a disability. You and I have talked about sort of features of autism and memory retrieval. How did you get involved with vocational rehabilitation?
Spencer Clark: How I got involved with that was actually a friend of my mom’s. She said that her son went through it and then that through the rehabilitation for vocation, in that kind of a setting, it made it easier for kids like me to kind of grasp the material instead of going where people might be more advanced than I am.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, you certainly have advanced in your career. Once you got involved in vocational rehabilitation, how did you go through a process to determine you had the skills to be in manufacturing? What did you do to figure that out?
Spencer Clark: Well, I kind of took everything step by step just to see how certain things would affect me, especially with my memorial retrieval. I had to kind of see what we would be learning and then each test that they gave me, I knew I had to take everything step by step. But when I saw in manufacturing, everything is already step by step but it’s just a lot of it. So in the job I’m in now, I can take chunks at a time and for me, that makes everything a lot easier.
Rick Sizemore: So manufacturing was a good fit for you.
Spencer Clark: I think it was a great fit and I’m thankful every day for the opportunity you guys gave me and the opportunities that my company’s given me.
Rick Sizemore: Okay. So you figured out manufacturing’s the right thing for you and then what was the program like here at Wilson? 17 weeks?
Spencer Clark: Yes, it was a 17-week program and it was … I was thankful to have the teachers that I had, Jim and Steve. Even though we only had 17 weeks, they really took the time to make sure you understood. And if you didn’t, they offered to have you stay after class and they would help you on certain areas that you were weak at, but they really cared that you understood it and felt comfortable in it.
Rick Sizemore: So much of what’s being discussed today is the career pathway. The Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities grant is a key activity that’s going on and it helps people like yourself to find out what they’re good at, move into a training program and that program, of course, offers a variety of credentials around manufacturing specialist, manufacturing tech one. Then, you left here. How did you get the job at IDX?
Spencer Clark: Well, I live in Spotsylvania and there’s not much big name manufacturers. How I landed this job was they had just finished taking over the … The plant that I’m in now used to belong to GM and they left it there. And they just remodeled and then they just started opening the doors but they weren’t hiring. But when the county administrator heard that I went through this program for manufacturing and I’m trying to stay in the county, he wanted to use me as kind of a billboard kind of kid to promote manufacturing in the county, so I landed that job through that, which I’m eternally grateful.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve been a spokesperson prior to this at the Virginia Industry Forum. You addressed a gathering of a couple hundred plant managers and you wowed them with your experience of voc rehab and being ready to work in manufacturing, so you have that sense about you. You’re on the way to being in a career in manufacturing. But what’s even more important is moving along that career pathway. Tell us about the new job that you’re potentially training for and maybe advancing into there at IDX.
Spencer Clark: Well, right now, I’m in … Well, like I said, I’m a mill operator. My goal is to be, hopefully, a CNC operator and move out, climb up the ladder which I’ll take any opportunity they can give me. But as of now, I’m just trying to earn what I can and just prove step by step that I can handle anything that they give me.
Rick Sizemore: Do you need any special accommodations for the job at IDX?
Spencer Clark: I can take whatever I can get.
Rick Sizemore: Well, let me ask in terms of the training you had here. Did you get any special assistance or accommodations that made this feasible for you?
Spencer Clark: Yes. With my accommodations for test taking, I had extra time given to me and I had it to where I could go to my own classroom and just take it with no one around me. It made it easier to focus.
Rick Sizemore: Well, any final thoughts about your voc rehab program and your career pathway or IDX?
Spencer Clark: Well, for the program at Woodrow, I would highly recommend it to anybody that’s looking to learn manufacturing. And if anybody is looking to further their career in it, I can certainly give them a good word for IDX. IDX has treated me like family ever since I first stepped in there. I love my job and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Spencer Clark, we are incredibly proud of you for getting involved with voc rehab, conquering all the skills you needed to go into the workforce, and putting yourself on the career pathway toward advancement and ultimate success in your life and career. Spencer Clark, always a pleasure to talk with you. Keep up the good work.
Spencer Clark: I will. Thank you very much.
Rick Sizemore: So Emily, what did you think of Spencer’s interview?
Emily West: I was very moved. This is really Career Pathways in action.
Rick Sizemore: This is it.
Emily West: This is it.
Rick Sizemore: Spencer is the reason we’re all doing this.
Emily West: That’s right.
Rick Sizemore: We hear so much about Career Pathways. It’s pretty clear from Spencer what he thinks it is, but how do you relate the Career Pathways to WIOA?
Emily West: Okay. Well-
Rick Sizemore: What is a Career Pathway?
Emily West: Career Pathways really are a series of connected education and training programs as well as support services that enable individuals with disabilities to gain employment in a high demand industry or occupational cluster. So what we look for is to help our consumers advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment. And each step, each step on the pathway is designed explicitly to prepare for the next level of employment and ultimately, independence.
Rick Sizemore: It seems like such a nice pairing of this amendment to the rehab act of ’73, WIOA and CPID. They just seem like they go hand in hand. Maybe you could give us an overview of WIOA measures.
Emily West: Sure. The WIOA measures or metrics, I think they really give counselors a chance to reconnect to their mission, expanding consumer independence through access to self-sustaining wages and the Career Pathway concept just fits very well with all six WIOA metrics. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to start with-
Rick Sizemore: Let’s hear them. We talk about them-
Emily West: Okay.
Rick Sizemore: … on this show all the time. I’d like to get your take on those measures, particularly as they related to WIOA.
Emily West: Well, as I said, it’s a great fit for counselors and Career Pathways, starting with metrics one and two which are about reporting on consumer employment in the second and fourth quarters, post exit. So we’re working with VR counselors to take the long view, to focus on these credentials and career goals. So by using current labor market information to guide them, counselors can begin outlining in their IPEs ongoing Career Pathways opportunities, enabling the consumer then to focus on a career that provides them-
Rick Sizemore: Just like Spencer.
Emily West: That’s right.
Rick Sizemore: Just like Spencer.
Emily West: Just like Spencer. Focus on a career, not just placement. Really help … It helps motivate them to go above and beyond placement.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. And he’s now hoping to leave that job as a mill operator and be a CNC operator.
Emily West: That’s correct. That’s correct. So he’s moving along the career pathway.
Rick Sizemore: What else?
Emily West: Well, with WIOA measure number three, that’s all about measuring median earnings in the second and fourth quarters, so that’s where the livable wages and moving up along the career pathways really comes in and makes sense. Now, our academies and our tours and our other career exploration opportunities are there to guide counselors and consumers in choosing that right direction in training and credentialing, helping them meet those metrics. Metrics number four and five, which are all about measuring credentials and skill gains. So-
Rick Sizemore: Skill gains and credentials. And that MTI-
Emily West: That’s right.
Rick Sizemore: … right out of that manufacturing training is hot right now.
Emily West: It sure is, Rick. And how many credentials do they come out of there with?
Rick Sizemore: Well, in addition to the OSHA 10 and the career readiness certificate, of course, manufacturing specialist and manufacturing technician one. And along the way, they pick up some experience on the forklift. So it’s a great array of credentials to get you through the door and ready to go to work, day one.
Emily West: That’s so true. That’s so true. Another aspect that I like to focus on aside from the education, which is very important, and the credentials would be the fact that we are very business-driven. And that’s going to relate directly to metrics six, especially 6B, the employer penetration rate. That’s where Career Pathways can really come in. We have a variety of assessment tools. We work with Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Northern Virginia Tech Council. So by partnering with business associations and business like the Wilson Advisory Group, we are able to really help DARS and DBVI meet these metrics.
Rick Sizemore: And you guys … We’ll get to our panel in just a minute. I’ve lost track of the number of tours that we’ve had of the manufacturing program with industry key leaders from business, from MSI, VMA. Across the board, you’ve really through this CPID grant connected the center out to some wonderful partners and I think that really speaks to the important work that you all are doing.
Emily West: Career Pathways is all about strategic partnerships.
Rick Sizemore: Okay. Well, let’s move on and meet some of our panelists. Kate Kaegi is here. We’re also going to talk to Paula Martin and Tish Harris but next up is our good friend, Kate Kaegi, from the Virginia Manufacturing Association. Kate, let’s talk about the referral process and how you get someone into a CPID program.
Kate Kaegi: It’s very easy to get somebody into the CPID on our document repository under grants and special programs on the internet. A counselor can go in and just pull up the referral form, fill it out and send it on to us. That can be done for DBVI or DARS counselors. We typically … It’s a very easy form. You got to do just basic information, check off the career pathways of interest, status of the client and what type of resources you’re looking for. And so we have a list of the resources, sort of like consult with individual and counselor, access with career exploration, help with accommodations or assessment and academy information. And all of these are explained on the backside of the referral form, so it makes it pretty easy for a counselor.
Kate Kaegi: We also typically recommend that the first meeting be one-to-one or face-to-face, or over the phone, or a Zoom meeting with the counselor and the individual because we really want to know where they’re going. Counselors that have individuals that are interested in advanced manufacturing, information technology or logistics can go in under aware, under the special programs section and check off the CPID box. And that really helps us because if we have something going in that area like a tour or an academy or something like that going on, we can go in and see individuals that are interested and send out information to the counselor and the individual, so it’s really easy to do a referral for DARS and DBVI.
Rick Sizemore: Now, I’ve known you throughout your career as a vocational evaluator. That’s your center of expertise. Now, I asked Spencer how he got interested and he said, well, from watching a World War II movie and then post-war era, how valuable manufacturing is. I suspect you have a little more sophisticated methods of helping someone figure out. Tell us about how you assess someone and get them to a point where they know it’s a good fit.
Kate Kaegi: So Rick, yes. I am a nerd with assessment and I could go on for hours but I will cut this very short. We do not start off with a movie but we do start off with a good interview, and we kind of find out what do they know about manufacturing. Spencer at least had a good idea that manufacturing did really come up in World War II.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, I’m going to use the movie again because it’s a great way to open a conversation with someone. How did you get in? Well, I watched it on a movie and it spoke to something within me.
Kate Kaegi: Right. Yeah. We’re really lucky here in Virginia because we have evaluators with high quality, not only at Wilson but across the field, across the state and that is unique in Virginia. A lot of states do not have evaluators, so this is wonderful opportunity. We do quarterly meetings. We’ve just recently started that with afield and with Wilson Evaluators. So what we’re doing, we’re sitting together to see what do we have. We look at the Wilson criteria for evaluating somebody for advanced manufacturing and we are sharing resources to say, “Hey. By the way, we have something that can really do measurement well and can we share this with afield or can we share it with Wilson?” So we’re getting together to make sure that anybody who comes to any evaluation has a good quality evaluation.
Rick Sizemore: That’s super.
Kate Kaegi: It’s great.
Rick Sizemore: So the day we’re recording this, as soon as we finish the recording, we’re going to head over to a Dream it. Do it. academy. Tell us more about how VMA and CPID are partnering with these Dream it. Do it. academies to get people interested in manufacturing and other areas as well.
Kate Kaegi: Academies are, honestly, I think the counselor’s best tool. It is a wonderful opportunity. A student gets an opportunity to make something from raw materials to a finished product. It’s contextual learning at its finest honestly. It’s a great hands-on and for our students, they tend to do hands-on best. They get to take home what they make and this could be anything from a metal puzzle in the machining academy that’s going across the street to a garden ornament and a welding bottled water here at Wilson. They did logos for 3D printing and even a robot for the robotics academy with DBVI. They also get the opportunity to tour a company within these academies and this looks at real world employment, interacting with employers, engineers and technical experts, getting answers, asking questions. They also have a great way to look at interest. We also get a great idea of their soft skills like working in a team, attendance, following instruction, ability to accept feedback and frustration tolerance. Those are really great soft skills for us to evaluate and especially teamwork, it’s very hard to evaluate teamwork in an evaluation because we don’t usually work in a team.
Rick Sizemore: Tish Harris is one of our team members from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, key partner in the CPID project. Tish, you do a lot of tours. Tell us about that.
Tish Harris: I’d be happy to, Rick. We’ve realized really early on in this project that a lot of our staff did not have a factual view of what the manufacturing environment looked like so we arranged tours. Our first tour was actually here in the valley and we went to see Cadence and Daikin Applied. We also though went to some logistics facilities. We toured PPI-Time Zero, Best Buy. We have also been to the Dollar General distribution center as well as other distribution centers. What we found when we surveyed our staff afterwards is that they were shocked at the technology, they were shocked at how clean the environments were.
Rick Sizemore: Well-lit, nice environments.
Tish Harris: They were well-lit. And I always tell our counselors these are technology-driven facilities and computers don’t work in extreme heat, cold or dirt. So-
Rick Sizemore: Sometimes, people don’t either.
Tish Harris: Well, they don’t work very well. That’s for sure. So our tours were really our fundamental piece to change, to really bridge that perception gap that people had of manufacturing and logistics. And on the other side of the coin, we’ve also done tours in information technology. And it’s funny that some folks have this view that working in IT is such a well-paying job, I’m going to have this fancy office and all kinds of screens. And when we went to that tour, what we found is that people tend to work in cubicles because they work in teams. The other great thing I think about the tours beyond dispelling the myths of what the environment looks like is that we get to ask questions to the employers and it’s a direct question, “What are you looking for when you hire? What credentials are important?” And we need that type of information so that we can be a demand-driven project.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. Workforce-driven, jobs-driven. We’re creating these programs so they meet the needs of employers and that’s what WIOA is all about and that six measure that we heard Emily talk about. So now let’s focus on labor market information and the career clusters. A person who goes through one of these CPID-sponsored programs, what can they expect when they get out and start looking for a job?
Tish Harris: Well, I’m a Covey fan, so I begin with the end in mind.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. We’re all Covey fans in the podcast studio.
Tish Harris: Great. We take a look at labor market information because that drives what industry clusters we are looking at and Virginia is really geographically diverse as far as the industries that are in demand within different areas. For example, here in the valley, manufacturing is one of our biggest employers. Whereas in Northern Virginia, it’s very IT-driven. So to begin with, we use that labor market information to tell us where are the jobs, what type of jobs and then we use that information to go back to businesses and ask, “What is important to you?” Our partnership for example with Northern Virginia Tech Council has yielded information to tell us what they’re looking for to fill that pipeline. And just to talk about career clusters, we used to look at a single pathway and now we look at the entire cluster. Because, for example, a person could come here to WWRC and get their MT1 certification. That’s a great foot in the door. But from there, they might choose to become a mechanic, go into HVAC or do a number of different jobs that are all found in that manufacturing cluster. To give you an example of how we look at labor market information, one of the analytics shows that today, between production, installation and repair and maintenance, there are 85,000 jobs open in Virginia.
Rick Sizemore: That is amazing. Now, my son’s a CNC operator and his gateway training was heavy diesel automotive. So oftentimes, young people just need that exposure and they begin that process, and then it takes them to the career of their dreams.
Tish Harris: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we have some great employers that really value the skills that our individuals have. They show up for work. They are really highly motivated to do a great job.
Rick Sizemore: It’s a vetting process. All of this is a vetting process.
Tish Harris: Absolutely.
Rick Sizemore: We move on to Paula Martin. Paula, I’ve worked with you for years. People know you as an AT expert and through your work here in CPID, you’ve been exposed to a variety of settings, not the least of which is of course here at Wilson. We want to hear about the technical assistance you provide.
Paula Martin: Thank you, Rick. I think initially I was all excited that it would be primarily people with physical disabilities but we have had huge success with people with low vision, autism, learning disabilities and anxiety. So then coming up with equipment for the learner library that these students can try for a short-term basis, see if it helps in the class, see if it helps in the academy or see if it helps on the job.
Rick Sizemore: So you’re an OT by training and that’s how you come to be involved with assistive technology. Tell us about how you’ve used AT to help individuals with disabilities be successful in manufacturing.
Paula Martin: Sure, sure. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of figuring out what their sensory needs are. We all have sensory needs and sometimes we get real anxious in a new situation, so sometimes it’s that. Sometimes, it’s helping a student get ready for work or when they go home, making sure they have everything they need to be successful living on their own. Sometimes, it’s a change in their sleep schedule. Got to go to bed a little bit early if you’re going to have that 12-hour shift. So taking the OT and the AT together has been really, really exciting.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’ve been instrumental in something that’s become known as the Next Steps Meeting. Tell us about that.
Paula Martin: Sure. What we have done is Kate made a form and it’s a student run meeting, so the students come in and in that meeting, we have people at the table from WWRC and afield. But more importantly, we’ve also asked the business relations specialist from DBVI if they’re DBVI or they’re business development managers, and the students say, “Well, these are my three choices.” And the business person can say, “Okay. That one’s kind of hot. Do you like a hot environment? Or that one, you’re going to be on your feet a lot.” So it’s a really good time for all of us to start early in the process figuring out where the student should go.
Rick Sizemore: What about positive behavioral support?
Paula Martin: It’s been really fun to work with them to figure out what the students are going to need while they’re in class or maybe on the job. And so the folks here at the center really help the students figure that out and I think one of your other podcasts does a really nice job of explaining that with Jenny …
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Jenny Roudabush and Chris Hall.
Paula Martin: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: If you’ve not heard that episode, please go to the library, VRWorkforceStudio.com. You got to hear Chris talk about how those positive behavioral supports helped him adapt to the environment and really get ready to be on the work floor at Hershey where he’s now a registered apprentice, and engage others, and be part of a team, and be a contributing member of that Hershey team, which we’re so excited about his success.
Paula Martin: And I think some of the accommodations or most of them are very, very simple. Accommodations to help you stay focused. That’s real important. Accommodations in the testing environment here at the center or at Blue Ridge. Figuring out what the student needs. But I think the important thing is for people to understand is once they are on the job, the accommodations rarely cost more than $50 and-
Rick Sizemore: That’s amazing.
Paula Martin: … that’s been amazing.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we’ve been talking with a distinguished panel of experts about CPID, how it works, what it is, how you get into it, what it does for you and then what you can expect to achieve through these wonderful programs and partners. Final thoughts from any of our panelists?
Paula Martin: Rick, I’d just also like to say that we have a huge learner library and it’s been great to do assistive technology but our resources here at the center and in the field are outstanding. Many times, I’ve come into the classroom and realized someone maybe has not got the endurance to take a full-time job, so we refer them to physical therapy or to OT for a sensory eval, or to assistive computer technology evaluation in the field or here at the center. So the resources are just amazing and have helped all of our CPID students.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome.
Emily West: And Rick, I’ve got a final thought. I want to shout to our project director, Dr. Joe Ashley who always says and I think, “Our mission is smashing the tyranny of low expectations.”
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. He is a real champion and has been such a supporter of not only CPID but this podcast and we celebrate the great work that he and his team, and all of you have been able to accomplish for individuals with disabilities. Tish Harris, Paula Martin, Kate Kaegi, Emily West. Such a pleasure to have you all on the podcast today.
Kate Kaegi: Thank you.
Paula Martin: Thank you.
Emily West: Thank you, Rick.
Tish Harris: Thanks.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you for joining us for today’s show. You can always find a new and exciting episode of the VR Workforce Studio on the 15th of every month at VRWorkforceStudio.com. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter. We’ll give you a quick alert every time there’s a new episode and other exciting updates about what’s going on with the podcast.
Special thanks to all of our partners in podcasting for help with today’s show. CBS Health, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Virginia Manufacturers Association, Dominion Energy, The Valley to Virginia Grant, The Hershey Company and The Community Foundation.
Rick Sizemore: Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore with the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.
Rick Sizemore: I wouldn’t say blue hair, I wouldn’t say green hair. It’s sort of teal today. Tish, is that right? What color is your hair today?
Tish Harris: Today, Rick, my hair is rainbow.
Rick Sizemore: Okay.
Tish Harris: Blue. Actually, it’s [inaudible 00:29:18].
Rick Sizemore: It is always-
Tish Harris: You got to cut that.
Rick Sizemore: It is always a pleasure to have you on campus because people love your presentation.
Tish Harris: Thank you.