The electricity of Lauren’s apprenticeship.
VR and Apprenticeship are working together to create career pathways for people with disabilities.
VR Workforce Singers: VR Workforce Studio.
Lauren Prescott: It almost brings me to tears, this school is great. It’s really changed my life, it’s put me on the right path. I’m exactly where I need to be to keep going. Just do it. Just do it, Rick.
Jake Hart: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Flora Frazier: Working in a field that I understand.
Jake Hart: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job and a career, you got to look at how life-changing this is.
Jake Hart: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Jake Hart: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Jake Hart: Now, here are the hosts of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore and Betsy Civilette.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to Episode 108 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast, the electricity of Lauren’s apprenticeship. Today’s show all about vocational rehabilitation and registered apprenticeship as we bring you the story of Lauren Prescott. In today’s big inspiration showcase, we talk with Lauren about her disability, her hands-on vocational rehabilitation training and her path to employment and apprenticeship. We also have a couple of nationally recognized experts on vocational rehabilitation and apprenticeship later in the show, to talk about the amazing opportunities that emerge when VR and employers embrace the inclusive apprenticeship model to fill the talent pipelines for business and industry. Our show begins today from the graduation ceremony at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center with my fabulous and talented cohost, Betsy Civilette. Hey, Betsy.
Betsy Civilette: Well Rick, the graduation ceremony here at Wilson celebrates important milestones for a number of people with disabilities who are ready to enter the workforce. Lauren, who we will talk within just a few minutes in the big inspiration showcase, graduates today as an electrician’s assistant marking the first step in her career pathway to becoming employed as a registered apprentice.
Lauren Prescott: I feel really excited, I’m happy to be here with everybody. We’re having a lot of fun, just taking pictures and we’re all really excited to walk across stage. We definitely accomplished our goal here and we’re ready to start our lives, right guys? Yeah.
Betsy Civilette: Lauren’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, Erin Hudgins is leading the efforts to help Lauren move into a career as an apprentice that will prepare her to become a licensed electrician.
Erin Hudgins: I think she does have what it takes to build a nice little career pathway through electrical work.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we’re in the VR Workforce Studio with Lauren Prescott, a young woman that I’ve gotten to know here through Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Let’s start with your story, how did you wind up at Wilson Workforce?
Lauren Prescott: I wound up at Wilson Workforce, well, my sister actually got in a car accident years ago and she ended up coming here and she absolutely loved it. She let me in on information about the school. I thought it was a good idea. I’ve been working … I don’t want to say I’ve been working bad jobs, Staples, Ollie, 7-Eleven, Dollar Tree, just stuff that I couldn’t really progress in.
Rick Sizemore: They’re fine jobs but they’re not careers.
Lauren Prescott: Right and that’s something, I need a career. I wanted something I can actually progress and just get really good at. I mean, you can only become a manager at a retail store or a manager at a restaurant.
Rick Sizemore: How did you figure out you wanted to be an electrician?
Lauren Prescott: Well, I’ve always been really mechanical. I like to know how things work. I like to try to decipher issues on things. Electricians do make a lot of money too.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, that’s sweet.
Lauren Prescott: I mean, if I’m allowed to say that.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Lauren Prescott: I thought it was one of the best programs here.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. So, tell us about your disability.
Lauren Prescott: Well, I have ADHD, in a way I don’t really look at it like it’s a disability because it is part of my personality and it gives me the characteristics that I have as a person. My memory’s bad sometimes, I do have trouble remembering things. Sometimes my instructors do have to tell me to, “Calm down, slow down, Lauren. Life isn’t a rush, we’re going to get it done,” and that’s good to hear that … it’s good to know that they know when I’m trying to be a little fast because sometimes I’m not thinking about how fast I’m trying to get something done, I just want to do it the right way, try to prove myself too.
Rick Sizemore: Well. Let’s take this from the beginning. You developed an interest in electricity, you know you have a disability. You came to Wilson Workforce and you were enrolled in the external training option. Tell us how that worked and how you’ve learned the skills to be an electrician.
Lauren Prescott: I’ve learned so much working with my instructors around campus, I’ve learned how to do receptacles, single poles, three-way, four-way switches, I can put in light fixtures. I actually changed my mom’s light fixture in her dining room a couple weeks ago or three weeks ago. So, I’ve learned a lot and I came from absolutely knowing nothing. Honestly, I wasn’t even really sure how to hold a drill the right way when I got here and now I’m pretty good at it. I can change bits, I can put drywall, holes that are a perfect square in the wall for an outlet.
Rick Sizemore: Well, there had to be some initial beginning place where they tested you, evaluated you to see that you had that skill level. Tell us about that.
Lauren Prescott: When I got here I had to go for a week evaluation before I actually came to the school. It’s really cool, the people there are so sweet. They basically have you do a bunch of tests too. I remember there was this one test where it was a spinny wheel and it basically times you to see how many pegs you can drop in a hole. And then, there was a circuit board and we had to … because I want to do electricity so they’re going to give me a little bit of stuff for electricity. I did a little bit of everything because you pick. My first choice was electricity and then my second choice was HVAC. I guess, they said I was okay enough to do it.
Rick Sizemore: Then you moved into hands-on training with a licensed electrician.
Lauren Prescott: yep.
Rick Sizemore: Hands-on training, tell us about that. What’s the average day like of learning how to be an electrician and what’s half a million square feet here? I mean, there’s a lot of electricity flowing through this place.
Lauren Prescott: Yeah, the campus is huge. We have go-karts that we ride around to get to the buildings we need to do work with. We convert a lot of light fixtures. We’re actually here soon. We used to just change the fluorescence to LEDs as they go out. But here soon, we ordered tons of light bulbs, we’re just going to start converting all of them at once. We have to put wire mold up, that’s wire mold right there. We also have to put holes in the wall and actually fish wire. Sometimes it can get a little tedious, two days ago we put a doorbell in.
Rick Sizemore: So, just run through the skills that you have right now as an electrician’s helper. Then we’re going to talk about where you’re headed in your career. But tell us what you can do now.
Lauren Prescott: All right. So, I know the basics, but coming from knowing absolutely nothing, I think I’m doing very well. So, I can do single pole switches, three-way switches, four-way switches. We can add outlets, multi-meter reading, they teach me how to read the multi-meter. They taught me how to use basically every tool that we use in the trades from the drills to a hole saw, it’s the hole saw that was a little challenging the first time I tried to use a hole saw.
Lauren Prescott: They put me in 12 weeks of advanced wiring, well, basic first, basic wiring and then they put me in another 12 week of advanced wiring. And that helped me a lot because we were on wire boards every day to do single poles, three ways, four ways. And we talked about things. We had like a little exam at the end of the class and it was cool. We go over code like the rules of the trade, what you can and can’t do, what you should never ever do, what wires you should never put together, stuff like that.
Rick Sizemore: Steve Detwiler is an electrician who works as part of the physical plant team at Wilson and worked with Lauren over the past year during the hands-on portion of her training program. Steve, you’ve been known to say that Lauren has a wide-ranging basic skillset as an electrician’s assistant.
Steve Detwiler: Whether it’s climbing down into a crawl space, running a new branch circuit for outlets for a conference room or climbing into a lift and going 30 feet in the air to the top of a light pole to change out a light fixture for a parking lot.
Rick Sizemore: So, you’re saying to me she can do this work.
Steve Detwiler: Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: Lauren, how do you feel about the school and what you’ve learned here?
Lauren Prescott: Don’t let anything hold you back in life. Wilson has definitely been a blessing for me. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life and then I found out about the school. I’ve definitely feel like they set me up for everything I need to do. It almost brings me to tears, just this school is great, it’s really changed my life, it’s put me on the right path and I’m exactly where I need to be, just keep going. This school is great, nobody’s going to judge you here. We’re all friends, we’re all a big family. I think don’t ever let anything hold you back, just do it, just do it, just do it, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: There’s a new and exciting opportunity for people with disabilities to get involved in apprenticeships. David Leon, the Director of Workforce Programs at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services joins us now with more.
David Leon: Thanks Rick. We do. I have not been this excited about a work project in a long time. It is an RSA Disability Innovation Fund grant, we are calling it pathways. And our goal is to help 750 of our clients enter into state, federal, local government positions or registered apprenticeships in STEM or skilled trades. We are really excited about a complete focus and almost a tunnel vision on career pathways around registered apprenticeship and state, federal and local government. And because it’s a demonstration project, we’re going to get to do some really unique things through this grant.
David Leon: We are partnering directly with the Department of Labor and Industry’s, Office of Registered Apprenticeship for the state, we are also partnering with the Department of Human Resource Management. Each of those agencies are housing a VR liaison. In other words, a counselor position that instead of working at DARS will be housed within those two agencies working on making inroads, developing relationships and creating opportunities for more people with disabilities to enter into those fields.
Rick Sizemore: Dave, apprenticeships have proven to be an effective way for business and industry to meet their workforce needs. Employers though who make their apprenticeship programs inclusive of people with disabilities enjoy significant returns on investment, have higher productivity and lower turnover. If you’d like to know more, visit the link for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in our show notes for today’s show at vrworkforcestudio.com. David Leon is the Director for Workforce Programs with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Rick Sizemore: Josh Christianson is the Project Director for the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship or PIA, which is led by the Wheelhouse Group where Josh is a senior consultant. Welcome Josh.
Josh Christianson: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: And Debby Hopkins is the Project Manager for Appteon, an industry intermediary for the past decade or so. Debby has worked within industry to establish registered apprenticeships. Welcome to the podcast, Debby.
Debby Hopkins: Yes. Thanks so much for having me here, I’m looking forward to this, Rick.
Betsy Civilette: Josh and Debby, you are both considered experts in how VR can connect with business and industry and offer a career path for people like Lauren and her counselor, Erin. What is your reaction to what Lauren has done so far to prepare for her career as an electrician?
Josh Christianson: This is Josh, I can take it first, Debby. My reaction would go something like this, and I would applaud them and I would cheer them on and say, “Keep it up,” because I really believe we need more of this. We need more apprenticeship as a pathway because it really is an incredible tool to integrate it in competitive employment. It’s just a solid pathway to the middle class really and setting people up for a career. And so, I applaud them for utilizing it and I would cheer them on to keep it up was my initial reaction.
Rick Sizemore: You can’t see this huge smiling face, Lauren sitting here just beaming at your comments.
Josh Christianson: Good. Good.
Lauren Prescott: Thank you.
Debby Hopkins: And I would add that the most important aspect is to be work- ready. Lauren is work-ready. She’s had the training, she’s had the exposure, she has the coaching and the mindset. She is ready and so many candidates who are looking for their first job or not, but Lauren is.
Lauren Prescott: Awesome.
Betsy Civilette: Well Josh, could you tell us more about the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship and how it’s been involved with vocational rehabilitation?
Josh Christianson: Sure. So first and foremost, PIA, as we tend to call it, Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, we really work to create accessible and inclusive registered apprenticeship programs, also pre-apprenticeship and other alternative credentialing. And we focus on high growth, high demand sectors, ones where there is a need and will be a need for the future, in the future around talent. And we’re really trying to help companies, especially in this competitive environment and in a war for talent, help them tap into traditionally underrepresented talent pools. That’s PIA’s large overview is helping make accessible and inclusive programs. And when we do that, we’re just really highly collaborative in nature. By design of our work thankfully, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor really encourages us to work with a variety of stakeholders and have an impact where we can.
Josh Christianson: So by virtue of that, we collaborate with a lot of folks intermediaries, we’ll probably hear about employers, advocacy organizations and public workforce entities like vocational rehab. And so, specific to VR, we have done some very direct work in creating some resources. We’re a small team, only been around a little over a year but we’ve had the opportunity to work in both Michigan and the great State of Virginia. We worked with Betsy and David Leon to come up just supporting, helping them with a resource. We helped make a sheet that was the value proposition around both apprenticeship and hiring people with disabilities. So, it has a business case for why companies and organizations need to look at apprenticeship. The business case for hiring people with disabilities, we put that together with very state-specific, VR-specific information programs, whatever they want to advertise and promote.
Josh Christianson: And we also generally on those put a story, much like Lauren’s of success that they can use to provide an anecdote and the story to draw people in. And we give that to them to then have the original source file. We make it look pretty and then give it to them to have the source file to use as they see fit now and in the future. So, those are my specific touchpoints we’ve done with VR but we’ve had other conversations and I look forward to in the second year, as we really focus more on public workforce, finding other ways and opportunities to collaborate with voc rehab.
Betsy Civilette: You put the partner in partnership, that’s for sure. So Debby, how can industry intermediaries like Appteon help business and VR?
Debby Hopkins: Well, first I’ll tell you what an industry intermediary is because it’s really a fairly new term. There are 16 industry intermediaries like Appteon who are commissioned by the Department of Labor to expand both the number of US apprenticeships and to increase the equity of apprenticeship opportunity for underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities. So, industry intermediaries really serve as connectors to assist business, training, education partners, develop new national or state apprenticeship programs to secure funding, to help support those programs and to learn how to tap into diverse apprenticeship candidates including through VR.
Debby Hopkins: We help the broad workforce system, including VR again, to better understand how apprenticeship works so that they can coach program participants like Lauren to explore registered apprenticeship career opportunities. And Josh had mentioned pre-apprenticeship, I’d like to just say that Rick and I share a truly terrific experience with the Wilson Workforce Rehab Center’s launch of a pre-apprenticeship program that was designed and performs to directly connect students to employers apprenticeship programs. And a VR well designed pre-apprenticeship is really considered a national best practice and it’s a fast track to apprenticeship in these high demand, high- paying careers.
Betsy Civilette: Well Josh, what is the most important thing in your opinion for Lauren and Erin to think about as they move into the apprenticeship phase?
Josh Christianson: Well, I started by applauding them because I think they’re on the right track. And I think where they are now will play out in a positive outcome. I think it’s something like 95% of all apprentices yield to full-time employment. So, I think they’re set and I’m excited because as I mentioned, it really can be a life-changing option. When you look at the change in income of people before apprenticeship and then average income after apprenticeship is really sizeable. And so, putting you on a trajectory to a solid career, I think they’re in good shape.
Josh Christianson: And I think the other thing I would encourage them to do is really to help us build awareness and advocate for these opportunities and advertise their experience, pass along, play it forward, really what we’re doing right now on this podcast to build awareness so that others can take advantage of what is a truly powerful tool but underutilized at the moment.
Betsy Civilette: Debby, what are the key points of business? And frankly, VR should concentrate on to be successful using apprenticeships to build their workforce.
Debby Hopkins: Well, my background before getting into apprenticeship system and workforce and so forth was in human resources. And I can say that today, apprenticeship is really part of an evolution of human resource management. It is evolving for companies to take control, to build their own pipeline of talent, rather than just stealing from each other for individuals who may or may not have the tenure with them that they would like. So, apprenticeship model, the registered apprenticeship model really is a design of ladders, career pathways that have this consistent theoretical instruction so that the apprentice can learn why something is important in a job. And the dedicated mentoring, it’s usually one on one mentoring on the job so they learn the how’s. And by the end of their apprenticeship program, they’ve mastered a job, not just one skill, they have mastered a job.
Debby Hopkins: So, businesses are advised when they launch an apprenticeship program to have the commitment and the thinking and the culture that they are planning for future workforce needs in a real organized and consistent way, they’re investing in the development of their people and the pipeline of their candidates. So, VR and the broad workforce system, really through the understanding that it’s the employer engagement that leads all of this, they can help prepare candidates who are work-ready like Lauren and apprenticeship-ready, which means they’re coming in with an attitude to continue learning exactly what that employer wants to teach them for how to understand and implement the job and really contribute to their success as a business. So, that’s the type of thing, the key points, it’s an investment in the future for both the company and the apprentice.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we’re spread out all over the country as we record this podcast today, but I’m the lucky guy who’s sitting here with Lauren and she is beaming. Lauren, what do you think and how do you feel after having heard Josh and Debby talk about this?
Lauren Prescott: Blessed. I feel blessed.
Rick Sizemore: Well, tell us more, what’s your reaction to all this?
Lauren Prescott: Well, it feels amazing to be the person that you guys wanted to share stories so other people could get a feel for what the school is really for and all the other people who are helping the school, just awesome. Thank you.
Debby Hopkins: I had had a thought, I love quilts, my family is big into quilt and quilt-making and it’s an odd correlation but for the workforce system, each of these agencies and communities and grants and so forth, they’re providing a service with a patch but it’s when there’s a real community network of quilts, the communities are connected. The workforce partners, economic development, VR, all the workforce stakeholders, they’re really connected to help provide this quilt of support and direction for the individuals who are looking for employment and careers and for the businesses to help influence the candidate readiness to join the organization. So, I would say that apprenticeship really serves well in that whole network of thinking about how the community can come together to help businesses really build the candidates that they need and to have a more diverse talent pool, which is one of the big goals of industry today.
Rick Sizemore: Josh, final thoughts?
Josh Christianson: Yeah. 100% agree with everything Debby said, and if I’m going to build upon her quilt analogy, maybe it’s not the patches but some of the things I’ve observed might be the stitching or sewing or stuffing to really bring all this together. In the short-term looking at this, there’s a couple of things that stand out and a lot of it is, how do we get employers to take more advantage of this? How do they use apprenticeship as a talent recruiting development tool? Because right now it’s not enough. And so, I would encourage employers to … I think it takes a little more long-term vision, not as much short-term thinking it, it is a little bit thinking about two, three, four years out and what that means for your company.
Josh Christianson: So, I’d encourage that because we need larger groups of apprenticeship to really prove out the case for talent development .And for a long time companies, there was a bit of a hassle headache, there are increasingly more supports. Intermediaries like Appteon and Debby’s work can be a huge help to employers in navigating the process. There’s an increased amount of funding coming to states that could be tapped into. There’s just a lot of support out there for employers now more than ever to take advantage of it. So, that’s one thing I would encourage. And then, also I would say there’s a bit of onus on not just employers but the rest of us to figure out how apprenticeships, especially in high growth, high demand sectors.
Josh Christianson: That’s what I work on so clean energy, IT, finance and healthcare, they do not have the supports and structures and funding in place that programs like Lauren’s do in traditional realm of construction and welding, plumbing, electricians, those have tried and true structures in place often in line with the union that have the testing, the preparation, all of the apprenticeship outline. And that doesn’t exist in these other entities. And so, I think in order to really get employers to think long term and take on a bigger share, we’re also going to have to figure out how we can rapidly come up with strong structures that are already in place for employers to take advantage of for job seekers like Lauren to jump into and have it be a tried and true path.
Rick Sizemore: You have a webinar, Josh and Debby, tell us quickly about that as we wrap up.
Debby Hopkins: Yes, I’m very excited. Josh, he’s a wonderful speaker and he’s joining us along with another representative from a program that the Department of Labor has called EARN. And the webinar is going to be on Tuesday, June the 28th, from two to three Eastern. It’s Disability Inclusive Apprenticeship A Successful Business Strategy and we’ll really focus on the ways that businesses can use apprenticeship and how it helps them. It’ll also be recorded and be available on our website, appteon.com to for play later if someone can’t make the webinar.
Rick Sizemore: Josh Christianson, Debby Hopkins on behalf of my co-host, Betsy Civilette, thank you so much for being here.
Josh Christianson: Congratulations to Lauren and Erin, keep it up and thanks for having us on.
Debby Hopkins: Yes, thank you.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse update with the always entertaining and informative, Heather Servais. Hey Heather.
Heather Servais: Hey Rick, glad to be here. Well, since we’re talking about apprenticeships, I have a lot of great resources on apprenticeships. And the first that I have for you is actually a curated list that’s content created by us at the NCRTM. We created this list of partner resources that were created by TA centers and federal partners. And this list has more than 10 different resources that are geared towards VR professionals to really help learn more about apprenticeships. And on this sheet, we’ve done the work for you, it’s all in one place, you can find things like on-demand trainings, toolkits and guides. So, highly recommend you check that out, especially if you’re just starting to dabble in apprenticeships as a counselor. This is a great starting point to learn more. The second resource is from the VR Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment and this is a useful fact sheet on apprenticeships for VR counselors.
Heather Servais: The third resource I have is actually an on-demand webinar that was created by the VR Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment and this is about rehabilitation, counseling and apprenticeships. And what this webinar does is it introduces state VR agency to registered apprenticeship programs and really, really gets into how to continue your learning and learn about practical application of apprenticeships throughout the VR case service delivery process. And so, if you’re new to apprenticeships or this is just something that’s taking root in your practice, it’s a great introductory course for you to take and learn a little bit more about how you can work with your customers and figure out this apprenticeship process so that you can help them achieve their employment goal.
Rick Sizemore: Heather Servais directs the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials. Thank you for joining us for today’s show. Links to all of the resources discussed on today’s show are located in the show notes at VRworkforcestudio.com. Until next time, join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.
Jake Hart: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by vocational rehabilitation’s partners in podcasting. Audio content for the podcast is provided to VR partners in podcasting by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.