AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and the Austin Independent School District have partnered on a new workforce training program pilot that aims to give employment opportunities to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
As part of the program, students with intellectual or developmental disabilities will be hired by the city as temporary employees. After undergoing training, students can apply for permanent city positions.
The city’s pilot is based off a framework established between the City of Wylie, Texas Workforce Solutions and Wylie ISD on a vocational program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, per the release.
The program will begin by placing students in four departments, said Council Member Kathie Tovo, who spearheaded the budgetary item. The City of Austin’s Human Resources Department will work in tandem with AISD’s supported employment special education department to transition students from the school setting to the workforce training program.
“We have needs across the [city], in areas as diverse as Animal Services and the Library and the Parks Department, and many other areas in between,” Tovo said. “And so there are really opportunities for individuals with all kinds of interests.”
As part of the program, students working as temporary employees will be eligible for the city’s newly approved $20 minimum wage, which goes into effect Oct. 1. Tovo said her hope is this wage will make these jobs more accessible to students, who could later expand to a more permanent municipal role.
“They will need to compete for permanent jobs but they will certainly have the advantage of having the expertise and the experience of having worked with the city,” Tovo said.
Following the city’s formal launch of the program, AISD will assist with the technical rollout of the program and work with departments who will be taking on student employees. AISD will also offer bus training for participating students as part of the program, per a news release.
Regina Earls, transition services coordinator with AISD’s special education department, said this is a transformative opportunity for people historically at a disadvantage for employments. AISD currently has partnerships with private entities like H-E-B, P. Terry’s and the YMCA; she said she’s excited to expand those connections into the public sector.
Employment specialists within AISD’s supportive employment department will assist roughly 100 students who qualify for the program. Once students are assigned an employment coach, they will conduct assessments of students to best determine their personal strengths and interests, to find a best fit role for them.
Earls said employment specialists are already working with students in city roles and are connecting more to open positions.
“Everybody wants to feel like they contribute,” Earls said. “Persons with disabilities, students with disabilities deserve that as well. And they also have something to contribute to the community as well — they just need an opportunity and a little more help than some of us do.”