Young people with disabilities are finding a place in the workforce, thanks to a partnership between Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas (Kansas City) and the University of Missouri—Kansas City (UMKC) Institute for Human Development. Later this month the Kansas City Goodwill will celebrate the commencement of the Urban Career Academy, a program that assisted a dozen students with disabilities in exploring various career options.
As a part of the academy, the students — who recently completed high school — explored careers at Goodwill in areas that included accounting, human resources and retail. The students spent four days a week getting hands-on experience, job training and mentoring at local Goodwill locations, and one day a week getting classroom instruction from local business partners. This exposure included mock interviews and inside information about what employers look for when they hire.
The Urban Career Academy is in its fourth year of a competitive grant from the U. S. Department of Labor and expects to earn one final grant next year. So far the Labor Department has invested $1.3 million into the effort.
Derrick Willis a researcher at the UMKC Institute for Human Development says the idea is to test this model with the hopes of replicating the academies across the U.S.
“We’re pleased with the work and the results we’re getting,” Willis says. “We’re finding that businesses are learning about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.”
So far, five Urban Career academies have been held by organizations throughout Kansas City. Of the 104 participating students, 65 ended up in a job, internship or college. The students from the Kansas City Goodwill’s academy who did not find employment will become clients of the agency and continue to get job search assistance.
“We believe we have an obligation to make the communities we live in, better places to live,” said Interim President/CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas Stefany Williams. “Through our GoodWORKS program, clients receive the comprehensive job training program that helps bring out their ability to be self-sufficient. Through our education, training and employment services, they receive the assistance necessary to get and keep a job.”