School-to-Work program connects students with disabilities to employers

Since 2005, the King County School-to-Work program has been partnering with businesses to hire students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, both strengthening and diversifying their workforce. The effort brings together schools, state, and employment agencies to connect students with employment services while still in their high school transition programs.

Andrew, a School-to-Work program participant.

“Our motto is jobs by June,” said coordinator Richard Wilson, “and the program is designed to assist students to find paid employment before leaving school.”

Currently, the School-to-Work program is serving its 18th cohort of students. Throughout the years, they’ve placed students in a wide range of positions in industries ranging from restaurant to retail, and healthcare to sports facilities.

Part of the Equity Equation

Throughout the pandemic, the School-to-Work program maintained student enrollment and engagement even as schools began serving students remotely and businesses were not hiring. To meet the challenge, like most organizations the program moved more online. It hosted sessions, developed videos, ramped up translations, and offered interpretation designed to connect students to employment services. Once connected, agencies providing those services developed innovative ways of supporting students while socially distanced and with remote technology. This combined effort allowed for ongoing student engagement and services throughout the entire year.

“We are working hard to address service disparities that many students face,” Wilson said. “School-to-Work has translated its materials into 18 languages, offers interpretation at all meetings, and has invited communities using over 30 languages to this year’s sessions.” Information about these sessions can be found on the School-to-Work website, along with short orientation videos about the program and preparing for life after high school.

By keeping students connected to services, participants in the program were able to obtain work during difficult times, and others not yet employed are ready to enter the workforce as the job market’s demand has increased. “We’re looking forward to a successful year,” Wilson added.