There has been a great focus on millennials in the workforce: how they will change jobs more frequently and how their work ethic is different than previous generations. But there is a gap in the workforce that parents and politicians need to focus on – young persons with learning disabilities. The economic value of this population has immense potential benefit. How do we partner the business community with these talented youth? What needs to happen for this demographic to receive the opportunities that are critical for their success in the workforce?
As a mother, lawyer and entrepreneur, I saw this disparity and together with two colleagues, founded BroadFutures, a nonprofit organization that partners with local businesses in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area to give young persons with learning disabilities work-based growth opportunities to develop their skills for a future career and to provide pipeline of talent for business. BroadFutures has been active in organizations that serve the area, including the DC Business Leadership Network, the National Youth Transitions Center, the Youth Transitions Collaborative, The Disability Mentoring Coalition, and the Greater Washington Internship Coalition.
There are no existing nonprofits focused specifically on work-based learning (internships) for youth with learning and attention challenges. Also, there are few programs that take a holistic and individualized approach, as utilized by BroadFutures.
BroadFutures has filled these gaps with their services. Work-based learning is a critical vehicle for young people to gain experience and learn first-hand about an organization’s operation. At the same time, it is a prime opportunity for businesses and nonprofits to recruit local talent. BroadFutures partners with these local organizations to give individuals with learning disabilities the experiential education they need while also aiding the partnering group in achieving its mission and goals.
It is critical that we as a community take innovative and concerted efforts to support companies and organizations that encourage investment in internships and work-based learning for young people with learning disabilities. Opportunities for people of all abilities – of DIVERSE abilities need to be the priority.
The unemployment and drop-out rates for young people with learning disabilities are staggering. BroadFutures has been on a mission to disrupt that trend with its programs and partnerships to help these young people stay on track for growth and confidence in a work-based learning environment that otherwise is unavailable
to them. The contributions these young people provide the partnering groups ultimately benefits all of us, including, the local and U.S. economy and society as a whole.In its first two years, BroadFutures met with great success completing three highly successful pilot programs. Participation from young people and local partners has been strong, and it is looking to double the number in 2016. The individuals with learning disabilities who have participated in the program have gone on to either further educational pursuits or full or part-time employment, and some of them both. The communities in which these partnerships have taken place have embraced the BroadFutures programs and taken notice.
The work-based learning was pivotal to the success of the young people participating in the program. It allowed them to express increased self-confidence as well as the ability to self-advocate. These results empowered the participants in their post-program transitions to further employment and education. Participating partners have also seen the great value and impact the young people served as part of the staff.
Parents of young people with learning disabilities may not be aware of programs like BroadFutures. These young people who transition from secondary education or the workforce need to build their independence, self confidence and self-advocacy skills. They have likely encountered learning and attention challenges while in school and need the work-based learning experience to develop and improve their self-advocacy skills and independence. It is critical for parents and their children to have access to such transformative experiences. Education is critical for our young people, but without practical work experiences starting at an early age, they will be at a competitive and emotional disadvantage to their typically developing peers.
BroadFutures is one such program that is here to help. To learn more about our programs and partners, visit www.BroadFutures.org.