States embrace evolving workforce strategies for youth and young adults with disabilities

December 1, 2022

This article appeared in the 2022-23 edition of Perspectives.


As states strive to promote workforce inclusion, building career pathways and increasing educational access for youth and young adults with disabilities is key to ensuring their successful transition to adulthood. Policymakers have made progress in engaging youth with disabilities in the workforce over the last few decades. However, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still about two times greater than the rate for those without disabilities — including in CSG’s Eastern region.

Youth and young adults with disabilities face significant barriers as they transition to the workforce. But when policymakers identify and leverage a young person’s unique strengths and diverse talents, they can help them overcome these barriers. One initiative that is helping state policymakers in the East to find solutions is The Center for Advancing Policy and Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth).

CAPE-Youth is a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy, The Council of State Governments, and the Yang-Tan Institute at Cornell University. CAPE-Youth helps states share best practices, develops strategic partnerships between workforce systems, and provides research for policymakers on work-based learning, professional development, and more. Over the past year, CAPE-Youth has worked with CSG East members through a variety of events and initiatives, including a national working group and an education and workforce summit during CSG East’s 2022 Annual Meeting.

National Working Group on Youth Transitions

The National Working Group on Youth Transitions is made up of 50 policymakers and 10 youths and young adults with disabilities who exchange strategies for improving outcomes for entering the workforce. Policymakers and youth come from all CSG regions, with multiple leaders representing CSG East from Delaware, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Despite limitations posed by the pandemic, CAPE-Youth convened two in-person working group meetings: in San Diego, California in December 2021 and Denver, Colorado in June 2022. The meetings enabled participants to learn from subject-matter experts and youth and young adults with disabilities with lived experience.

During the San Diego meeting, the working group reviewed policy recommendations, including strategies to optimize youth development and leadership programs, based on data collected in Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island. In Denver, members attended panels with policymakers, practitioners, and young people who highlighted challenges for youth and young adults with disabilities and intersecting social identities. Panelists discussed issues around juvenile justice, mental health barriers and COVID-19, and Native and Tribal youth communities.

Youth members of the working group led roundtable discussions that highlighted policy considerations for workplace accommodations and remote employment. They also explored other topics important for the long-term success of youth and young adults with disabilities, including financial literacy and transportation accessibility.

Overall, these events foster an environment where policymakers discuss and examine the broad range of policy issues faced by youth and young adults with disabilities and ways to improve outcomes in their respective communities.

“This initiative is a great collaboration with our peers from other states to share best practices. By working together, we can strengthen our ability to improve transition outcomes, including providing employment opportunities, for young people who are blind and visually impaired as they enter adulthood,” said David D’Arcangelo, commissioner at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

CSG East Education and Workforce Summit

During the CSG East 2022 Annual Meeting, CAPE-Youth hosted a panel focused on developing career pathways for youth and young adults as part of the Education and Workforce Summit. The panel included officials from Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont, who provided an overview of high-quality career pathways for youth and young adults entering the workforce.

Speakers discussed approaches in the public and private sectors that help young people reach their full potential through early employment, work-based learning, and mentoring experiences. The panelists explored ways that policymakers can specifically engage with youth and young adults from underserved communities and improve outcomes for all members of society.

Speakers emphasized that effective career pathways programs for youth often include:

– Apprenticeships (including virtual and technical apprenticeships) which are growing in popularity as a proven avenue to advance career readiness among transition-age youth.
– Career Accelerator Programs that bring employers and higher education officials together to ensure students have access to high quality experiential learning opportunities and paid internships.
– Mental health support in the workplace that fosters self-determination and resilience to address high rates of depression, isolation, and anxiety and addresses unique challenges the pandemic presents for youth of color.

What is ahead for CAPE-Youth?

CAPE-Youth is partnering with Maryland to bring together public officials and initiate policy discussions that center on youth and young adults and organizations that serve them. The goal is for leaders from the state’s departments of education, labor, and disability to promote long-term success for youth by ensuring their voices are represented in policy discussions affecting them.

“The opportunity to engage with and learn from youth leaders with disabilities, subject matter experts, members of state legislatures, and other key disability stakeholders has empowered me to identify actions Maryland can take to ensure we are engaging underrepresented youth with disabilities in meaningful ways in order to achieve their goals,” said Jade Gingerich, director of Employment Policy for Maryland’s Department of Disabilities.

CAPE-Youth will continue research and collaborative efforts connecting diverse partners who want to see youth and young adults with disabilities succeed.

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