Among Americans with disabilities, there is a high rate of unemployment and underemployment — something San Bernardino Valley College and the Uniquely Abled Project are working to change.
This August, Valley College will launch a pilot program providing Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinist training to individuals with autism. This first cohort of eight students will receive on-campus instruction and hands-on work experience using SBVC’s state-of-the-art machinist technology, with San Bernardino County Workforce Development Board later providing job placement.
The program will be made possible thanks to a $10,000 award from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, $15,000 from the San Bernardino Valley College Foundation, and $10,000 from Goodwill. This $35,000 will cover the cost of a job coach who will assist students enrolled in the program.
“We are committed to equity in education and ensuring all students have access to educational opportunities at SBVC that will improve their quality of life,” SBVC Foundation Interim Director Mike Layne said.
The Uniquely Abled Project’s Uniquely Abled Academy Program offers vocational training and job development for high-functioning adults on the autism spectrum, and has successfully placed more than 90 percent of its graduates with jobs. Using funds provided by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Goodwill purchased the Uniquely Abled Academy curriculum for SBVC.
“The Uniquely Abled Project is delighted to partner with SBVC to extend the benefits of a Uniquely Abled Academy to the manufacturers and uniquely abled individuals of the Inland Empire,” Uniquely Abled Project Founder and President Ivan Rosenberg said. “Manufacturers get the skilled CNC operators they need, and individuals with Level 1 autism will have good paying career jobs that will enable them to live productive and fulfilling lives. Our hope is that this will be the first of a number of UAAs in the Inland Empire.”
Machinist Prof. Miguel Ortiz first learned about the Uniquely Abled Project in 2017, and thought it would be a good avenue for SBVC to explore. A CNC machinist operates equipment that produce parts and tools made from plastic, metal, and other materials. There is a shortage of qualified CNC machinists in the manufacturing sector, and when students complete the Uniquely Abled Academy, they can get matched with jobs paying anywhere from $33,000 to $54,000 annually.
“For the individual and the industry, it’s a win-win,” Ortiz said. “Being a CNC operator is the most prevalent job and easiest way to get into the industry.”
The California Department of Rehabilitation will provide participant referrals to SBVC, and before starting the Uniquely Abled Academy Program, students will go through a screening process to ensure this is the right fit for them. Layne said the hope is to have a second, larger cohort start in 2022, and because of the key partnerships with the Department of Rehabilitation, Goodwill, and San Bernardino County Workforce Development, SBVC should be able to “successfully launch, grow, and sustain the project in future years.”
Jonathan Weldy, chairman of the San Bernardino County Workforce Development Board’s Special Populations Committee, said the organization “applauds Valley College, the Uniquely Abled Project, and all of the supporters of this model program that will create great career opportunities for a segment of the population that is often left out. At Workforce Development, we look forward to working with program graduates and our business community in providing job placement services.”