Why Employers Should Consider Apprenticeships to Address the Tech Talent Gap The talent shortage in…
Actionable Steps Employers Can Take to Help Veteran Apprentices Feel Valued and Supported
With Memorial Day just passed, we want to honor our nation’s Veterans by focusing on key strategies and best practices employers can utilize to help Veteran apprentices excel in the workplace. Veterans not only help organizations build a diverse workforce, they also contribute a wealth of experience and transferable skills. These skills may include creativity, dynamic problem-solving abilities, a strong work ethic, and an affinity for collaboration and teamwork. In order to maximize the potential of Veterans, it’s important for organizations to understand the history of Veteran employment, the overlay of Veterans and disability, and methods for supporting this group in the workplace.
Veterans with Disabilities: Data
Veterans often seek civilian employment when they return home from active duty; however, many struggle to find a job, especially those with disabilities. About 27% of Veterans have a service-connected disability. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, which can both be classified as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, are pervasive among Veterans returning to civilian life. According to The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), these disabilities are underreported. Reports reveal that Veterans with disabilities experience a higher unemployment rate than Veterans without disabilities. Employers who implement accessible apprenticeship programs can diversify their workforce while saving on recruiting and hiring costs. This is a win/win for both employers and Veterans. Employers gain an opportunity to recruit experienced, disciplined workers, and Veterans get access to higher-paying jobs as they return to civilian life.
Impact of Apprenti & Apprenticeship
Apprenti focuses on creating alternative pathways for organizations to access diverse talent and addressing digital skills shortages through apprenticeship. While graduates from higher education average a 75% retention rate after their first year with an employer, Registered Apprenticeship boasts a 91% retention rate, with 86% of Apprenti placements from underrepresented groups. At present, 49% of our apprentices are Veterans, and 30% of them report having a disability. In addition to building a diverse talent pool through the model of apprenticeship, Apprenti provides 30% cost savings over traditionally sourced talent and, as a non-profit, has access to funding and subsidies to further offset training costs. The experience and discipline apprentices provide employers generates a significant and quick impact.
Created to help all apprentices excel, the Apprenti Access Team supports apprentices who are experiencing barriers to full participation in their apprenticeship. The team has implemented principles of Universal Design and digital accessibility standards across the apprenticeship journey to elevate the baseline of accessibility. Additionally, the team instituted a simple and visible individual accommodation process to quickly and effectively provide apprentices with tools and resources.
How We Implement System-Wide Accessible Practices
Implementing system-wide accessible best practices benefits all individuals, not just those with disabilities. The list below outlines small accessibility changes that yielded a significant impact for apprentices in our program:
- Virtual interviews: Apprenti conducts all interviews virtually, which means that Veterans with mobility disabilities don’t need to worry about navigating to an office space for an interview. A virtual interview is convenient and may be more comfortable for individuals who prefer interviewing from their homes.
- Closed captions: Apprenti has made it an organizational practice to turn on automated captions during virtual interviews. This practice enables Veterans with hearing loss to participate, helps individuals with auditory processing disorder to better retain information, and supports those who speak English as a second language.
- Timing flexibility: Apprenti applicants must take a virtual assessment to be eligible for apprenticeship opportunities. Recent changes make it possible for applicants to start and stop the assessment at any time. This means that Veterans with PTSD, who might be triggered in stressful situations like an assessment, can pause it and come back when they are in a more relaxed state. Having the flexibility to start and stop the assessment at their convenience might also be helpful for a parent who needs to attend to their child while taking the assessment.
- GI Bill benefits: Apprenti helps eligible apprentices utilize their GI Bill benefits for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) during their months in On-the-Job Training (OJT). This allows veterans to allocate more time and mental energy toward their apprenticeship.
How We Implement Individual Accommodations
In addition to building an accessible program, the Access Team established a simple and visible accommodation process to provide veterans with disabilities additional support throughout the apprenticeship lifecycle. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the job or working environment that makes it possible for a person with a disability to fully participate and successfully complete their job. Oftentimes, workplaces have obscure accommodation processes that are difficult to navigate, require medical documentation, and lengthy in duration. The lack of clarity around how medical documents are stored or how information is shared creates a fear of being discriminated against due to one’s disability.
The Access Team has reimagined the workplace accommodation process. To start, the Access Team will meet with any applicant or apprentice who requests a meeting. Individuals are not required to submit formal documentation of a disability. The initial meeting focuses on discussing the barriers and challenges experienced as well as information about the apprentices (i.e., did they just move, are they a parent, what is their learning style, etc.). By placing the person at the center, as opposed to a diagnosis, the team is able to work with the individual to identify potential solutions to their unique situation.
A real-life accommodation story
Here’s a real-world example of the accommodation process in action. The Access Team met with an apprentice named Sergio, who had a few service-connected disabilities, including PTSD. He had recently separated from the army and was enrolled in the Apprenti program as a cybersecurity apprentice. Sergio was passionate about technology and excelled during his technical training. When he transitioned into on-the-job training, however, he felt that he was falling behind and was having panic attacks during his work day. Sergio reported feeling unsure and overwhelmed, noting he didn’t even know where to start when it came to requesting accommodations.
During Sergio’s first meeting with the Access Team, the team asked numerous questions to better understand him, the workplace environment, and the challenges.
- Were there specific events or stimuli that triggered Sergio’s panic attacks? Possible accommodation: Triggering work tasks could be delegated to others on his team or his manager could provide additional flexibility in the delivery timeline.
- Was he taking breaks throughout the day? Was there a place where he could use stress-reducing tools such as sensory headphones or meditation apps? Possible accommodation: Flexible schedule with adequate breaks; a wellness room in-office with sensory tools for managing stress. For days when Sergio is working from home, he can engage in different activities during breaks such as watering plants, reading a few pages in a book, sketching, or practicing breath work using a meditation app.
- Was his manager aware of the difficulties that he was experiencing? Possible accommodation: Sergio and his manager could create a protocol to follow if he was triggered during his work day, as it may be challenging for him to articulate what he needs in the moment.
- Would Sergio benefit from a longer leave? Possible accommodation: Medical leave, which would allow Sergio more time to manage his mental health.
There are many different accommodation options for individuals with disabilities. By being open to the accommodation process, employers and apprentices with disabilities can find what works best and equally benefits everyone.
When it comes to implementing system-wide accessible practices and individual accommodations, employers would do well to focus on getting to the root of the challenge and embracing successful strategies to help alleviate those challenges as much as possible. When you have leaders and managers who are equipped to have conversations with employees about what they need, it benefits everyone. It can mean improved recruiting because the company gains a reputation as an organization that invests in and takes care of people, and higher retention rates because individuals feel valued, included, and supported. Creating a culture of disability inclusion can encourage Veterans in apprenticeship to get support early. This proactive approach means that there are more opportunities to diversify your workforce by recruiting Veteran apprentices and setting them up for success in a way that benefits everyone.