Uniquely Abled Academy meets needs of students and employers

nine young people holding certificates of graduation

You see the signs everywhere, “Hiring – CNC operators.” Computer numerical controlled machinists have been in high demand for years. At the same time, people with autism spectrum disorder and their families have often been challenged in finding a career that utilizes their innate abilities while acknowledging some accommodations may be needed.

These student and employer needs have led to the development of the Uniquely Abled Academy at South Central College (SCC). Uniquely Abled Academy is a 12-week program for young adults with autism to study machine tool technology on a college campus, with college faculty, while receiving additional supports to ensure success.

The Customized Workforce Education (CWE) division at SCC, with campuses in North Mankato and Faribault, saw enormous success from this program this year when 11 students participated in the first cohort. Students learned from established instructors, took and passed industry-recognized credential exams, participated in mock interviews with managers from local industry (who were looking to hire), and received credit for prior learning if they choose to continue their studies in Machine Tool Technology at SCC. The program was free to the first cohort’s students and their families.

This year’s cohort was paid for by Innovation Grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The average cost was approximately $10,000 per student, which covered instruction, tools, transportation (if needed), exams, support personnel, etc. Additionally, the grant paid for training for employer partners. Managers and hiring staff were educated on how to identify traits seen among individuals on the autism disorder spectrum, and how to make accommodations in the interview process and in the work space to ensure accessibility and equity.

In order to provide future sessions of no-cost training with the same level of support for students and employers, SCC is seeking funding. If you or your organization would like to contribute to this program, please email Kristin.Underwood@southcentral.edu or call 507-389-7429.

This past summer, nine Uniquely Abled Academy students (pictured) received industry-recognized credentials, two students received certificates of completion, two students enrolled in additional classes at South Central College, and participants are being hired as machinists as we speak. The students and instructors were so proud on graduation day. Families beamed with excitement. And employers are lining up to participate in future cohorts.