Breakout Session I : Starting a Program

Starting a Work Experience Program for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A collaboration between Els for Autism Foundation & PGA National Resort and Spa Have you ever wondered, “How can my organization help bring purpose to the lives of those with disabilities?” Maybe you have never even really asked that question. Well, the Els for Autism Work Experience (WE) program may be your answer!

In 2016, Els for Autism Foundation launched its inaugural WE program with PGA National Resort and Spa, and together the program has continued to run and grow annually. Participants in the program learn industry-specific work skills. With PGA National Resort and Spa, the focus is on the hospitality departments of stewarding, housekeeping, and golf. All participants must have the goal to seek paid employment and work independently after the WE program. Initially, the program ran 16-weeks, allowing participants to work two days a week, rotating through two departments. Across three years, PGA National Resort and Spa has hired six graduates from the partnership, a true testament that program graduates can add value to core business operations.

With the learnings gained, the WE program has shifted to a 10-week, on-the-job training program, allowing participants to work three days a week as a paid employee of Els for Autism Foundation. This change supports the program’s sustainability and ensures participants engage in work experiences mirroring part-time community-based paid employment. This breakout session will focus on supporting interested businesses on how to start a work experience program. Specific topics addressed will include, but are not limited to:

  • Establishing “buy-in” from department heads and staff
  • Training for department heads and staff
  • Supporting the day-to-day process once the program is up and running Benefits of the program to your organization
  • Decision making on hiring trainees with autism spectrum disorder
  • How to transition trainees not hired after each work experience cohort Potential challenges & solutions when starting a program

Audience members will be encouraged to engage in conversations related to these topics actively. The discussion will include a presentation and question and answer period.

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