A sampling of work training programs

The information in this post comes to you courtesy of Jackie Martin of Vocational Steps. She’s always on the lookout for ways to provide atypical young people with job training and opportunities, and had sent me a list of several programs already in place around the US.

As Jackie told me in an email, “…the different programs/companies [in the list] actually came from different people who would email and say, ‘I found this link and it sounds interesting’ and then I researched each one to get their information.  I wanted to be able to show people here in CA that there are programs for our young people – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to duplicate it! …[T]he more people know about successful employment models, the quicker we can start duplicating them in our own cities and be able to have more of our young people employed.”

Jackie is now “working with a new company called ‘CoNNect’ (connectproductsandpeople.com).  It is based in Murrieta CA with the main warehouse there, a small one in Colton and now one in Corona.  The oversimplified description is that the CEO–Jonathon Mills–wants to help people with disabilities (and veterans) get some work experience and then help them find a job out in the community.” The jobs have included things like office work and sorting recycled plastics, with more possibilities on the horizon.

What follows is the list of particular programs in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. If you live near one of them, you might want to check it out. For the rest of us, learning about these programs may help us figure out what can be done in our own communities.


A non-profit vocational center, animation and working studio for young adults on the Autism Spectrum.

  • Accredited certificate from Adobe Flash Systems (Programs taught: Flash, Photoshop, Dream Weaver or Mocha Pro)
  • 3 year Program (10 months per year, 5 days per week)
  • Vocational center and working studio
  • Visually-gifted ASD individuals
  • Graphic Arts
  • Animation
  • Web Design
  • Visual Effects
  • Rotoscoping


  • Full-Time Program: 3 yrs., 5 days per week, 10 months per year
  • Private Lessons: To prepare individuals for the Accredited Program
  • Summer Workshops: 6 weeks, 3 sessions available:
  • Animator
  • Video Game Creation
  • Movie Magic-Visual Effects

Exceptional Minds  – 13400 Riverside Drive, Suite 211, Sherman Oaks, CA  91423

(818) 387-8811




Non-profit organization that creates and nurtures self-sustaining small businesses designed around the skills of the young adults with autism and developmental disabilities that serve as its workforce.  They currently employ 40 people.  Some work 2 hours per, 2 days per week and others work 30—40 hours per week.   “EV” operates six (6) ‘ventures’:

  • A full laundry service (laundry and dry cleaning)
  • Office services (collating, stapling, stuffing envelopes, etc.)
  • Candles and gifts, sold in their gift shop (they make their own candles and scents)
  • Cleaning and maintenance service for city buses
  • An event center that rents space for meetings and conferences, and they staff the event
  • Parking at football games for the University of North Carolina

 Extraordinary Ventures  – 200 South Elliot Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Phone: 919-967-1100                            




Vocationally-based, hands-on high school offering academics and vocational training to students who qualify.

  • Serves students in grades 9-12 who, if they qualify, attend from nine surrounding cities
  • Information night for potential candidates is offered to 5th—8th graders at their respective schools
  • Offer 14 “shops”:
  • Collision Repair
  • Automotive Technician
  • Carpentry
  • Machine
  • Electronics
  • Electrician
  • Horticulture
  • Health Assisting
  • Food Management
  • Cosmetology
  • Business Technology
  • Programming & Web Design
  • HVAC-R (Heat, Vent, A/C & Refr)
  • CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting)
  • Each “shop” is a total hands-on learning experience (e.g. Students build a house every year)
  • Co-op program: Second semester of junior and senior years, students alternate working at a business for one week and studying at school the next week.  They are paid by the employer.
  • Very strict selection criteria
  • They provide for students with special needs and have had Life Skills students in their program

Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School  – 240 Sykes Street Palmer, MA 01069



MINDSPARK – Santa Monica, CA

Socially Responsible Outsourcing

Many U.S. companies outsource their software testing to offshore companies in India or China, which has many drawbacks due to the time zone and cultural differences. This leads to communication inefficiencies that may increase the effective cost of these services. The software industry is already entrenched in a model where the software testing services are not performed at the customer’s location. In effect, MindSpark will also be an outsourced IT company, but instead of customers outsourcing to companies in India or China, they can outsource to a socially conscious company in America offering high quality services at competitive rates. Any company that chooses to outsource their software testing work to MindSpark can feel satisfaction that they are employing people in America and providing opportunities for individuals with specialized abilities to be gainfully employed.

Core Commitment to Social Purpose

Consistent with its socially responsible mission, MindSpark Inc. was incorporated as a benefit corporation in the state of California in May 2013. A benefit corporation, legal in California since January 1, 2012, allows entrepreneurs and investors to organize corporations that can pursue economic and social objectives simultaneously. The benefit corporation has a core commitment to social purpose embedded in its organizational structure, with an additional commitment to full transparency and accurate assessment and reporting of its social, environmental, and financial performance and impact.

The MindSpark Training Academy (MTA) was incorporated as a non-profit organization in June 2013.  In late 2014, MTA will attain 501(c)(3) status and will become eligible for funding from foundations that support organizations with tax-exempt status. A higher level of funding will allow MTA to offer more deserving young adults the opportunity to obtain the training required for employment as software testers.

The principal owners of MindSpark Inc. are working without compensation to launch and manage the enterprise. Growing the business will enable MindSpark to train and hire increasing numbers of qualified and deserving employees. As a vital and socially conscious benefit corporation, MindSpark will provide profits to be distributed to its employees in the future.

MindSpark Training Academy

The MindSpark Training Academy was created to provide vocational training to talented and qualified individuals with specialized abilities, particularly young adults on the autism spectrum. The customized training will enable these individuals to use their interest in technology, keen eye for detail, and sustained focus to earn a living. Attention to detail and sustained focus are highly valued in the field of software testing, which can be enjoyable for people with an aptitude for finding patterns and irregularities, and highly satisfying when problems are identified in the software that is being tested.

Candidates who are interested in the training program will be asked to fill out an application form and an assessment checklist prior to being invited for an interview and further assessment. Only those candidates with a high likelihood of completing the program will be accepted for training.

The MindSpark Training Academy plans to offer four 11-week training sessions per year, and may also offer accelerated 6-week training sessions. Training is offered free of charge. After completing a training session, qualified trainees will be offered a 3-month paid apprenticeship with MindSpark Inc., which subsequently leads to employment as a paid software testing analyst. In collaboration with Square One and MindSpark, we have a team of trainers and experienced test leads who will provide a supportive, safe and respectful environment.

Our MTA Manager of Training and Development, Judy Metz, has a doctorate in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, and twenty years of experience developing and implementing software solutions. Our trainees will have an understanding teacher with real-world experience to guide them towards their new careers.



Interview and Assessment

11-Week Classroom Training with Certificate of Completion

3-Month Paid Apprenticeship

MindSpark  – 2525 Main Street Ste. 214, Santa Monica, CA 90405





What We Do

We provide skill-matched employment to underserved young adults on the autism spectrum using an innovative highly-productive agricultural method, aquaponics.

Skill-Matched Employment for the Autism Spectrum

Green Bridge Growers is a venture with a strong social mission, and sustainable practices are at our core.  With 90% of adults with autism experiencing unemployment, Green Bridges leverages new jobs for those with autism in our community – using aquaponics to grow vegetables productively throughout the year.

The Other 90% Problem

Unbelievably, 90% of the food we eat in Indiana is grown out-of-state, despite the skyrocketing demand for locally grown food.  We thought, why not connect this 90% problem with the lack of employment for those on the autism spectrum and develop a solution that also contributes to our local community?  Green Bridge Growers was created from this solution-oriented way of thinking.

Our growing practices are the very best.  We use organic growing methods and materials, grow year-round, and employ the innovative new farming method, aquaponics, into our system.  Within this system, fish and plants grow in harmony, producing faster growing rates and much less waste.  Our customers include high-end restaurants and grocery stores, and we’ve begun exploring a future relationship with Notre Dame Food Services.

As part of our professional development goals, we’ll further engage our workforce through leadership training, active participation, and team building, allowing our autistic employees to accumulate integral new skills and competencies.

 How We Do It

The innovative aquaponic method of farming that we use in our venture has the unique ability to grow fish and vegetables in tandem.  Fish grow in tanks in a closed-loop ecosystem, where fish effluent is filtered and fertilizes the plants we grow.  The plants then cleanse the water for the fish.  Aquaponics uses 90% less water than conventional farming, and has the additional benefit of reducing time to harvest by one-third.  Plant growth is greatly accelerated by aquaponics!

When we learned of aquaponics several years ago, we began attending intensive training sessions to learn hands-on practical skills and concepts.  Aquaponics is such a phenomenal outlet for our own interests and skill sets, but it also is an outstanding match for the skills of those with autism.  We’ve learned from the best in the field, and maintain membership to the US Aquaponics Association.

We manage other installations, such as the Century Center Skywalk in Sound Bend, that feature year-round growing using soil enriched by organic materials like worm castings and coconut coir.  Incorporating great organic nutrients into our soil and our aquaponic system helps us raise plants that are productive, healthy, and of the highest taste and quality for our customers.  We take tremendous pride in providing jobs for the underserved of our community, while keeping our products fresh, organic, and as close to the customers as possible!

Green Bridge Growers

Innovation Park Notre Dame  – 1400 E. Angela Blvd. #148, South Bend, IN  46617





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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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