Those who have started their education in an inclusive classroom at a regular school generally also want to continue on their path to inclusion – for their vocational education for instance. And those who were not able to make this experience, often wished they had. To ensure that young people with disabilities don’t have to be on their own and fend for themselves, there are options that support them on their way to a career.
One of these options in Germany is called STAR – Schule trifft Arbeitswelt (English: School Meets Working World). Since the end of 2009, young people with severe disabilities in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have been supported during their transition from school into the professional world. The project is organized by the LVR and LWL regional government authorities along with the German Ministry of Employment, Integration and Social Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Research and the regional authority of the Federal Employment Agency in NRW.
"Starting with the third to last year of school, students are offered a range of options in intensified career guidance and counseling and are thus supported in their transition from the end of school into the workforce," explains Johanna Korte, STAR project manager at the LWL integration office of Westphalia. "During the entire career guidance process, the integration office on site acts as an intermediary and places more students in training and careers in the primary labor market or facilitates other career training measures through networking. STAR thus implements the state’s disability-specific approach and intention of 'Kein Abschluss ohne Anschluss' (loosely translated as 'No graduation without job opportunities')."
With this approach, STAR aims to facilitate early and systematic career guidance and provides an alternative to sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. "The opportunity to break into the regular labor market are increased by the modular concept of STAR," adds Korte. "Students with disabilities in NRW are therefore offered an alternative to a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities. This is made possible by assisting students in obtaining internships in the general labor market for instance and facilitating their participation in an individualized career development process based on the student’s disability."
Since 2012, in nearly all of the special education schools in NRW, STAR has been comprehensively offered within the scope of the 'Inclusion Initiative' federal program. The support for students in inclusive classrooms at joint educational schools continues to increase. So far, a total of 617 schools were included in NRW; 256 of them are special education schools and 361 joint educational schools.
"Since the start of STAR, more than 11,000 students in NRW have been supported by the integration services. They have utilized almost 50,000 support processes like potential appraisal, career field exploration, internships and other disability-specific STAR standard components of career orientation such as training to acquire work-relevant social skills, workplace-related communication training, and transition assistance," summarizes Korte. "As of the September 30, 2016 cutoff date, approximately 650 students were placed in vocational training and jobs after partaking in the STAR career guidance program. Another 960 young persons were accompanied in company and off-the-job career preparation measures."
Switzerland also has a similar project in the works since June 2016. The apprenticeship position exchange called "Lehre + Handicap" (Apprenticeship + Disability) aims to get persons with disabilities who are seeking an apprenticeship in touch with employers who want to give young people a chance. Since this type of option has previously not been available in Switzerland, Simon Müller, project manager at the MyHandicap Foundation, believes this approach is very important. "The 'Lehre + Handicap' apprenticeship position exchange combines both apprenticeship positions available in the private sector without disability insurance benefits and apprenticeship positions in sheltered work environments with financial support. Thanks to this new option, young people don’t have to hide or keep quiet about their disability. They can find teaching facilities that utilize, recognize and promote their skills."
This offer has already been well received. More than 200 open apprenticeship positions from all over Switzerland and at all levels of education are currently listed at the exchange. According to Müller, several thousand page views per months also confirm that the website is highly frequented. He and his team regularly receive positive feedback from job seekers, career counselors, schools, employers and apprentice supervisors. And there are already some small initial successes to report. "So far, we know of three apprenticeship positions that were filled by young people with disabilities thanks to our service. Having said that, since the apprenticeship application process takes place between the apprentice and the company that offers the apprenticeship, we only rarely find out about these types of success stories."
Offers like "Lehre + Handicap" and STAR can clearly help young people in finding an apprenticeship position where their disability is not a hindrance. This is one way for people, who primarily focus on individual skills and possibilities in their future career, to find each other.