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Practices with Promise Success Story

Submitted By: MaryAnn  Pranke, GlendaleLEARNS

Program successful in preparing individuals with autism for jobs as machinists

The Challenge

When a local business approached Glendale Community College (GCC) about its need for trained CNC Machinists, GCC immediately called up on its partners to assist. The partners included GlendaleLEARNS (the Glendale Community College District Regional Consortium), the Verdugo Workforce Development Board (VWDB), Foothill Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) and State of California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Noting that individuals with autism possess similar characteristics as those required of someone who operates computer numeric controlled heavy machinery, or a CNC machinist, the partners saw an opportunity to transition students with autism into the workforce and meet local industry needs. While Los Angeles County has a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, people with disabilities have a 17.7 percent rate, and people with cognitive disabilities have a 58 percent unemployment rate. Moreover, the University of California at Davis, found four clusters in Los Angeles County with higher rates of autism than any other areas in the state, leading to the call to action from the partners. The challenge was in addressing the needs of a population with a disability that affects each individual differently and breaking the cycle of high unemployment.

The Solution

Through the partnership, GCC launched the Uniquely Abled Academy (UAA), which integrates the services of all partners and is made possible as a result of braided funding sources. UAA was designed to create a career pathway for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders by preparing them for jobs as CNC machinists. Students are trained to: program, set up and operate CNC machines; use quality control instruments; and use shop mathematics and blueprint reading. Mastery of these skills prepare the students for jobs as machine trainees, machinist apprentice, CNC operator and CNC programmer.

The partners designed a universal intake and application process that begins with the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which orients students to the program and refers them to the DOR. DOR conducts career assessments and enrolls the students into its program to provide the funding for the training. DOR then refers the student to VWDB, which enrolls the students in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I and Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) programs. Students also are referred to Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) and enrolled into the UAA at GCC. The enrollments occur through orientation sessions facilitated by the partners so the students are co-enrolled in the various programs in one location and in one session.

WIOA funds on-the-job training with employers, providing salary reimbursements to the employers during the training period. WIOA also funds supportive services and paid work experience for those students between the ages of 18 and 24. The students are co-enrolled in AEBG for work readiness and soft-skills educational services, as well as job placement assistance. Students are co-enrolled with multiple partners in order to provide a continuum of care service package that meets their full range of needs. All enrollments and services are provided at the GCC campus for students’ convenience.


The academy has been highly successful in that all students in the program’s first cohort entered the workforce after completing the program. Not only does the academy equip students with the hard and soft skills needed for success in workplace, but it has helped others to broaden their perceptions about the abilities of individuals with disabilities and their contributions to industry and the community, recasting them as uniquely abled individuals.

The Data

One hundred percent of the program’s first cohort of 11 students were placed in jobs. Ten are working as CNC machinists, and one was moved to quality control due to her keen eye for defects in machined products.

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