In 2018, MDSC commissioned a comprehensive Impact Report to catalogue the success, shortcomings and growth potential for our 3-year-old Your Next Star employment program.
The impact report found that qualified employees with Down syndrome were often not prepared for the competitive workforce because they had not identified their areas of interest, learned critical “soft skills”, created an effective resume or portfolio, and understood how to conduct a job search. It furthermore found that employers willing to explore hiring individuals with Down syndrome were unsure how to get their feet wet without diving in.
In June 2019, MDSC piloted a comprehensive Your Next Star Academy, an ambitious attempt to address these issues, take Your Next Star to the next level and help transform the employment landscape for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities in Massachusetts.
Funded with support from PwC Boston and the Liberty Mutual Foundation, the Academy was held at the site of Collettey’s Cookies’ work space in downtown Boston, a centrally-located facility with ample classroom space for delivering the Academy’s hands-on training program. The Academy curriculum was created in partnership with Collettey’s Inc. and 70/30 Partners.
The pilot was designed to serve 12 young adults with Down syndrome, each at a pivotal point in their career arc where an intensive experiential job training program would benefit them. The heart of the program was a weeklong bootcamp that helped participants sharpen their employment seeking skills, boost their confidence, and strengthen interpersonal and “people” skills to enable them to interact effectively and professionally with supervisors, co-workers, and clients.
Academy participants received hands-on practice in three areas: soft skills (e.g. communication, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, positivity, time management, problem-solving, etc.), financial literacy (e.g. budgeting, planning for the future, comparing prices, etc.), and job skills. In addition, participants’ parents, during an evening orientation session, got an expert primer on navigating the maze of state and federal employment benefits.
The objectives of the Academy were to:
1. Help participants identify career interest and strengths
2. Sharpen participants’ employment seeking skills
3. Give graduates a greater sense of confidence as they enter/re-enter job market
4. Leave participants with a stronger set of interpersonal and “people” skills
5. Motivate employers to adopt inclusive practices
6. Match employers with qualified workers with DS and other intellectual disabilities
Upon graduation from the bootcamp, Academy trainees were well prepared for the workforce. Leveraging MDSC’s relationship with nearly 200 employers statewide, we invited employers to become active partners in the Academy by hosting a qualified individual with Down syndrome for paid internships.
Employers were asked to meet the following criteria:
1. Provide at least one Academy graduate (who has interest in your field) with an internship
2. Work with MDSC and intern(s) to arrange a mutually agreeable schedule, job supports, etc.
3. Conduct a job interview and provide constructive feedback
4. Foster an inclusive, welcoming work environment during the internship period
5. Pay intern(s) at least minimum wage
6. Provide feedback to MDSC through post-internship survey
The pilot initiative in 2019 was a major success and we look forward to creating a sustained program in the future.