Established in 1989 by the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, Bridges from School to Work engages employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment.
Each year, Bridges helps more than a thousand young people–most of whom are transitioning out of high school special education–prepare for the workplace and find a job with an employer in need of qualified, entry-level applicants. Creating and supporting mutually beneficial competitive employment relationships, the program creates opportunities for employment for youth while driving bottom-line results for business.
Guiding Principles for Success
Using a comprehensive approach rooted in a context of long-term vocational planning and development, the Bridges model actively involves all parties to the employment relationship in supporting its success. All services are guided by three fundamental principles:
- Bridges is an employer-driven model—to achieve lasting employment success, the needs of the employer must be understood and met.
- Bridges focuses on abilities, not disabilities—businesses hire people who can do; if the job match is right, an individual’s limitations should be largely irrelevant.
- Bridges provides the support necessary to stabilize the employment relationship—the program’s focus is on long-term employment success, not simply job placement.
Component parts of the Bridges model are informed by each of these principles and are designed to address the critical factors for employment success and vocational growth. Delivered over a 15-24 month period by qualified staff, these component parts include skills assessment, career planning, job development, placement, evaluation, action planning and follow-up. A schematic diagram of the model provides a pictorial representation of how each of these individual pieces fit into the whole. Bridges activities and results are closely tracked and monitored through a comprehensive, proprietary, web-based data management system. The system allows effective record keeping and management of all aspects of the youth’s employment progress while enabling a process of continuous quality improvement throughout Bridges as an organization.
Workforce Development Solutions Nationwide
Bridges was launched in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1990 and has since expanded across the country with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles,Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. In each of these offices, our staff is working to create mutually beneficial employment solutions that strengthen individuals, companies and communities.
Supporting Business with a Commitment to Excellence
More than 3,500 employers, large and small, and across diverse industries, have partnered with Bridges from School to Work to meet their hiring needs. These employers express consistent satisfaction with Bridges—in fact, nearly 40 percent have made multiple hires through the program. Bridges works because our staff takes the time to thoroughly understand the employer’s needs and thoroughly screen potential applicants before proposing a job match. With mutual benefits as the ultimate goal, Bridges is helping businesses fill entry-level jobs while offering support to create long-term employment successes.
Assisting Young People to Employment Success
With a focus on the skills, interests and experience of the youth they serve, Bridges has helped more than 16,000 young adults with disabilities get a start on a vocational path. The program is non-categorical as to whom it serves—its most important priority is working with youth with a genuine commitment to employment success. Beyond that, primary criteria for program participation are:
- 17-22 years old
- Documentation of a disability through an Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, an IEP, or medical professional
- A valid social security number (or other U.S. citizenship document)
Initially, Bridges staff provide customized employment assessments and offer work-readiness workshops while getting to know each youth as thoroughly as possible. With this knowledge, the best possible job matches can be suggested and appropriate support provided. All services are made available in the context of planning and goal-setting for ongoing vocational growth. Staff intervention is customized for each participant, but typically lasts in the range of 15-24 months.
Working With School Systems, Vocational Rehabilitation and Workforce Agencies
Bridges partners with school systems, vocational rehabilitation and workforce agencies in local communities to identify young people with disabilities appropriate for program participation, and to gain the appropriate assistance and support in the process of helping youth achieve employment success. The program typically begins working with participants when they are in their last year of high school or have just exited. Bridges also serves out-of-school youth who are 17-22 years old.