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Unique partnership provides employment path for people with disabilities

BCI grads
Skills Center Executive Director Todd Steff (left) and Curriculum Manager Jeremy Sutton (right) with graduates (from left, center) Caleb Dunk, Billy Owen and Chandler Gibson. (Source: BCI)

Caleb Dunk, William Owen and Chandler Gibson are the first tradesmen to graduate from the Skills Center, a new program of BCI (Boone Center Inc.).

The men graduated on Sept. 30 and moved directly into competitive employment as specially trained, full-time employees at Permian Plastics in O’Fallon.

The company is an injection molding firm that produces custom molded products for the healthcare, biotechnology, electronics/telecommunications, consumer and industrial products, and optical industries.

Beginning in January 2019, BCI partnered with Permian Plastics to provide vocational training for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During their training, Dunk, Owen and Gibson learned how to assemble and package products on high-speed production lines.

Training also focused on basic machine and secondary equipment operation, manufacturing safety, quality assurance and working in a team production environment.

In their new positions, the men earn competitive opportunities, responsibilities, benefits and pay.

Located in St. Peters, BCI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides tuition-based training.

Student tuition expenses are typically covered entirely, or in large part, by scholarships and supplemental state agency support.

The Skills Center partners with local companies who share the belief that people with disabilities can contribute meaningfully to productive business organizations.

Training programs are created each time a business partner is established, which provides a path to competitive employment for people with disabilities. In turn, each business partner gains well trained, qualified and dedicated employees, according to Skills Center Executive Director Todd Steff.

According to Steff, the amount of opportunities and services dwindles drastically for special needs adults after they graduate high school. With 20 years of experience in serving individuals with disabilities, Steff wanted to create a new service model for adults that would lessen the steep cliff they have to climb after high school to be included in the work force. It is estimated that 70-80% of disabled adults are unemployed.

At least 50% of those individuals want employment and are looking for jobs, but do not have an appropriate path forward.

“We are trying to create the opportunity they want and the ripple effects of that opportunity will continue,” Steff said.

“With a job, they are more independent, have more autonomy and more self worth. The smiles on their faces really say it all.”

The Skills Center graduated its first class in 2019 and has since placed 20 adults in the workforce. Its longterm goal is to place 60 individuals. To achieve that goal , BCI continually is seeking the partnership of inclusive-minded businesses who can provide opportunities for students.

Steff said the rewards for employers go beyond acquiring capable staff.

“Former graduates will send me pictures of their first paycheck, that’s how proud they are of their work. It opens up so many resources,” he said. “Just seeing them grow and meet their own goals, that’s such a fun thing to be a part of.”

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