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Milwaukee Area Technical College announced today the launch of a Uniquely Abled Academy at Milwaukee Area Technical College (UAA at MATC) designed to train individuals with high-functioning autism to become computer numerical controls (CNC) manufacturing machine operators. Based on a California model, the program will provide graduates with training and a credential to help them land high-paying, high-demand machining jobs after the 16-week, hands-on, high-tech training.
The pilot launch will begin with in-person classes in fall 2021 at MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus. Local donors contributed seed funds to launch the academy for this fall. The MATC Foundation is currently seeking $565,000 to fund activities over four years, which include UAA student scholarships and the expansion of the college’s overall services for students on the autism spectrum.
A virtual information session for prospective students and their families will be held at 6 p.m. May 20. Register or donate at matc.edu/uaa.
“We are excited to bring a national best practice to Milwaukee and expand MATC’s reach to provide training that helps individuals with autism access high-paying jobs as CNC machine operators,” said Laura Bray, MATC vice president for college advancement and external communication. “The program is another innovative approach where MATC is working to nurture the talents of individuals in our district while meeting employer demands in an industry that needs skilled workers. This is a clear win-win for students and employers.”
This new program is the result of MATC’s partnership with the Uniquely Abled Project, which is based in Los Angeles, Calif., and was established in 2013 by Ivan Rosenberg, an aerospace industry consultant and parent of two children on the autism spectrum. The UAA at MATC will be one of at least four community colleges nationally beyond California that are adopting this model in 2021, with others in Minnesota, Ohio and Massachusetts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for CNC setup and CNC operators is expected to expand by 17 percent through 2026.
Local business owner and MATC Foundation Board member Jamie Berger initiated the work to bring the model to Milwaukee. “As a parent of a son on the spectrum, I know that many parents worry about the future of our children and want to ensure that there are viable career paths with good wages,” said Berger. “This model was created to shift the societal paradigm from “disabled” to “uniquely abled”; matching individuals’ unique abilities of precision, attention to detail and managing complex operations that are required to operate CNC machines. The model also offers students life skills that can support their professional growth.”
To meet COVID social distancing guidelines, MATC will have up to seven spots for the pilot semester, which will include 512 hours of in-person instruction. MATC has a plan to expand the capacity of the program over the next four years and will adjust based upon interest and as COVID conditions change in future semesters. Funding raised now will support the program’s first two years.
Participants will learn how to apply basic safety practices in the machine shop, interpret industrial/engineering drawings, apply precision measuring methods to part inspection, and perform basic machine tool equipment set-up/operation. Upon completion, graduates will earn a CNC setup and operations credential, qualifying them for a number of entry-level positions, including machine trainee, machinist apprentice, and CNC operator, with salaries starting at $14 to $17 per hour.
If graduates want to continue expanding their skills, the CNC setup and operations credential can be applied to MATC’s CNC technician technical diploma, tool and die making technical diploma, and machine tool operations technical diploma, allowing graduates to get a jump start on earning more credentials and access to higher pay.
Students must hold a high school or GED diploma, be 18 years or older, have ability to function independently in social and academic settings, and complete UAA admissions steps.
The program is designed to ensure student success. In addition to technical and soft skills training, there will be an educational assistant in the class to provide technical support as well as a program specialist to assist students with acclimating to college and workplace environments.
To be successful in this role, CNC operators should have a keen eye for detail, mechanical aptitude, ability to perform mathematical calculations, basic understanding of computer software, ability to comply with safety guidelines, and strong problem solving and multitasking skills
According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The latest report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes the prevalence rate in the U.S. is on the rise, estimating that one in 50 children currently fall on the autism spectrum.
Many individuals with ASD are either unemployed or underemployed. The Uniquely Abled Project sets out to shift people’s perspectives by placing individuals with perceived employment challenges in high-skill jobs, connecting the unique abilities of the neurodiverse community with careers that capitalize on their skill sets. At some point in the future, MATC may be able to expand the UAA to include other fields of study.
The Uniquely Abled Academies in California have more than a 98% success rate, as 69 of the 70 individuals who completed the program have secured careers as CNC operators. Companies that hire autistic employees see real benefits, said Rosenberg, who expressed his dislike for the term “disabled” and preferred focusing on the “compensatory extraordinary ability” that sets these possible employees apart. “These uniquely-abled graduates turn out to be their best employees,” he said. “They show up on time; they’re focused; they do what they say they’re going to do.”
With the help of donors, MATC will be able to offer scholarships to students based upon financial need and will also be able to assist students in applying for Federal Financial Aid.
About Milwaukee Area Technical College:
Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 150 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
About the Uniquely Abled Project:
The Uniquely Abled Project (UAP) is a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind collaboration with the business community. Our focus is the creation of vocational opportunities for uniquely abled individuals by matching their unique abilities to jobs in demand. We are different from other jobs programs, because we have a business conversation with companies and provide an extraordinary solution to a need that businesses have. We are not asking them to “help the handicapped.” The Uniquely Abled Project enables those with a diagnosis to have the possibility of a career that is meaningful and provides income, dignity and purpose while filling a major need for employers. Our exceptional partnerships with educators, autism specialists, and representatives from state and local social service agencies have enabled us to create programs that professionally train, place and provide ongoing support for individuals with autism seeking well-paying jobs across a wide range of industries.