While employers struggle to find qualified talent, nearly 80 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, and nearly one in four lives in poverty, according to statistics from the Department of Labor. The Georgia Bridge Academy (GBA) works to solve these problems, and bring hope and confidence to that population by focusing on job training.
A partnership between the North Georgia Autism Foundation, Three Talents and Genesis Elevator Co. was formed to create the academy. The GBA is an innovative post-secondary training program in which students with disabilities, ages 18-38, from North Georgia and surrounding areas can earn industry-recognized Cisco skills and certifications in network security. Classes are scheduled to begin June 7 at the Kennesaw (Georgia Elevator Co.) and Blue Ridge (North Georgia Autism Foundation) locations.
“We are passionate advocates for people with disabilities who are committed to transforming lives through employment,” said Patrick Romzek, founder and CEO of Three Talents and parent of a special-needs child. “We see the profound impact people with disabilities contribute to culture, brand, business and workforce, and the transformative impact it has on their lives.”
Three Talents launched a hiring program for people with disabilities at a global information technology company. They found the people they hired worked harder, had lower error rates, lower turnover and higher productivity than their typical worker. To increase the talent pool, they started training candidates for specific entry level IT roles, which led to the development of the academy program currently being used worldwide.
“By providing free training for Cisco certification for network security, we hope to level the playing field for access to a meaningful career and economic empowerment for people with disabilities in Georgia,” said Peg Nicholls, board member of North Georgia Autism Foundation and senior sales director at Cisco.
“The Bridge Academy has enrolled over 200 students worldwide, tuition-free, and has a 96% graduation rate. Of those who graduated, 92% are employed. We expect that number to double in 2021. In addition to the academy here in Georgia, launches are planned in Florida, Detroit, Bangalore and Nairobi,” Nicholls said.
Jay Arntzen, president of Genesis Elevator, is excited about the first GBA classroom training session at his Kennesaw office. “I believe employment provides everyone a pathway to reach their full potential,” Arntzen said.
With training sessions on the calendar, the search is on for qualified students. To apply, visit ngafinc.org and complete the GBA interest form under the programs tab. Here are a few important details about the program:
• Eligible students receive free full tuition, fees and equipment lending.
• Nine months of classroom training in the Genesis Elevator classroom in Kennesaw.
• A three-month internship is available.
• Classes are 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.
• Learning format includes online, in-person, or a combination.
“This is the beginning of the beginning here in Georgia,” said Tripp Ritchie, executive director of North Georgia Autism Foundation, which was formed to help fill the significant gaps in autism spectrum disorder services, with a focus on early detection. The mission has expanded to support individuals with disabilities from birth through life.
“At the GBA we strive to seamlessly match ability, education and opportunity to change many lives,” he said.
The greatest need for the launch is funding for the student scholarships and internships within companies in IT fields. Approved students will receive a full scholarship, at the cost of approximately $15,000 per student.
One graduate, Nigel Floris, beamed when he shared, “Now, I not only have a job, but a career.”
Companies interested in participating should contact Tripp Ritchie at 706-946-0499 or Tripp.firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more or donate tuition funds, visit North Georgia Autism Foundation at ngafinc.org.
– Susan Schulz is a wife, mom, writer and mentor who lives and plays along the Etowah River in Canton. She loves serving at Woodstock City Church.