LIMA — As a management consultant for more than 30 years, Ivan Rosenberg realized that companies around the country couldn’t find enough skilled workers to operate the Computer Numerical Control machines used to cut and shape materials in manufacturing.
As the father of two children with autism, he also realized that 40 million Americans are classified as disabled, and the unemployment rate for people with autism was 85% to 90%.
“Maybe these two problems are solutions for each other,” Rosenberg said Thursday, as he explained how the Lima region might benefit from Rhodes State College’s new Uniquely Abled Academy.
Rhodes State will introduce the 16-week program in April. There will be open houses at 1, 4 and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 and 1, 4 and 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4. Contact John Wheeler at Wheeler.J@rhodesstate.edu or 419-995-8194 for details. There’s additional information available at UniquelyAbledProject.org.
“Someone with autism may be playing video games in their bedroom, and it 16 weeks they’re trained to be ready to place in a good-paying career job as a CNC operator,” Rosenberg said.
The program is free to the families of people with high-functioning autism, taking advantage of their attention to detail, ability to follow detailed repetitive processes and strong technical skills.
“A lot of people with autism are very smart, with very high IQs,” Rosenberg said. “They end up doing inventory in a grocery store. That’s just not a good fit for their abilities.”
The program also builds on their “soft” skills, such as how to interview and general expectations in a manufacturing workplace. It’s an in-demand profession. CNC operators are in short supply in manufacturing. The Ohio Occupational Employment Projections Report predicted 1,325 openings per year through 2026 for CNC operators, with a median hourly wage of $19.28, according to Rhodes State.
“Once students successfully complete this course, it’ll serve as a start to a lifetime employment in a good career,” said Wheeler, the associate coordinator of quality initiatives and project management at Rhodes State.
The program’s already showing benefits in Rosenberg’s home state of California. Just one of the 70 people who went through the program doesn’t have a career job as a CNC operator.
The program will work with other agencies, such as Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, Goodwill and Job and Family Services, to adequately support the class participants and their future employers. Rhodes State received a grant from the Haas Foundation, part of a leading CNC machine tools company, to fully pay for its first cohort.
After the program proves its worth, it’s likely government funding could help, as it makes more of the participants self-sufficient. Still, Rosenberg cautioned against considering it charity; it’s a business conversation.
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 set 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.”