LIMA — Ohio’s economic recovery has resurfaced a familiar problem from the pre-pandemic era: employers who say they can’t fill job openings fast enough.
A new program at Rhodes State College’s Lima campus offers an innovative and overlooked solution: young adults living with autism, who are learning soft skills and Computer Numerical Control machining through the college’s Uniquely Abled Academy.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Friday met with parents, students, educators and employers who have enrolled or invested in the Uniquely Abled Academy, the first of its kind in Ohio.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think the two go together,” Husted said. “But when you dig a little deeper, you find that they’re uniquely qualified. You just have to help educate the employers about what it’s like to work with somebody who has autism, and help those students with autism develop the soft skills that they need to work in a professional environment.”
The free, 16-week training program welcomed its first cohort of students in April.
Already, supporters of the Uniquely Abled Academy, which was inspired by a similar program founded in California, see potential for the program to expand to other skill sets and campuses.
For students, the program is an opportunity to learn new skills and gain confidence needed to lead self-sufficient lives.
And for employers, the program offers a new recruitment tool by focusing on workers whose aptitude for precision is a good match for cutting and shaping materials used in manufacturing.
“They can do more than what society has limited them to,” said Nick Mahler, whose son, Lance, enrolled in the program in April.
Mahler now dreams of the possibilities for Lance, who will graduate with better job prospects than previously imagined. A career could set Lance and his peers on the path for other milestones like homeownership and marriage, Mahler said.
“This can set them up to do all those benchmarks that normal people want, that society and other people think can’t happen with this child,” Mahler said.
As Melissa Hadden put it: “It focuses on what they can do versus what they can’t do.”
Hadden is excited for her son, Jason, to follow his father’s example and become a CNC machinist when he finishes his training at Rhodes. But Hadden is also proud to see her son working toward a new goal, rather than limiting his potential.
“They don’t have to be looked at as someone who takes out the trash or washes dishes,” Hadden said. “They can actually have a career.”