Gov. Scott Walker announced an $850,000 expansion of a school-to-work program for students with disabilities on Thursday while visiting one of its newest job sites in Green Bay.
The governor said the state grants were awarded to seven Wisconsin employers, including ASPIRO, Inc., to help them establish Project SEARCH internships.
The Project SEARCH High School Transition Program is a one-year, business-led program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Participants are fully immersed in their jobs, and their employers facilitate a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration and hands-on training.
“Our overall initiative isn’t about charity. It is about identifying those unique abilities that people identified as otherwise having a disability are able to bring to their employer,” Walker said.
The Republican governor announced a yearlong initiative to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities called “A Better Bottom Line” during his 2014 State of the State address in January.
At that time, he also noted his intention to use Wisconsin Fast Forward dollars, which were set aside by the Legislature for employer-led worker training programs, to start 20 new Project SEARCH sites in the next three years.
The seven sites announced Thursday are the first wave of those 20. There are now 14 sites statewide.
“(Scott Walker’s) leadership is inspiring employers to embrace the capabilities and talents and value that people with disabilities bring to the workplace,” said Mike Duschene, president of ASPIRO, an organization that provides vocational services for people with disabilities.
“He is awakening a new sense of help and optimism for people with disabilities seeking employment,” Duschene said.
Walker said the effort is part of his overall plan for increasing employment and improving the state’s economy.
The state’s economy is a big issue in the governor’s bid for re-election. Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive, is the presumed Democratic candidate for governor in this fall’s re-election.
Employers have jobs available but are struggling to find workers, Walker said at Thursday’s event.
“So for anybody who wants a job, we have to figure out a way to get them one,” he said. “We can’t afford to have anybody on the sidelines. We need to have everyone in the game moving this state forward.”
Project SEARCH started in 1996 at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. It has since grown to over 200 sites in the U.S. and four other countries. The first site in Wisconsin was started in 2008.