Episode 264: Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) with Vinz Koller

More and more companies are discovering a proven strategy for building a highly-skilled workforce to grow and to thrive: apprenticeship programs. Combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs can help your company bring new and more diverse talent into the workplace. 

Episode 264: Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) with Vinz Koller (@kollerv)

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA). PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). In November, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. 

PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.

I spoke to Vinz Koller, Senior Strategist for Capacity Building at Social Policy Research Associates. Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) is a nationally recognized research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm located in Oakland, California. They specialize in providing services related to employment assistance, job training, education, youth, diversity & equity, effective philanthropy, health, and comprehensive social services.

Vinz began his involvement with workforce development through a summer job in which he had the opportunity to work with young people in disadvantaged neighborhoods to help them find work. He said the motivation is still the same; he just studies it on a national scale and helps organizations find access to talent.

I asked Vinz about our current economy and how it impacts employment when it comes to people with disabilities. “We are in an economic winter,” he explained. “Jobless claims are high, new postings are low, and prospects are uncertain” due to the current health crisis. People with disabilities are hit harder than the general population, but there are also some bright spots. Tech companies, online retailers, and certain segments of healthcare have been growing and looking for talent. Many companies are looking for employees who have experience working from home and that’s a positive for people with disabilities who typically do have this type of experience.

While demand for talent overall is down, some sectors are in growth mode. Filling these jobs isn’t necessarily easier because the job pool is large. “Apprenticeships can help employers not just be consumers of talent, but producers of talent,” said Vinz. “People with disabilities are still the largest pool of untapped talent for these employers who are growing within an economic downturn.”

Traditionally, apprenticeships have been seen as a method of training employees in a trade, but it has evolved over time into programs that help companies grow their own talent base. “We’re seeing many sectors gravitate towards apprenticeships as a way of developing talent,” said Vinz. The diversity of the workforce has its own intrinsic benefits…there’s also a financial benefit. We have some evidence that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting people with disabilities earn up to a third more revenue and have double the net income than their competitors. If you improve and expand your recruitment, you reduce the amount of time you spend interviewing, and it turns out there is a higher retention among people with disabilities than the general workforce.” 

“Making the workplace more accessible for people with disabilities improves overall productivity throughout a company.” - @kollerv #WorkologyPodcast #PIA #WorkplaceAccessibility Click To Tweet

The Cost and Human Benefits of Apprenticeships

I asked Vinz about how much money and time are employers spending to upskill and train employees – and how could apprenticeships offset this time and these resources? 

“Onboarding costs vary widely and are relatively high for many companies. Apprenticeships can offset this cost because the apprentice is not getting the high wages that an experienced person in this role would be getting. An apprenticeship is an opportunity to define this training period. Depending on what state you’re in, some of the training costs are born by a community school or government subsidy.” There is enough of a commitment that the investment is worthwhile. 

The biggest myth is that apprenticeships are for trade roles. “The highest growth we’ve seen in apprenticeships is within the tech sectors, call centers, skilled remote positions,” said Vinz. “There are myths around how difficult it is to train individuals – an apprenticeship is less risky than an internship because the intent is for the person to stay with the company. There are also myths around apprenticeship models and accessibility for people with disabilities, and programs like PIA are available to support companies in this area.”  

Every business that is looking for talent is looking for an untapped talent pool. We want to reduce hiring costs and increase the chance that we find the right people for these jobs. “People with disabilities are the largest untapped pool and while some accommodation is necessary, programs like these can support D&I efforts as well. We want to ensure that the casting of the net is inclusive, that the screening process is inclusive, that our job descriptions aren’t filtering out people with disabilities,” said Vinz.

When apprenticeship programs are inclusive of people with disabilities, the value of the on-the-job training model is magnified. That’s because disability is an important dimension of workforce diversity—and people with disabilities are an untapped talent pool. Thank you to PIA  and Vinz for his perspective on today’s podcast.

Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast sponsored by Workology. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo.

Connect with Vinz Koller


Vinz Koller on LinkedIn


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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