Inclusive ICT Academy White Paper

Transforming Disability Employment: 
Bridging Potential to Opportunity

Executive Summary:

  1. Employment for people with disabilities remains chronically low in nearly every country of the world.
  2. Employers struggle to find capable, motivated talent while millions of people with disabilities remain unemployed.
  3. There has been limited success anywhere in bridging the massive potential of people with disabilities to fill the significant ICT talent gap.
  4. A purpose built “train to hire” academy program shows great promise creating opportunities for non-college educated people with disabilities. There have been three successful prototypes launched, and several more are being planned. 
  5. Opportunity to transform employment, the workforce of the future, and…lives.

The problem we are solving:

  1. Fewer than one in five people with disabilities are employed in most every country of the world.
  2. Disability employment rates have not materially increased in over 30 years of focus, and In fact, the labor participation rate has actually decreased for people with disabilities (until very recently), while the labor participation rate for the “typically abled” is at a historical high (see figure 1).
  3. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide have a disability, which represents approximately 13% of the potential labor pool. Approximately 800,000 of these people are unemployed.  Most want to work and are capable of meaningful work.  However, they lack the skills experience to be considered for  entry level ICT roles.  
  4. “The digital skills gap is widening” (World Economic Forum). There is projected to be 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European ICT sector by 2020. “More than half (of ICT jobs) could go unfilled because candidates will not possess the sufficient education and qualifications” (2018 Macleod consulting study). 
  5. The problem is systemic:
    1. Only 3 in 5 people with disabilities graduate high school
    2. Only 2 in 5 go to college.
    3. 1 in 5 graduate college with a 4 year degree.
    4. 1 of 2 college graduates are hired and only 1 in 4 are hired full-time.
    5. 1 in 3 college graduates are in STEM fields.
    6. As a result, less than two of a thousand people with disabilities have the skills, education, and experience to be even considered for an entry-level IT job.

  6. New thinking, new ideas, and new programs are needed to bridge the huge potential people with disabilities represent to the labor pool, company’s workforce, and to society.

Our Solution:

Leveraging the Cisco networking Academy curriculum and an innovative ecosystem we have created a “train to hire” ICT inclusive Academy program specifically targeting people with disabilities. This innovative program is achieving results with a 98% graduation rate and 90%+ employment rate.  It has been successful taking people with disabilities who are unemployed and unemployable to successful entry level ICT roles in less than a year. 

What we are Doing:

We are building an ecosystem of partners in top labor markets to create the inclusive ICT training Academy, ensure it’s success, and provide the leadership, support and expertise to  achieve these great results.

Successful prototype programs have been launched in Vienna Austria (with Zero Project/ESSL Foundation), New York City (with the Mayor’s Office for Persons with Disabilities), and Detroit Michigan (with the Living and Learning Enrichment Center).

New prototype programs are in development in Boston Massachusetts (with State Government Rehabilitation Commission), Philadelphia Pennsylvania (with a local Service Agency), Orlando (with a disability focused college and disability Chamber of Commerce), and San Francisco (with a local Service Agency), Amsterdam (with a large employer), and London (with a large employer).

Each class is 15 to 20 students, completed in less than a year, includes an employer paid internship, is provided at no cost to the students (funded through government, foundation, and employer sponsorships), and is focused on entry-level ICT skills leveraging the Cisco networking Academy.

How it Works:

We create an Ecosystem Partnership with a coalition of capable, mission aligned organizations. Key partners include:

  • Cisco Systems (provides curriculum, program advice and support, candidate placement support, and program enrichment);
  • Springboard Consulting (provides employer assessment, services to build an inclusive work environment, employer engagement, and training);
  • An Orchestrator (who helps own, operate, and deliver the program);
  • Area Employers who are engaged from the beginning of the program (provide program sponsorship, enrich the learning experience, and hire candidates);
  • State, and National Governments (who provide tuition funding, sponsorship, support, and help engage other stakeholders);
  • Service Agencies (who provide ready for work training, student mentoring, access, and support).

 Keys to Success:

To ensure the success of this program, we have a pragmatic, focused, development and  execution model:

  1. We secure funding from nonprofits, employer sponsorship, government program support, and private foundations.
  2. Students are certified by Cisco Systems. This is extremely important as the candidates have limited education and work experience. The Cisco certification overcomes these barriers and provides the skills and experience for the students to achieve immediate meaningful impact in targeted jobs.
  3. A mission aligned Orchestrator organizes, owns, and operates the program. We work closely with the orchestrator in program design, execution, and support.  Orchestrator’s very from market to market but are typically mission aligned organizations that have the capability and commitment to organize and execute the ecosystem and program. In some markets it is a Service Agency, other markets it’s a government entity, other markets it’s a college/university, other markets it’s an employer.
  4. There needs to be a catalyst to initiate and drive the strategy.
  5. We typically start with a prototype in one market with the right ecosystem, deliver a single cohort, and then build a program to scale across to a more expansive geography once the partnership is developed, and success is achieved.
  6. Early engagement of all critical ecosystem partners is required throughout the program.
  7. The training program is typically nine months, followed by a three month internship or 1 year apprenticeship

The opportunity:

This model bridges the potential of people with disabilities to meaningful career opportunities that transform their lives. For mission aligned organizations it’s an opportunity for real and meaningful impact on both employment and the lives of people with disabilities.


This program provides benefits all participants and stakeholders in a very positive way:

  • For people with disabilities it provides a lifetime of career opportunities to previously unemployed, and unemployable.
  • It provides employers access to a huge and untapped talent pool of people who can become their “best employees. It improves their workforce, productivity, and brand.
  • It helps Service Agencies, Governments, and advocacy organizations the opportunity for meaningful impact on disability employment.


  • Chronic unemployment a major challenge for people with disabilities.
  • There is high demand for entry level ICT talent, and a lack of qualified candidates for many ICT jobs.
  • The model of developing employable ICT skills for available ICT jobs is helping fill the talent gap, creates a supply-chain of talent for partner employers, and bridging potential to opportunity for the candidates..
  • This model is impactful, scalable, replicable, and financially sustainable.
  • It requires ecosystem of committed and capable partners aligned to a common mission to transform employment…and lives.
  • Everyone benefits: governments, employers, service agencies, advocacy groups, and most importantly people with disabilities.
  • People with disabilities who lack skills, education, experience, and confidence to achieve ICT careers have their lives transformed through employment. One student in her current Academy commented “the academy is a pathway forward for me to start my career and adult life. I’ve had a lifelong passion for technology because I see how it can change the world”.

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