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Connecting Businesses to a Neurodiverse Workforce

Posted on July 27, 2020

Twenty-five students enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia’s School-to-Work Transition Programs gathered virtually on July 2nd to hear from the first of many excited and experienced business leaders as part of this summer’s Extended School Year program.  In response to COVID-19, these programs geared towards supporting young adults on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities prepare for employment after high school, pivoted from paid internships throughout the city to a virtual speaker series entitled, “Exploring Industries with In-Demand Jobs”. This innovative speaker series provides students the opportunity to connect directly with industry leaders and take part in daily activities that focus on job preparedness and building a career path. Transition Pathways of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute convened the series in collaboration with Community Integrated Services, the School District of Philadelphia, and sponsored in part by WorkReady managed by Philadelphia Youth Network.

What makes this initiative innovative is that students are gaining the opportunity to learn about a variety of industries.  This can be incredibly eye-opening for students who may have had limited access to career opportunities.  Throughout the series, students hear from business experts on what skills are needed to become a part of their industries of interest as well as what jobs are currently in-demand.  In conjunction with each speaker, students take an in depth look at the highlighted industries: from determining industries of interest, steps to prepare/apply, COVID-19 safety precautions, what accommodations may be needed, and other important issues pertaining to employment. Recently, participants heard from Chris Lindberg and Ray Verlinghieri with Aramark on the business side of the food services industry.

“Aramark has viewed me as a person and not an actual number. The other thing is coming from Drexel, my boredom factor was 6 months because of the Drexel Co-op. And working at Aramark, has allowed me to have 13 jobs and 6 careers.  I get to work with great people and all the consumers where we can change or influence what is going on. They respect who I am and my unique work-life balance,” expressed Ray Verlinghieri.

The student participants have gone on to say that the speaker series, “…has been a very interesting part of the ESY program.  I have liked how we can meet with people that work in different career fields to see what it’s like from their perspective.”

Project Career Launch student, Na’shay Fleming, commented: “…it (the speaker series) is really helpful. It helps us to understand what we need to know and learn in the future about finding employment.”

Ms. Fleming’s peer, Giovanni Carrion adds: “I honestly really enjoy the speakers from these past weeks. They helped me learn more about the working world.  New Way Air Bearings manufacturing is definitely one of them. And Koert Wehberg, not only did I enjoy his talk about advocating for people with disabilities, but he was really inspirational, and I like (the work) he’s doing now.”

By the end of the summer, participants will build and update their resumes, apply for jobs.  The speakers have included but are not limited to:

  • Chris Lindberg, Vice President, Enterprise Growth, Aramark
  • Ray Verlinghieri, Assistant Vice President, Growth Enablement, Aramark
  • Koert Wehberg, Executive Director, Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities
  • Brian Sacco, HR Recruiter, Ann’s Choice
  • Nick Hackett, President, New Way Air Bearings
  • Mike Savage, Director of Human Resources, Drug Plastics and Glass
  • Matt Connors, Human Resources, Drug Plastics and Glass
  • Dr. Scott Michael Robertson, Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor 

For further information on Exploring Industries and other career focused programing for individuals with disabilities, contact: Dianne Malley, Director of Community Impact, Transition Pathways, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at 215-571-3213 or

Posted in Employment, Transition to Adulthood