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Vocational Training Center: Eliminating Employment Barriers

Vocational Training Center

At the Vocational Training Center, innovation and ingenuity allow individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges the opportunity to work, give back to the community and gain a greater sense of confidence and independence.

VTC was founded in 1961 by a coalition of concerned citizens who saw the issues surrounding individuals with developmental disabilities and gainful employment opportunities available to them, explained executive director Scott Burtsfield. In April 1970, VTC formed a partnership with Fargo Public Schools due to the change in Vocational Education laws; this partnership increased the resources for transition students who needed assistance with vocational opportunities and soft skills development. The relationship is intact today, though VTC now collaborates with a multitude of organizations in the community to provide services.

When an individual comes to VTC, he or she engages in Person-Centered Planning to help assess the individual’s goals, needs and desires for seeking gainful employment, explained administrator of programs and services Paulette Wood. In addition, the individual has an assigned vocational instructor and support specialist who provides further development and instruction as the individual navigates the complexities of the working world. “We enrich the lives of the people we serve and provide a valuable service to the community,” Burtsfield said.

VTC offers pre-vocational training through its Day Support Services as well as vocational training through its Extended Services and Supported Employment programs. The organization’s goal is to transition as many individuals as possible from the Day Support Services to Extended Services, which involves competitive employment. In cases when that is not possible, VTC itself offers a quality jobsite. The expectations of individuals supported at VTC are the same as at any other jobsite: individuals show up to work on-time, report to his or her work stations, take scheduled breaks, wear work-appropriate attire and request time off, explained employment and placement services coordinator Tom Thompson.

At VTC, individuals are trained in a variety of different jobs including assembling, packaging, preparing mailings, putting together kits, shredding documents, woodworking, manufacturing and providing a range of other customized services. Woodworking is an especially busy area of VTC because of long-standing contracts with North Dakota Department of Transportation, local and regional construction companies and other government entities. Many projects utilize jigs, developed by VTC staff, which help make most jobs easy and safe for anyone who wants to complete that particular task. “It’s about eliminating barriers to working for people who are interested in the job,” Thompson said.

Like any manufacturer, VTC experiences slow and busy times regarding contract work, so staff and individuals set out to find a creative project to develop that would not only offer variety and imagination but could also involve many different people and foster an entrepreneurial spirit. That project is building beautiful, customized cedar lawn furniture. Operations manager Steve Pederson and two other staff members traveled to Texas to learn about the project, and they are now figuring out the logistics involved with setting up the production of the furniture. VTC hopes to begin selling the furniture this spring as homeowners prepare for the start of summer.

While giving individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to lead productive lives is at the forefront of what VTC does, helping those same individuals understand philanthropy is equally important. Since 2010, VTC has implemented a 52X52 Service to Others Project that involves efforts such as ringing bells for the Salvation Army, constructing crates for the HERO project, assembling backpacks for the United Way and many more. “By giving back to the community, these individuals understand that what they do can have a positive impact on others,” Wood said.

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