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July 8, 2015

Thirty years ago, Partnerships With Industry (PWI) was born from the idea that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities should have opportunities to make choices in their career paths. In its first year, the organization placed forty special education students from the Oceanside school district into jobs. It was a revolutionary program that evolved into an organization that serves more than 1,000 people every year.

What began as a service for individuals with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and Down syndrome has morphed into four offices, forty-one group work sites and 125 employees serving those individuals as well as those with physical disabilities, mental illnesses and traumatic brain injuries. To date, the organization has helped over 12,000 people find jobs.

A shocking 79% of people with developmental disabilities don’t work. PWI seeks to change that and provide people with the purpose a career brings. They are doing so in three big ways. About 15 start-up product companies enlist the services of PWI’s Work and Training Centers where participants work on product assembly and distribution. Additionally, forty-one group work sites around the county benefit from a job coach and small team of individuals who work on-site. Finally, companies like Vons, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo work directly with PWI to hire clients individually. SDWP also recently hired a team from PWI to assist with a project.

“We don’t talk about disabilities—we talk about abilities,” says PWI CEO Mark Berger. “We work with people with wide range of abilities. First, they are a person. Second, they are a person with skills. It’s our job to identify those skills and the employer who needs them.”

One PWI client came to the organization at age 55. He had never attended school, never had a job and spent most of his life in front of the TV. His inherent desire to succeed was ignited by the programs PWI offered and he quickly found purpose in a position at UCSD’s student center—knowing his service was helping study-focused students go through their day more easily. Now 64, he holds a coveted position at one of PWI’s offices, lives independently and has no desire to retire any time soon.

PWI’s efforts serve employers as much as the individuals they train and place. With a 5-plus year average stay, these individuals prove to be the most loyal and long-lasting employees at their work places, which include big box stores, higher education campuses, tourist attractions and more. PWI’s many lasting industry relationships are also a testament to the quality of employees the organization refers and the mutually beneficial relationship PWI’s system creates.

For more information on Partnerships With Industry, visit

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