As a Uniquely Abled Academy, San Bernardino Valley College has the tools to help individuals with autism learn valuable skills that will serve them well in the workplace.

The Uniquely Abled Academy offers vocational training and job development, and SBVC's first cohort graduated in late 2021. The students received Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinist training, spending four weeks on soft skills, like learning etiquette in the workplace, and 11 weeks on the machines. San Bernardino County Workforce Development Board provides job placement for students who successfully complete the program, and they go through mock interviews before meeting with company representatives.

In the United States, there is a shortage of 3.5 million skilled laborers in manufacturing, and Machinist Prof. Miguel Ortiz says it "behooves the industry to get creative and allow inclusion of these individuals who have specialized talents that are congruent with our occupation and alleviate some of that shortage."

Two students thrived during the hands-on portion of the semester, making belt buckles and medallions. "They took it upon themselves to make extra credit parts," Ortiz said. One of the students drove from Apple Valley to SBVC every day, arriving at 8 a.m. and staying until 8 p.m. so he could finish making miniature rims he designed and programed. "His mom said all he talks about is our courses," Ortiz said.

As this was the first Uniquely Abled program offered at SBVC, there was a learning curve, and Ortiz said he listened to feedback from students on how to better relay the material. This isn't the end for the students at SBVC, either — those who complete the program are encouraged to sign up for more classes to further hone their skills. "This is a place where a student's future starts," Ortiz said.