The automobile trade has been good to me. From a humble beginning in the garage beside my house, Robison Service has evolved into one of the leading import car specialists in New England. We’ve grown from a twelve by twenty foot stall to a complex of buildings; all by providing a service few people choose to offer.
Our business has succeeded through the hard work of many people, and the support of a loyal clientele. But before we had those things, there was me – an autistic adult who needed a job.
I started this company because I couldn’t fit in at the Big Corporation. It’s given me stability, and a sense of value in the community. As manufacturing and management jobs have evaporated from the businesses around me, it’s also given me security. No one will be outsourcing repair of Mom’s BMW, or restoration of Dad’s Jaguar anytime soon.
The same can be said for most of the trades. Electricians, plumbers, mechanics, HVAC people . . . we do very different work but we have a few things in common:
- We work with our hands
- We rely on focus, concentration, and specialized knowledge to succeed
- Technical skill means more than people skills in most of our jobs
- Our jobs are local, and they won’t be outsourced to India or China any day soon!
Becoming a skilled tradesman is one way a person like me – from an at-risk background, with some “differences” to set me apart – can find success in this society. An established tradesman will always have work, often with a better-than-average income for his area.
Knowing that, I’ve always wished there was a way I could teach the practical trades to young people like me. I get a steady trickle of emails asking that very thing. This summer, I am pleased to say we are taking some action.
We are seeking MA Dept of Education approval to open a trade school in the Robison Service complex.
We want to teach basic mechanics, vehicle inspection, detailing, small engine repair and landscaping. All that can be done right here where I work every day – alongside real professionals practicing the same trades day in and day out.
We are partnering with NortheastCenter for Youth and Families, and Tri County Schools of Easthampton. Students will divide their time between shop classes in our complex and the regular academic program at Tri County’s Easthampton campus. I will be an advisor but the teaching will be done by legitimate special ed professionals, not just outlaws like me!
Tri County is a long-established non-profit Massachusetts Chapter 766 approved special education school. Once approved, students in our programs will be referred by state agencies, school districts, and private professionals. Some of our kids will be on the autism spectrum, but we will also welcome kids from at-risk home environments and kids with other developmental challenges.
We are presently recruiting a shop teacher and several other staff. Follow this link if you’re interested in working with us.
Are you interested in our programs? Here's our contact for enrollment:
Jennifer S. Miller, LSWA
(413) 529-7386 (office)
(413) 265-3989 (cell)Jennifer.Miller@ncyf.org
We hope to be open for fall semester 2013, and we plan to begin taking applications for summer school 2014 very soon - we have our state inspection scheduled for late July, after which we will know more. I expect mostly day students but NCYF does have residential options.
I’m very excited about this new program. Frankly, it’s something of a dream come true. I can’t wait to see us open the doors. Do you know someone who wants to be in our first class?
Stay tuned for updates, and announcement of our first open house in August. Think hard about those trades, too. Not everyone is cut out for college. I wasn’t.
John Elder Robison is an adult with autism, and the parent of an adult son with autism. He serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Department if Health and Human Services. He serves on numerous public and private boards, and he’s the founder of JE Robison Service of Springfield, MA. John is also the NY Times bestselling author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby. He lives in Western Massachusetts.