Melwood and the AbilIT Program

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In this episode of The Cybrary Podcast we hear from Scott Gibson, the Senior Vice President of People and Programs at Melwood. Speaking with Ryan Corey, the CEO of Cybrary, Scott goes into the amazing work that Melwood is doing for people of differing abilities and highlights their AbilIT Program that they have partnered with Cybrary on.

Topic: Highlights the AbilIT Program for people of differing abilities
Hosted by: Ryan Corey, Scott Gibson
Length: 24 minutes
Released on: April 6th, 2020
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Ryan Corey, CEO and CoFounder of Cybrary, gets an opportunity to interview Scott Gibson, SVP of People and Programs from Melwood. Scott talks Ryan about the work Melwood is doing with people of differing abilities and their AbilIT Program that they have partnered with Cybrary on.

Scott tells he works for Melwood for six years now, which was established in 1963, where he runs a human services program. Melwood's mission is advocating for and empowering people of different abilities, helping people figure out a career, and start that. One of Melwood's pre-employment programs is AbilIT.

AbilIT is a program that is building on Melwood's 55 years of experience providing professional development training and workplace readiness training. Melwood coupling it with Cybrary IT curriculum. The goal is that when somebody graduates from the program, they have the know-how to land an entry-level cybersecurity job.

Melwood tries to solve two problems, unemployment and underemployment of people of disability, people of different abilities, including autism, and the entry-level talent shortage for tech talent in the DC Metro area.

Ryan asks Scott to recall how Melwood and Cybrary partnership started. Scott tells us they have run two cohorts and the people were crushing CompTIA certification exams. Scott also shares some success stories of their program participants. He also shares the information that there are needs to expand the program in other parts of the country. They reach out to other nonprofit agencies to share the know-how.

Scott shares the information that the program takes 14 weeks, 4 times a week. The program is free of charge, all you need to commit is time and effort. It is a fantastic program. If you want to know more, check If you are an employer and want to find a solution, or just want to contribute as a volunteer you can drop an email to Scott on


Ryan Corey: All right. Hey everybody. This is Ryan Corey CEO and CoFounder of Cybrary, and we're kicking off the next podcast episode with a very, very exciting guest, a guest who has been a partner of our organization for quite some time now, his name is Scott Gibson from the Melwood organization. Scott, welcome.

Scott Gibson: Thanks for having me.

Ryan: Glad to have you, very glad to have you. Scott, why don't you give us a little bit of a background on yourself and then also the Melwood organization?

Scott: Sure. So I work for Melwood where I run our human services programming and Melwood is built around a mission of advocating for and empowering people of different abilities. And that's a term we prefer to disabilities. To live lives of their choosing. And we do a lot of that through helping people figure out a career of their choosing and then, you know, start that career. That's actually what connected our organizations as we look at careers in the future and what the region's hiring for tech and cybersecurity jobs are just in such high demand.

Ryan: Yep. Yep. Yep. That's great. That's great. How long have you been with Melwood?

Scott: I've been with Melwood for six years now. So I started running their human resources department and helping with our supported employment programming. And today oversee all of our human services programming, which includes our pre-employment programs like AbilIT.

Ryan: Yup. Got it. So Melwood is an organization that's pretty near and dear to my heart, which is why we started working together in the first place. But why don't you give us a little bit of a, of a look into how long Mel has been around and some of the things, some of the other things that Melwood covers other than the AbilIT, which we'll talk about?

Scott: Sure. So it started in 1963. And believe it or not, there were not a lot of options for people of different abilities in 1963. We started with a group of parents who were dedicated to finding something other than institutional care for their loved ones, their adult children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In our beginnings, agriculture was still a really viable industry in Prince George's County, Maryland. And so we've taught plant care and horticulture as time evolved. So did the jobs, we prepared people for. So we started off with custodial and landscaping services and we would teach people what they needed to do to launch those careers because in the beginning landing a job, any job was what we would call success. Luckily, society's evolved a lot in the 55 years that no one's been around and today we prepare people for careers of their choosing. We're not just looking to land any job. We're looking to land jobs that match people's strengths. So we do pre-employment training, which focuses on soft skill development and then technical skill development. We do job development services where we help people through their job search process and then supported employment where we job coach them around barriers that people of different abilities, often space when it comes to success in the workplace. On top of all of those pre-employment services, we offer a number of community services to help people live lives of their choosing in their community. These are often called community supports. We might help people with their activities of daily living. We might help them overcome transportation barriers or other barriers to integrating with their community and our younger, our youngest age group, we support children at a program called camp accomplish. Camp accomplish is an inclusive summer camp for children, with them without differing abilities. They come together, they all enjoy the same summer camp experience. So we have everything in place to accommodate any disability there. But what we like about that as it drives societal change, because when you see those kids playing and interacting together, they don't see disability, they just see friends. And when you build that inclusive mindset at an early age, you start creating a more inclusive world and so we're hopeful that today's kids at camp accomplish will be tomorrow as corporate leaders that we're looking to build inclusive workplaces.

Ryan: That's awesome. Scott, that's a great, great organization. Great work that you guys are doing. I've been a fan for a very long time and it's touched me close to home as well. So, thanks for what you do there. But the AbilIT program, a very innovative kind of approach to getting some people jobs. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what AbilIT program is and then how it came about?

Scott: Sure. So our AbilIT program, we're building on Melwood’s 55 years of experience providing that professional development training and workplace readiness training, and we're coupling it with Cybrary IT curriculum. Our goal is that when somebody graduates from the program, they have the know-how to land an entry-level, cybersecurity job. They have the self-confidence to go after that job. And they're equipped with the personal and professional development tools to successfully land that job and then succeed as part of a project team. This really marks a pivot in the way we talk about hiring strategies for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people with autism. Today, we embrace neurodiversity, and when I talk about neurodiversity, it's just that recognition that we all process information differently. Somebody who's on the autism spectrum. Is intelligent, they're capable, but they may process certain information differently or they may have different sensory filters. What we're doing is we're trying to equip them to land jobs that they're interested in and that they may have strengths for. So let's stop talking about disability as a deficit, let's realize with a condition like autism, there may be a Nate strength that can be quite helpful in the workplace. Affinity for repetitious tasks, the ability to spot a break in a pattern very, very quickly, and affinity for rule and process, all things that can be highly helpful. So we've got two problems in this country right now. First, we have staggering unemployment and underemployment of people of disability, people of different abilities, including autism. Just staggeringly high. At the second time, we know we have a real entry-level talent shortage for tech talent right here in the DC Metro area. It's the second-highest concentration of that. We've got a lot of Fed contractors right here, I mean, this is a Silicon Valley, if you will. There's a lot of people in the cybersecurity and tech space, right in DC, federal contractors, they need entry-level talent. Well, we were hoping to do was have these two problems solve each other, find good jobs, full employment for people of differing abilities, particularly people with autism solve this tech challenge.

Ryan: Yeah. Excellent. Excellent. It makes total sense. I mean, it's, it's why we started Cybrary in the first place, right. That, that, that talent shortage is monstrous. And it's just, it's just growing super fast. And we need to go and find the different pockets of people who can fill these roles and then get them up to speed and skill them up quickly enough so that they can work in the space. Do you recall Scott? I do. Cause it started with you and I, but do you recall how the Melwood and Cybrary partnership started and the story behind that?

Scott: Yeah, I love this story. I tell it all the time, the folks, cause it started with just cold calling basically. So I'll be the first to admit I can use a computer. I am not a person to teach tech skills and Melwood. Hasn't done it in 55 years. So had this wild dream of, you know, we know these innate strengths are there. We're going to prepare people for entry-level tech jobs. And the first thing my boss said is how are we going to do that? For 55 years, we've been preparing people from very different work. And my first answer to him was, I don't know, but I'm going to find somebody who does, so by the powers of Google and LinkedIn stumbled across Cybrary and the connection just made sense because you were all about democratizing access to cybersecurity training, right. And making it accessible to people. And so with a hope and a prayer, I reached out to you and a couple of your colleagues on LinkedIn and I think he got back to me within like 30 minutes and we had a meeting for the next day. I joke all the time. I tell people it's better to be lucky than good. Sometimes I came prepared with this real pitch and Cybrary, I mean, I'll never forget you all jumped in. You were on board before I even got through half the spiel with the idea and then, you know, from there, look how far we've grown. We've run two cohorts so far. We've got people crushing CompTIA certification exams whether it's IT age or…

Ryan: Which are difficult exams, by the way, they're very difficult exams.

Scott: Yeah, I know. The first thing I had to do for our board of directors and some of our executives was let them know, you know, our pass rates should not be indicative of this being an easy exam. This is just hard work from the individuals. And it was also a testament to your product. Being, you know, really good because Melwood not adding value there. We're doing the professional development and the personal development, but all of the tech training is coming from Cybrary. And I think the results speak for themselves. First, it proves your product's great. And second, improves, you know, our population that we're serving, they can master this stuff. I mean, we've got people, we had a guy pass the A+ exam, I think within like eight weeks of starting the program.

Ryan: Jeez. Yeah, it is insane. It is CompTIA is very well known for being super tricky on their exams. They're, they're, they're designed to make people fail. So, that's awesome to hear. That's one of the many successes of the program so far. So would you mind kind of going into some of the what we've seen it's over a year now that we're into this program? What have we seen so far?

Scott: We have seen just tremendous success on a number of fronts. So we've already talked about CompTIA certification and we've talked people pass ITF A+, Security+, Network+. We're seeing 95% of program participants self-report that they have increased confidence, which is amazing in our space. We're seeing the mastery of those personal and professional development skills, but here's where we really see an impact on people's lives. We've talked about, you know, that staggering, unemployment and underemployment, and we saw this with the population we served, right? So the folks that were coming to this program overwhelmingly were unemployed, but we also had cases where young man college degree in IT stocking shelves because that was the best work he could find. Well, now, as we look at our program graduates, they're getting great jobs at blue-chip employers. One of our graduates, a young guy named Josh, he's working in a security operation center for GDIT doing really well there, they actually went through a drill the other day, a practice drill. He was the first person to find an anomaly. So he got a shout out from his manager for that. Another young guy, Brian, he's working for KPMG doing quality control for some of their software development doing really well. A young woman named Angela landed a position with the American Institutes for Research, working on their Tier1 help desk. And I could keep going on and on about these jobs, but they're good jobs, reputable employers, our graduates right now have gone from unemployment and underemployment to averaging about $20 an hour, which in our space for job outcome is huge. And we expect those salaries to grow because that's there, you know, entry-level training rate, right? I mean, that's where they come in the door at and we're seeing success. We're seeing the managers love their skills. We were told that some of our folks that are being placed are some of the strongest new hires they've had in a long time. So we anticipate that that'll keep growing and that's a sustainable wage with a benefits package. That's a great outcome.

Ryan: Yeah, that is, that's absolutely a great outcome. It just proves how the program's mission and the way that it was designed originally is really just coming to, you know, becoming a vision, becoming a product, which is incredible. And it's getting a lot of real results for real people, which is incredible. Yeah. So Scott, where does this go? How does this, how does this grow? How does, how do we kind of go to the next level with this thing? What does it look like?

Scott: Sure. So the first thing we've got to do is we've got to solve the financial stability and scalability of the program. So we've been very fortunate. Our board approved the use of our strategic reserve to fund this pilot, Cybrary gave us an awesome donation to help us with that. And we're working through our funding and we've had great support from the Arlington Alexandria Regional Workforce Council, the workforce development agency the workforce development agencies, all recognized that there's a need to develop tech talent. David Remick in that workforce council, who's worked with us. We're now an approved training provider in Virginia. So if a participant lives in the Arlington Alexandria region, we now have funding for them to go through this program so we can make it sustainable.

Ryan: Awesome.

Scott: Looking to grow that as we build out, successful models with employers like KPMG and GDIT we're looking at a fee for service model there for placement, and really happy that Shawn Hoffman and the folks at KPMG have worked with us on an application to the department of health and human services, to look at funding, a pilot for figuring out how that model might work. But we also recognize that we can't just keep doing this in the DC Metro region. And that's where Melwood's footprint is, you know, the big employers. Yeah. Whether it's GDIT or a Marriott, or we've even started talking with Microsoft a little bit. They have needs throughout the country. So we're reaching out to our sister nonprofit agencies and the ability one network is an agency of, or a collection of nonprofits that do work just like Melwood to say, all right, how can we bundle for you? Our professional and personal development curriculum helps you get access to that Cybrary technical curriculum so we can replicate AbilIT in Seattle in Texas, where Dell is based out of, we've had some great conversations with Cameron Chery, from Dell, lots of interest there. But we just need to be in their region EY same thing. They need presence elsewhere, so we're going to start reaching out to like-minded nonprofits and figuring out how can we give them the bundle of our professional and personal development curriculum. Give them access. So that Cybrary platform. So they have the tech piece, cause they're probably not tech experts either. And go from there, just replicating the throughout the country. You know, our interest is always going to be in ensuring that there's some consistency. So we, when we say somebody is in the AbilIT graduate, you know, an employer knows they come with a certain level of excellence. So I'm really looking forward to watching that growth throughout the country. We're serving a ton of people here. We've got the green light from our board to increase the number of cohorts within the region, but we know we've got to grow this throughout the country.

Ryan: Yep. Yup. That makes, makes total sense. Are there particular challenges that we've had to kind of jump over the past year that, that stand out as kind of the things that might be the biggest impediments to moving this forward on a more sort of national scale?

Scott: So one of the biggest impediments to moving this forward is actually guaranteeing that we were building a bridge to something. So I mean, I, I joke our first challenge was making sure that folks can land jobs and we weren't just, you know, having them graduate with a certification. That's a problem that has started to solve itself now that our graduates have been hired and people are seeing success, but to be honest, Getting an employer to take a chance on the first AbilIT graduate it took time. We had great executive champions at the organizations that have done these hires. But you really need it. HR, the talented diversity offices, and the operating managers who were going to be supervising the person to all be in agreement on the goal. So that's starting to get a little bit easier, but at the same time, that whole challenge of being the first employer is not going away. You know, I just had a conversation with the hiring manager the other day, who said to me, these cyber attacks are getting more and more sophisticated. I don't know if I'm going to be able to be somebody's first employer. I don't even know if I'm going to hire people straight out of college and grad school anymore. And I'm really been pushing them to think through, well, what does that mean for the field? Somebody has to be the first employer, somebody has to be the employer that's developing the future talent pipeline. I mean, otherwise, everybody's just poaching talent from everybody else, but I think the biggest impediment and challenge moving forward is going to be working with the tech industry, the Rapids hands around. What does apprenticeship look like? Possibly? What does it look like to grow your own talent? Because I guess the concern, right, the attacks are real. They're very sophisticated. People come out of school with, you know, great book knowledge, but sometimes, and I think we've all experienced this regardless of what our field is, what an issue is like in the classroom, and what an issue is like in the real world can be very different. But I'm optimistic that with organizations like yours and ours and the employers around the table, we can figure out something that works, but that's going to be the biggest challenge, I think.

Ryan: Oh, no doubt. So we see that consistently with the CSOs and the IT security managers and that we talk to on a regular basis, which we do talk to on a regular basis. And so one of their largest challenges and one of their greatest challenges is getting somebody up to speed who can actually be effective in their work role. When you take like a new hire and you bring them in the cybersecurity is such a trade that IT. It's much more closely related to call it like plumbing or HVAC than it is to finance or marketing. Right. It's a trade. So you kind of definitively knows whether or not a person who can or cannot do the job based on what they're kind of inputting on a keyboard. Right. And so that, that's the nice thing about kind of doing this, this program together is that Cybrary has the data of what people … roles are both learning. And then also what they know and how well they know it because of the assessments that are on the platform and the interaction that you can do with the product. And so taking that data and then applying it into this program and saying, look, this is what the profile of a person looks like in a work role. And then this is this is what we need to get you, to be able to do to be effective in your work role. It's there. And so the pieces can be connected. And that I think is part of why the program has been pretty effective so far. Because cybersecurity is a trade and fortunately enough, you can do the whole trade right here from your keyboard. So it's super cool.

Scott: I mean, that objective data has been critically important to us as we've talked with employers and we've been able to show mastery of skill.

Ryan: Yeah.

Scott: But I think you're right also to point out that, you know, it is a lot like a train. And so I'm really excited. We've got another organization that's going to kind of be joining the coalition if you will. And that's transit apprenticeship services, they have, you know, years of experience with apprenticeship and there's a lot of lessons that we can learn from the way we've approached apprenticeship with other industries. Cause it'll, it'll work in cybersecurity. I think you're absolutely right. This is a field where it will work and as we build up these profiles and we collect that objective data, it'll get easier and easier to demonstrate, that somebody is ready and how they're growing in the field.

Ryan: How great has it been to work with Paul from transit?

Scott: Paul is fantastic. He is very high energy. You know, the problem that. We all may have this. We're all people who jump into these things head first. And so the momentum and the amount of work that you could do very quickly catch up. But just like you all, you know, I reached out to transit and said, you know, maybe apprenticeship needs to come into the fold on this Paul and I think he has forgotten more about apprenticeship than I will ever know. And that's been exciting, added a lot of energy.

Ryan: Paul is, Paul is world-class and that's, that's a great group. For sure. So glad to hear that you're working with them. So, Scott, I guess kind of wrapping up here, how can people get involved and, and what is the best way to support the AbilIT program?

Scott: Sure. So people can get involved and learn more by going to our website, There's a link there for AbilIT, how you can get involved. There are several ways you can get involved if you're an employer right now, and you're trying to figure out how do I solve that my tech talent challenge. You can reach out through one of our links or you can email me If you are an individual sitting at home, feeling like you were unemployed or underemployed and interested in cybersecurity, and you want to apply for the program, there's a link right there on the website. We'll help you through that application process, the program is free of charge. So all you need to commit is time and effort. It's a 14-week program. It meets four times a week. But time and efforts, really the commitments that you have to make there, or if you're somebody who just really likes the idea really likes the concept and you want to make sure this is sustainable and it grows, you can always contribute either as a volunteer. We love it when hiring managers come in and do mock interviews. We always take people up on that offer to help our folks get ready. Or if you want to give a little bit of your treasure, we're always taking financial donations as well as support. This is April, April is autism awareness month. Increasingly becoming known as autism acceptance month. One in 40 children right now is diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. Programs like AbilIT will help ensure bright futures for them.

Ryan: That's awesome, Scott. I personally appreciate the partnership between Cybrary and Melwood and love, we've loved working with you so far. We have a great relationship and I'm excited about continuing to produce more outcomes for great people.

Scott: We are too. We absolutely could not have done this without you and Cybrary and the whole team. And so thank you from the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of our program graduates' hearts. You have made a real difference in the lives of folks. That young man, who I said had a college degree in IT and was stocking shelves. He's now employed with a blue-chip employer earning a sustainable wage in this region. You're changing lives. So thank you for everything you've done.

Ryan: Well, you're doing all the work. We just have a product, but I appreciate the kind words, Scott. This has been a pleasure, man. Let's keep, let's keep kicking butt. This is great.

Scott: Thanks so much. Have a great day.

Ryan: Thanks.