In Trento, Italy, the Work Training through Individualized Projects Cooperative (A.L.P.I.) makes lifelong links with disadvantaged community members. A.L.P.I.’s mission is to prepare individuals who have mental and physical disabilities to participate in the workforce.To reach that goal, the cooperative provides guided, hands-on job training.

A.L.P.I.’s business model is straightforward. It contracts with local firms looking to outsource production. The cooperative gains clients not through a plea for charity, but by providing diligent, responsive, cost-competitive labor that firms are happy to use. The cooperative also generates earnings through production of their own saleable items, such as aprons and gardening accessories. As trainees assemble items, package orders, and enter data, they earn a wage and also receive mentorship and tutoring from support staff. Partnerships with local businesses ensure that trainees learn up-to-date, applicable skills.

A.L.P.I. is not-for-profit and seeks only to sustain itself, pay employees and cover overheads. The organization benefits from relationships in several sectors. A.L.P.I. earns 70 percent of its revenue from private businesses. At the same time the organization depends on its cooperative partner base for lobbying, advocacy and development work that A.L.P.I. does not have resources to manage.

The cooperative’s success lies in continual support and assessment that starts the moment trainees come through the door and continues long after graduation. The journey begins with an in-depth evaluation to determine an individual’s readiness for a long-term career and to discern appropriate projects for each trainee. A.L.P.I. also immediately initiates a search for a fitting job in the community. Beyond the intense focus that each trainee receives during their time at A.L.P.I., a full-time support worker provides long-term job placement and guidance to former trainees after they transition to permanent positions. In testimony to A.L.P.I.’s achievement, sixty alumni currently enjoy employment in the Trento area.

Membership consists of volunteers, support staff and trainees. Though they fulfill different roles in the work of the cooperative, the 32 members possess equal power in the governing structure and decision-making process using a one-person-one-vote system. Also, the cooperative values the importance of using a social balance sheet to promote sustainability. Recognition of workers’ social needs, along with the economic requirements of the organization, drives A.L.P.I.’s structure.

Over the past 20 years A.L.P.I. has grown more than 500 percent, from 11 individuals in a 130-square-meter space to 55 workers in training and 30 paid and volunteer support personnel filling a 2,500-square-meter facility in two buildings in Trento and Lavis. They pave pathways to work with constant assessment and help keep trainees on the path through ongoing support. A.L.P.I. looks forward to continuing as a commercially competitive nonprofit cooperative.