ANDOVER, Mass. (AP) — Pfizer Global Supply Manager Jim Watson's son, Tyler, is 26 and has autism.

When his son was younger, Watson said, he never got the opportunity to work in a professional, corporate environment.

So four years ago, in 2014, Watson founded the Learn to Work program at the pharmaceutical giant. Partnering with the Andover public schools, special needs students ranging in age from 17 to 22 years old come to the Burtt Road complex a couple times a week, stocking shelves, delivering supplies and getting the kind of experiences that one day could help them live independently.

"We have the power in this room to make a difference," said Watson, speaking to a group of business leaders from the region who, he hopes, will adopt the program in their own companies. "Giving these young adults the chance to hone skills that they can later apply in the workforce gives them a sense of gratification and fulfillment. I want students like Tyler to get a chance in life."

Watson said the Learn to Work program has had 100 students come through the doors at the company. At a recent open house, Watson pitched his idea to other businesses, asking them to step up to bring in special needs workers.

The Learn to Work program gives students with special needs an internship at Pfizer where they gain workplace experience and skills, both practical and social. They have the chance to acquire experience in areas at Pfizer, including security, publications and the mail room.

Watson announced that within the next year, the company will fund three or four part-time positions for students with disabilities.

In addition to business leaders, Andover school Superintendent Sheldon Berman and high school Principal Philip Conrad were on hand.

"All of us understand how important it is to find something we do on a daily basis that gives us a sense of meaning and connection to others," Berman said. "For many, work becomes that. It often becomes the center of our lives and without it, we feel lost and lose a sense of value."

Conrad called the program "awesome," adding, "It's training kids to work, giving them the opportunity to delve into areas of the corporate world of Pfizer. The next step is to find places kids can have meaningful employment."

Watson and others involved in the program stressed that beyond practical skills, Learn to Work instills students with much-needed confidence to aspire to bigger and better things.

Manuel Barrios, a Pfizer employee and father to an intern in the program, said his daughter has flourished under the program.

"I think being here and being exposed to different tasks has helped her in terms of her flexibility to do things she had never done before," he said. "You want to see your kid grow up and become independent. I believe she has grown exponentially since she has been here."