Many people may recall looking for our first job as a teenager or young adult and the angst it may have caused. Visiting neighborhood businesses to ask if they were hiring could be intimidating. Interviews brought stress, and even once a job was secured, there was apprehension for the first day on the job. “Would I do well?” “How would my coworkers treat me?” “What would my boss be like?” How many 17 or 18-year-olds truly know, or are ready to plan for, what they will do for what seems like the rest of their life?
The transition into the working world presents a challenge for all young people. Looking for a first job, and not really knowing how to navigate the job process, can be even more overwhelming for young people with disabilities. Add the nature of today’s dynamic work environments, tough competition for jobs at all levels, and the fact that people with disabilities continue to be employed at much lower rates than people with no disabilities, and it is clear that employment preparation and engagement for our younger generation is more important than ever. However, with adequate support and planning by family and even the involvement of community service providers and resources, the transition can be a springboard to independent living and integration into the community.
Home is almost always where discussion of employment and a child’s aspirations begins. While schools and community-based organisations play an important role in helping students with disabilities find employment opportunities, parents can and in many cases should take an active role in helping their child prepare for employment. Parents can often identify their children’s talents and skills, and their knowledge and guidance can help students to make educated and thoughtful decisions as they relate to postsecondary education, transitional services, and work. Parents themselves, or their network of friends, coworkers, neighbors and relatives, may be able to provide students with opportunities for volunteering, career exposure or an onsite work experience. These connections and “first-steps” often allow students with disabilities a better understanding of the world of work and its relevancy to education. Ultimately, parents of students with disabilities have the most context and can provide their children the fullest picture of the options in front of them as they prepare to graduate.
TIPS TO HELP YOUR CHILD PREPARE FOR AND SECURE EMPLOYMENT
- Promote lofty aspirations from early on, even before the teen years. Encourage your child to read books that describe careers, often written for all age levels.
- Find out your child’s learning style, if you haven’t already, since not only will it determine how they learn and retain information best in school, but on the job. It may also assist in determining what careers may be a good match.
- Make sure your child understands his or her disability, including personal strengths and limitations. Lifting heavy boxes in a stockroom will likely not be a good fit for someone with limited motor skills but operations or logistics might be.
- Put them to work at home. Assigning daily and weekly chores encourages them to manage their time and have their performance critiqued. Praise them for a job well done and don’t be afraid to explain where they can improve their performance.
- Encourage volunteerism as it can often build confidence, fit with a hobby or interest, help build a resume and possibly lead to employment.
- Get them to speak up for themselves. Have them order at a restaurant, place a take-out order over the phone for pizza, purchase their movie ticket or speak directly to a doctor.
- Encourage self-advocacy. While you may regard yourself as their leading advocate, and will continue to play an active role, they need to speak up for themselves and communicate what accommodations they may need to perform best.
- Don’t overlook developing independent living skills. Planning and preparing a meal, making their bed, or doing the laundry teaches them to follow steps and be more responsible.
- Enroll them in programs that are open to high school students at community colleges, universities, and technical schools to broaden their knowledge and life experiences.
- Look to community-based organisations in your area that have established school to work transitional programs that help foster independent living and workplace skills for guidance and assistance.
- Vocational evaluations can be valuable in identifying possible career paths as they explore skills and interests. Situational assessments in a controlled or semi-controlled work environment give youths the opportunity to “try out” specific job tasks to identify what they did and did not enjoy doing.
- Use the dinner table or other time together to talk about your career. Discuss your day to day responsibilities to paint an accurate picture of a typical workday.
- Conduct a practice interview that includes some commonly asked interview questions. Encourage them to make eye contact and speak at a volume level that can be heard.
- Set up job shadowing opportunities with family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers since this is a good way to expose them to possible career choices. Participate in a “take your child to work” day.
- Don’t get discouraged if it takes some time for them to find a job. The competition is tough, given the state of the economy and the current unemployment rate. Stay positive and cheer them on!
SIGNALS THAT YOUR CHILD IS READY FOR EMPLOYMENT
- They ask to work or show an interest in earning or having money of their own
- They demonstrate the ability to independently and successfully perform multiple tasks
- They control their behavior and can hold meaningful conversations with adults and peers
- They take responsibility for and can complete daily living activities on their own
- They have the transportation skills and resources to get to and from a job