Employment Tips

Tips on Finding Employment

  • Know the different approaches to find employment for people with intellectual disabilities: sheltered workshops, social enterprises, supported employment, customized employment, self employment, and resource ownership. Some employment agencies still take a deficit-based approach, and focus on what a person cannot do and in the end recommend that a person is only suitable to volunteer. More progressive agencies take an asset-based approach and focus on the strengths of a person.
  • Sheltered Workshops/Social Enterprises: There are still sheltered workshops in BC that conduct ongoing training until the person with a disability is ready for a job. They work under the assumption that a person “graduates” from training in sheltered workshops to work. However, we know that sheltered workshops have not been effective in this regard and people have been in “training” for many years without graduating to paid work. Further, sheltered workshops are not person-centered, there is very little choice for individuals, and people are clustered together working on tasks that might not be aligned with a person’s desires or capacities. Having said that, some Sheltered Workshops have evolved into Social Enterprises that pay at least minimum wage, have performance appraisals, and opportunities for advancement. A social enterprise is a business that should regularly evaluate productivity so that value is provided for the employer, and assess whether or not there is an appropriate job match. Further, when required, a Social Enterprise will assist a person to have choice and move to other forms of employment if needed. Some social enterprises employ typical people as well to work alongside people with disabilities not as caregivers but as coworkers. A Social Enterprise can be valuable to people with disabilities because it provides “gentle employment” that helps people build capacity and also provides a place to conduct a “Discovery” to learn about a person’s ideal conditions of employment.
  • Supported employment uses person-centered planning to find out a person’s strengths and preferences to find work at typical jobs in the community. Then an assessment is made to provide workplace supports  and coaching as needed. However, it is known that many people with disabilities are unemployed for much of their lives and that only 20% of people with disabilities are successful in competitive hiring processes. Therefore, many think that Customized Employment approaches provide greater leverage in helping people get and keep jobs.
  • Customized employment does not rely on competitive employment and instead seeks to place the person in a job that is carved out specifically for them based on their preferences and strengths. Customized employment is a set of techniques that can be used as the situation warrants. Then you systematically train a person for the different tasks to achieve a real job for real pay. This approach, according to the literature, creates more success for people with disabilities (in Real Work for Real Pay: Inclusive Employment for People with Disabilities).
  • Use Person Centered Planning and a strength-based assessment in a process called “Discovery” that starts with getting to know the individual rather than focusing on what jobs are out in the competitive job market. When thinking about employment for a person it helps to plan based on an individual’s strengths and preferences. So the focus is on what a person can do, not on what they can’t do.  A person-centered philosophy requires that the focus person be given choices and the people assisting with the planning will intentionally respect the person’s choices.  In the Discovery process the team asks questions like:  What can this person do? What chores does a person do? Does a person like busy environments? Do they do well with noise? Or do they like it quiet? How long can they work? What do they enjoy? Are they good at manual labour, or do they want office work? De a good detective and look in bedrooms for interests and interview people who are close from multiple perspectives to surface all that you can learn about a person. Once this profile has been developed then one way to develop a plan for implementation is person centered process called a PATH that involves the people in a person’s life and can be used to plan and identify how a person will get work. (Wehman, Inge, Revell & Brooke, 2007 in Real Work for Real Pay: Inclusive Employment for People with Disabilities). However, even though someone has a dream job and wants to be a pilot. For some folks it might not be possible, but you can look for themes that might be associated with airplanes to find a preferred area of work. Try to look at the skills as a theme. Remember, that a theme is bigger than a job. So, if a person has good organizational skills as a theme, then the jobs that might fall under this theme is inventory control, putting parts away, or working in a library.
  • Find Jobs within Jobs. A job developer (or a family member) looks for tasks that are related to a person’s strengths and preferences that are currently being done by typical staff but are not the core duties of the position. In the Job Developer’s Handbook (Geary, Griffin & Hammis, 2007) this process is referred to as job carving. In this process you are creating value added employment that suits both the employer and the person with a disability.
  • Systematic Instruction. Once you know what the job duties are you can break it down into parts (a task analysis), so that it can be taught in a systematic way. This might include role-play, video modeling and visual supports/prompts.
  • Job coaching, fading and monitoring is an essential part of a successful work arrangement. Using systematic instruction as described above to find out what the person can do unprompted (and at the same time keeping data), then teaching what they need to know so that they can complete the task on their own. Then the job coach fades out as the person is able to work on their own. Subsequently, the situation is monitored as natural supports take over.
  • For some people, Self Employment make sense because you can set your own schedule and working conditions. See our links on the right hand side of this webpage for more information.
  • Another way to approach employment is Resource Ownership, an approach where a person buys the means of production (a sewing machine) and then partners with an existing business to add value (drycleaner).
  • Use and increase your social capital. I read in Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam (2000) that its “who you know” that gets you or your loved one a job. He says that, “there is an impressive body of research suggesting that social ties can influence who gets a job, a bonus, a promotion, and other employment benefits. Social networks provide people with advice…[and] job leads” (p.319). He distinguishes between “weak ties” or our acquaintances in society and or “strong ties” or our friends and families. Putnam says it is the weak ties that provide the most opportunity for jobs. He also says that over one-half of people getting a job have done so through a friend or relative. So make a list of all of your contacts that you have in your lives and put the word out there! Map out all of the possible connections to see what the possibilities may exist in a person’s social network, family and friends, and casual acquaintances. You might find it helpful to read the section on asset-mapping.
  • Best Ways to Find a Job. In the book, What Color is Your Parachute? 2010 by Richard N. Bolles the top five ways to find a job are: 1. Asking your contacts (families, friends, community members, and service providers) for job leads. 2. Knocking on the door of employers that interest you (apparently small employers are the best) and asking if they have any jobs or if they know if anyone has any jobs. 3. Look through the telephone book at employers that interest you and call them up and ask if they are hiring (based on your strengths). 4. Join a job club and spread the workload (hey, familyWORKs families could do this…). 5. Do a life-changing job hunt based on your transferable skills, where you would enjoy working the most, by deciding where you would like to work and finding out who has the power to hire you. Richard Bolles also says that you need to do at least four of these things to be successful.
  • Believe. As families, we know what our children can do… we just have to believe it is possible for them to work. The only way that we can realize that the focus must be on what they can do. However, many of us have been focused on what our children cannot do. Further, in A Simple Half-hitch by Debra Mclean (in Implementing Person-Centered Planning:Voices of Experience, 2002) she says that, ‘in [her] experience, unwillingness to even approach the endeavor of developing a good job explains most unemployment among people with developmental disabilities” (p.292). As important, people with disabilities need to believe in themselves and this may require “self determination training” (Real Work for Real Pay: Inclusive Employment for People with Disabilities). It is not easy to find appropriate employment for anyone. At the same time, if no one tries it will never happen. Know that employers require all kinds of skill-sets and the real task for job developers or families is making the proper match between abilities and required skills for the tasks (What Color is Your Parachute? 2010 by Richard N. Bolles). We now know that since the 198o’s the United States have made advances in supported/customized employment that we can learn from – in 1998 23,000 people with developmental disabilities had jobs and in 2002 it had grown to 118,000, so they do have some success stories to tell…
  • Start Early. Try noticing your child’s skills as soon as possible as well as establishing the familial expectation that your loved one will work. Further, the research says paid work in high school (not work experience, or tryouts) greatly improves the chances of work into adulthood. in Real Work for Real Pay: Inclusive Employment for People with Disabilities). However, this is not the current reality in our schools in British Columbia. System change is required. One way that system change could start is parents demanding that vocational skill development and paid work occurs before graduation from school. This should be included in Individual Education Plans.
  • Use Positive Behavior Supports. When a family has a child with an intellectual disability it makes sense to learn to about Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) for their loved ones because as a child ages, behaviors can become more ingrained (Dunlap & Fox, 2009). Clearly, ingrained behavior patterns can have a negative impact on a person’s success in their later years when it comes to finding real work for real pay. The good news is that PBS is a social science that can be learned by families. Often behavior issues arise when communication is an issue or when, over time, the child rules the roost through behavior to get what they want. When this happens it becomes very difficult to change as more time goes on. There are often wait lists to get the services of a communication and behavior specialist and so the more that a family knows about PBS the better armed they are to deal with any challenging issues that arise. We expect to expand significantly on this section in the future.

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