New pathways to employment

by Mary Mazzoni on June 27, 2012

The harsh reality is that employment rates for people with disabilities are shockingly low.

According to a January 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, only 20% of persons with disabilities ages 16-64 were in the labor force (either working or actively seeking employment). That compares to 69% of the general population.

And, too often, employees with disabilities work part-time jobs that lack benefits at wages below self-sufficiency levels.

Clearly, new approaches are needed.

The good news?

At a time when the economy is sputtering, self-advocates and their allies are forging new pathways to personal career goals.

Learning from those who are doing it

“Those who say it can’t be done, should get out of the way of those who are doing it”                                                                                                                 – Chinese Proverb

Much better yet – let’s learn from them!

The latest issue of Impact, a publication of the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Minnesota is your chance to do just that!

You’ll find success stories and innovative ideas and resources that will broaden the way you and your child think about employment.

This attractive, reader-friendly publication is jam-packed with useful information and accounts of people living out their career goals.

You can download this great free 28-page resource here.

Personal networks

People used to find job opportunities through classified ads.

Those days are long gone. 80% of jobs are now landed through networking.

Impact showcases the stories of young people who intentionally broadened their personal networks, and found both their social and career lives come to life in ways they never imagined.

Adolescence is prime time to intentionally broaden personal networks outside the school setting. Volunteering, work experiences, and involvement in community organizations can help your child develop mutual relationships with adults in your community. This network of relationships becomes a web of opportunity. It’s called social capital.

Families often think that agency staff funded by sources such as Medicaid waivers or Vocational Rehabilitation are the only way people with disabilities find jobs. These staff bring a lot to the job search effort. But without a network to build on – your teen – like every other job seeker – will miss out on leads that never make it to the job posting stage.

Develop a plan with your child to gradually build their personal network. Start raising some social capital by building genuine, mutual relationships.

Know yourself

Young people who understand their strengths and their interests are more likely to find meaningful employment. Makes sense, right?

Our kids need experiences in a variety of settings, and they need support to reflect on and understand their strengths and interests. This is what transition is all about.

Experiences such as job shadowing, job try-outs, community based work assessment, volunteering, internships, and supported work experiences help kids understand their strengths, needs, interests and preferences. Using a transition portfolio can help you and your teen keep track of these experiences and what your child has learned about him or herself through them.

If your teen arrives at an adult agency with a portfolio of documented experiences, skills, clear preferences, and references – developed over the course of several years in high school – the chances for successful job development go way up.

Value added

Paid employment means adding real value to the labor market.

The intersection between your child’s interests and skills and a real need in the labor market is the sweet spot to look for.

This may mean a traditional job (with an existing  job description) within a company. Or it may take the form of customized employment or self employment.

People all over the country – with and without disabilities – are looking for that sweet spot. The Impact publication shows how some young people have gone about finding it.

Share and plan action

Talk with your child about the stories and ideas in the Impact publication. Share it with your child’s teachers and others on the IEP team, and/or with adult agency staff with whom your child works.

Help your child brainstorm ways to broaden personal networks, explore interests, and identify skills that can add value to the labor market. Work with your child and other members of the IEP team to develop a next-step action plan toward your child’s career goal.

Peer mentoring

There’s nothing quite so powerful as talking with someone who’s been there.  Try to find ways for your child to connect directly with young adults who have disabilities and are loving their careers. Peer mentoring can be life changing.

And your local CIL is a free source of peer mentoring for anyone with any disability of any age.

For high school students planning on a career after postsecondary education – two online mentoring resources are DO-IT and We Connect Now.

What do you think?

Have you and your child already begun some of these steps? Do you have other career planning suggestions? We’d love to hear from you!

It’s a step by step journey. Let’s learn from one another.

Did you find this post helpful? Please share it. Thanks!

Photo Credit: oatsy 40 at Flickr

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