It’s Labor Day and I have been saving the subject of this post for just this occasion. It’s about people who really very badly want to work but have hardly if at all had the opportunity. They would take just about any kind of job, they don’t have any demands to negotiate for their total compensation packages, and they aren’t looking for a foot in the door or stepping stone job.
They have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and they just want a job. Period.
They dream of reaching their human potential and being independent just like you and I do. They dream of a even a minimum wage job with benefits that would allow them to participate in programs like Ticket to Work. They dream of saying ‘I work’ when someone asks them what they do.
The opportunities for those with these ‘difabilites’ are typically quite limited if they surface at all. You might see the occasional store greeter, bagger, shelf stocker or floor sweeper. Some of these job seekers are fortunate enough to land a job doing basic packaging or putting labels on, sorting company mail or some other such repetitive low skill job behind the scenes. Usually jobs come around because someone knows someone who has a big heart or personal experience with a family member, or the company has made it a priority to diversify their workforce and carve out jobs for individuals of all abilities – sometimes at the expense of lengthy training times or getting up to speed as quickly as other employees.
Most experiences seem to end up futile exercises in trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They just want a job so badly they take whatever it is, without having any real guidance in the areas of interest, aptitude and ability. The interviews I conducted with tens of these job seekers brought stories of attempts to work without preparation, preparation to do a particular task but not about employer expectations, understanding how companies are managed, financial literacy, soft skills training, non-harassment or stress management training. Those qualified to have vocational job coaches often told me stories of being picked up and driven to fill out applications and being instructed to “open the yellow pages and start calling at the letter A”. No career exploration, mock interviewing, image coaching or job search training, just a taxi ride and a hand with spelling to fill out applications.
The last year has flown by at warp speed at work while I toiled to create a unique workforce development program for individuals with I/DD. One that is comprehensive, takes nothing for granted and covers the A-Z of employability skills, not the phone directory. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of a group of very motivated and eager individuals carefully recruited for customized development and training led by qualified instructors, to set them up for success.
I anticipate this two-year journey they have embarked upon to be the biggest learning experience of their lives, and possible mine as well, as they work toward building the skills and experience many of us take for granted to be successful in competitive community based employment.
I’ll post a link to the program website once it’s up and running so you can follow and help me to encourage and mentor.