Transition programs and post-secondary programs for young people with disabilities are building in an increasing amount of real-world, work opportunities. Students are getting direct experience and acquiring transferable skills. They are learning how to build resumes, both on paper and on video, and they are practicing interviewing and the “soft-skills” that are necessary to succeed in the workplace. This is the good news. The not-so-good news is that once students graduate and leave school, they often still face significant hurdles to getting employment, particularly in the industry for which they have talent and affinity. Even students, who leave school and walk into a job that the school staff and internship helped them to secure, may want to change jobs later on, either to enter a different field or to take on more responsibility within their existing field. Schools can best serve their graduating students with disabilities, by providing them and their families with a warm hand off to the entities that can help the student find or change jobs. These entities are:
The State’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Commonly referred to as “Voc Rehab”, these entities exist to assist people with any kind of disability to find and maintain work. There are several benefits to working with Voc Rehab. First, the student may have an open case. While in school, even if unaware of it, the student might have been using some Voc Rehab services. Second, Voc Rehab services are generally readily available without any kind of waiting list or capacity limitations. Voc Rehabs are large state agencies, and there are pluses to this. For example, in my home state of Illinois and in many other states, Voc Rehab offers partnerships and training to employers and may be able to provide certain financial incentives, such as reimbursing the employer both for a time they employ a worker with a disability and for a time during which they are either evaluating that worker for suitability or providing that worker with additional training. Voc Rehabs’ size and bureaucracy can also be a con, as the agencies have huge volumes of clients. As a result, it is often challenging for them to “think outside the box” when matching clients to jobs that they actually want and typically, they only provide accompaniment to the client for three months after the client becomes employed before “closing” that client’s case. As a result, it may be best for students to plan to move on to one of the two options below, even if they start with Voc Rehab. (photo by Magic Keegan via Unssplash).
Employment Networks that Provide Ticket to Work Services. Anyone who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has a Ticket to Work. Ticket to Work is a suite of services, designed to help people with disabilities obtain, maintain, and advance in employments. Services include skills assessments, assistance in finding and enrolling in continuing education or certification programs, help with resume and cover letter writing, assistance in finding and evaluating employment opportunities, help completing job applications, help requesting reasonable accommodations from employers, and assistance in understanding and planning for changes in cash and medical benefits due to a start or increase in earned income. These services are provided by employment networks (ENs). It is worth noting that ENs are not employment agencies and generally do not maintain lists of open positions or direct connections to employers. Moreover, ENs do not provide job carving or job coaching. Voc Rehab, itself, is an EN, but there are also many non-profits that offer EN services. Students can search for ENs that serve their geographic region here, but if transition and post-secondary programs build relationships with local ENs, they can greatly assist graduates, by referring them to the most effective ENs.
Adult Intellectual and Developmental Service Providers. Students, who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and who qualify for a Medicaid waiver in their respective states or residence, may find it helpful to seek employment support from a provider of services to adults with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities. In the metropolitan Chicago area where I live(suburbs?), most of the large, well-known agencies provide employment supports that do include job-carving—collaborating with an employer to identify and separate out tasks that suit a potential employee with a disability—and job coaching—helping an employee with a disability to understand and master the tasks of a particular job. As with ENs, each adult service agency has a particular level of capacity, a particular approach to employment supports (including standing relationships with certain employers), and a particular organizational culture. Transition and post-secondary programs can, again, do students a big favor, by building relationships with a number of adult service providers and referring graduating students to agencies that will be best suited to support them.
Staffing Agencies and Recruiters. Not all students, graduating from transition or post-secondary programs, need specialized employment services. Some, quite simply, just need assistance in finding a suitable job and making that connection with the potential employer. Submitting an online application into the black hole of the Internet serves job seekers with disabilities no better than it does any other job seeker. As for any would-be employee, there are significant advantages to working with a staffing agency or recruiter. It is the role of those entities to cultivate lists of open positions in various fields and to understand what each prospective employer is seeking. As a result, they can play matchmaker between a job seeker with certain skills and abilities and the employer who requires those same skills and abilities in an employee. Moreover, staffing agencies and recruiters have direct lines to the relevant hiring decision makers for each potion and, because they are compensated by the employer when a position is filled, are incentivized to make good matches between candidates and employers. As with all the other agencies discussed above, each staffing agency and each recruiter has a particular approach and a particular track record and may have a focus or emphasis on one or more particular industries. Moreover, they may have more inquirers than they can manage easily. Again, relationships that a transition or post-secondary program builds with area staffing agencies and recruiters can open doors for graduating students to work with those agencies in the next step of their job searches.
Transition and post-secondary programs are doing an increasingly effective job of preparing students with disabilities for meaningful employment in the community—so-called “competitive employment”. Often, these programs have well-developed employer partnerships and internship opportunities for students. However, with the best of preparation and in-school experience, some students will nevertheless graduate without a job waiting. To complete their role in providing the best outcomes for their students, transition and post-secondary programs can provide both a well-researched and a “warm” hand-off to one of the entities that can assist the student in their post-graduation career development.