Getting Ready For Work

Podcast Episode 76 For many young people with additional needs finding a job can be incredibly challenging. It takes planning and for most requires them to go way outside their comfort zone. This week’s guest Dr Michael Reiter runs work readiness workshops and he talks us through the three areas he focuses on to help the emerging adults in the group find and keep a job.

Michael talks about the importance of setting goals and making sure these are SMART as well as identifying the types of jobs a young person might like to do but also has the required skills to do. He discusses the interview process and the fact that as much as this is about the practical things like being able to answer questions it’s also about the ability to manage your own anxiety. Interviews are stressful for most people so ways to help manage that stress, so you still are able to perform at your best is a key part of finding work. Finally he discusses how they address the after you have the job issue looking at the social skills required in a workplace and how to manage those.

Michael talks about the need to have realistic expectations around work but for the emerging adults he works with using this approach he is actually providing them with a realistic change of finding and keeping a job.

Getting a job for our young people will probably never be easy but by helping them prepare properly, using a model like this, and giving them greater autonomy to plan their own work future we are helping increase the probability it will happen one day.

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Podcast Transcript
Debra: Welcome to Episode 76 of the Journey Skills podcast. This episode our topic is all about work. I’m talking to Dr. Michael Reiter who runs a work readiness group. I came across Michael via Main Street which is bringing housing project and I spoke to Jillian from Main Street back in Episode 60 and Michael’s group was mentioned in the Main Street newsletter as an example of resources available in the area. Now obviously most of us can’t access to groups like this but I reached out to Michael because I thought he might be willing to share some ideas. And to be honest, he pretty much shares his blueprint for what to cover in a group like this.

He placed the work readiness group downing to 3 areas; the first is about goal-setting — finding out what young people want to do using SMART goals. We already do this a little bit with our own daughter in helping her set goals (or be it just for the week) but just to give her an idea of what to do and how to do it because we do it ourselves. The second thing that he covers in the group is interview preparation. Although he talks about in terms of actually alleviating the anxiety that going to an interview can bring so it’s all about managing that sort of anxiety.

I’m kind of hopeful in some ways that this issue might actually become less of a problem in the future because there are now many companies that understand that face-to-face interviews aren’t going to help our young people, not going to showcase their skills, and certainly not show what they are capable of in the actual workplace. But saying that, most of us will still need to help them out when it comes to preparing for an interview at some point.

And the final part of what Michael talks about is after getting the job is staying in the job. And that’s the big challenge. This really is a big issue and to use a cliche, It’s a game-changer when you have in place support for employers. And most successful employment programs I’ve seen such as the one that Team Domenica runs (which we talked about in Episode 45) inclusion element of employer’s support on the eyes on of the employees in some ways. And it provides that extra step and keeps the young people in their jobs which is what we want.

So Michael talks us through those 3 areas in terms of how he works with the young people in the group. The other thing that I found that really interesting in my conversation with Michael is the way that he uses the term ’emerging adults’. I actually never heard anyone used that term before. And it’s a term I really like because I think it kind of sums up what all about our people young people go through. They take a bit longer to get things, they take a bit long becoming to adulthood. And the idea of an emerging adult — it just kind of resonated with me.

Michael talks about a few resources and I’ll put those in the show notes. He talks about The Holland Codes Test, he talks about the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and he also talks about Stages of Changes. So these things are those in the show notes if you wanna have a look and find out a little bit more.

Debra: Today I’m talking to Dr Michael Reiter who is a Licensed Psychologist based in Maryland in the US. Welcome, Mike!

Michael: Thanks for having me, Debra.

Debra: Can you tell me, first of all, a little bit about yourself and then also about what we’re going to talk about today is actually something you do called an Employment Readiness Group.

Michael: Sure, happy to do that. I’m a clinical psychologist and I practiced just outside of Washington, DC. I received my degrees from The George Washington University and my training background is generally in family systems and cognitive behavioral therapy. And generally, I work with teenagers and emerging adults who are struggling with navigating their next steps. This could be while they’re in high school or post-secondary, some of my clients have gone off to college and they’ve returned home and are regrouping, some are yet to leave the nest. They’re often underlying challenges that are contributing to why they’re having a hard time moving forward. Some of those could be anxiety, social anxiety. I see a lot of OCD, depression, executive functioning challenges such as ADHD. I do see some clients who have autism spectrum disorders or challenges with social cognition, social communication.

In terms of how I came to working on developing this group, over the years I’ve worked with a lot of young adults who struggled with navigating the employment world. Thus, I want to put a group together that help them navigate the employment process but also addresses some of the underlying issues that might be getting in the way of them moving forward. So in some ways I think about this group as a therapeutic employment group which is a blend of vocational rehabilitation and supportive employment curriculum with cognitive behavioral therapy and also helping participants understand employment world as a social world and how to navigate it.

Debra: Can you just talk me through then what you do with the group? Do you have a schedule of I guess workshops that you run through or people just come along and you talk about issues for that particular person? Or how does that actually work?

Michael: Well, when someone will call me and show interest in a group, sometimes it’s the parents of the emerging adult and I’ll invite them to come in front and take appointment. So, just be one meeting where we get to know each other a little bit and I get to learn more about what their goals are. At that point, we decide whether the group seems like be a good fit for them or not. And at that point, I also assess if there are other supports in the community that might be more appropriate for them. If it seems like the group is a good fit, then they’ll sign up and it’s a 15-session group, we meet twice a week for about an hour and a half each meeting. There’s a parent meeting in the beginning of the group, that’s to orient them to the curriculum, answer questions they have about the group and most importantly so they can ask questions and we can talk about how they could support their emerging adult in the group. I think all parents are eager to help their young adults in the process and find it hard to know how to do so. And they’ve tried to work together in the past and sometimes that works well, sometimes it doesn’t. So we talk that through at that time. And also, I think them knowing that we’re gonna be covering certain topics here helps them feel more relaxed at home that we’ll be working on some of the goals that they’ve been trying to do at home on their own. Parents also get offered a meeting at the end of the group where we can provide feedback to them and talk about the next steps and come with a plan for what the participants will be doing later on.

I’d loosely break up the group content into (of the fifteen sessions) into three categories; the first third of the group is geared more towards goal setting, self-exploration, and being prepared for the application process. I’d say the second portion of the group focuses on anxiety management, interview prep and practice which is important for a lot of reasons including exposure, facing our fears, getting feedback from your peers. The third portion the group is geared more towards social communication at the workplace, so managing difficult situations, communicating with your coworkers, with your supervisors.

So we start off with SMART goals which are basically goals that will orient everyone to what they wanna accomplish during the course of the group; their specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and have a time frame associated with them. We talk about what those are, people do worksheets and bring them back in for the next meeting. And then we learn how to.. we take a Holland codes test. We learn how to do that. It’s a vocational career interest survey and we use the Holland codes results to guide us through what’s called the Occupational Outlook Handbook. That’s basically an encyclopedia that the Department of Labor and Statistics in the United States has which gives a listing of job occupations and vocations and what those jobs do, how much they get paid, how do you get that job, what kind of training do you need, and also some more occupations. So really is a self-directed job search. So it’s interest-oriented, you’re not telling someone “Hey, this is what you should be.” This is more of “What your personality type looks like would fit for you in the future, now let’s go search some more”. So we started off with that. We do some worksheets on the benefits and costs of work which gets us to the motivation for wanting to work.

We talk about stages of change where is everyone in their stage of change. So the stages of change are pre-contemplation, contemplation, action, maintenance, relapse and it’s an interesting conversation to have. We discuss our vocational supports so those referred to our family to maybe outside supports, coaches, therapists what are the aspects of support that we need, what are the aspects of support that we don’t need as much, how do we communicate those needs to those around us. We learn about stress and coping with the process, how do we manage stress, we call that The Stress Tolerance. We share our strategies, we discuss new strategies that might be useful for the process of looking for work. Looking for work as a stressful process and if you’re struggling with mental health issues or disability it’s even harder, so it’s a really important conversation. So, so far this first third of the group is getting us ready and prepared for the process; orienting ourselves to what we want to be doing or what we want to be looking for.

And then we do a little more hard skill development. We spend some time in resumes and cover letters and talking through tips and strategies for organizing the search. We do a lot of peer feedback at this point. We talk about the application as a social engagement. This is something that I think is really important. Well, a lot will think, we think of applying for jobs as you just like find that online and then you click on that and you submit and you wait to hear back and that’s maybe the first step but after that, you have to start talking to people, whether it’s through email or through phone calls or in person. And we have to like really navigate this process as a social engagement and I think that can be really scary and a foreign world for a lot of people and that’s where I think people tend to get tripped up sometimes. So a lot of the group really focuses on demystifying that and helping people understand what the steps are and managing the underlying issues that been getting in the way of that. So I’d say that’s the first third of the group is focusing on orienting ourselves and setting goals, coping with the process and getting our resumes and ourselves right need to take that step.

Debra: Can I just ask a quick question about that. Do you know you think that often young people who have additional needs are not very good at setting goals. They’ve never really thought about setting goals because I think it’s a hard thing to do anyway for most of us, but, do you find that that’s something that they find particularly challenging — setting goals about what they want?

Michael: Sure. I think it’s very hard. I think that that’s one of the struggles that I notice happens when someone comes to the group, they had a hard time with setting their goals and not achieving them and then it feels like the goals are unachievable. So part of this is helping individuals learn how to set realistic goals and to break them down into smaller steps that are more achievable. But we’re talking about working with young adults who may not actually know what they want to do and that’s okay. So I think that it’s okay to not actually know what you want to do and maybe the goal is just to get some experience and part of this is also expectation management. It might be that these emerging adults who are coming here or anywhere else are thinking, “Oh, I need to have my career lined up. I need to know what I wanna do” but that may not be the case, it may not be realistic. So I think that sometimes we need expectation management.

Debra: Can we talk a little bit about the parents because I think that’s an interesting thing that you mentioned before about you support the parents as well and that that to me seems a really essential, doesn’t it? The parents have to be kind of on-board and helping the young person at home but you did mention that often parents don’t know what to do. What are some of the tips you would have for parents just in a general sense of being able to help their young person with some of the challenges?

Michael: Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s a hard question to answer a little bit but I think that one of the things that I would suggest is to think about autonomy. I think that sometimes the parents and the emerging adults that caught up in a sort of power struggle about the process and moving forward. And are trying to help but that help isn’t necessarily coming across in a positive way even though it’s help that is needed or maybe wanted by the emerging adult. I think it’s important for parents to think about how they can support their young adults without it feeling like they are telling their young adults to do something. So how do we support our emerging adults without undermining their own motivation. And all the people who are coming to the group are motivated to move forward but then what’s going on at home that might be undermining that and I think being transparent about that motivational process or undermining motivational process that’s going on with parents. Here we have that discussion about self-determination theory. That’s the theory behind it and I talk about it with the emerging adults as well and we try to come together so everyone can understand what people’s intentions are in the ways that they’re trying to support each other. So, I think for parents to be mindful of how their support comes across is important.

Debra: So the first step is the setting of the goals, and the second is the..you said the process of how you apply. Was that right?

Michael: I’d say the second section I would loosely put into a category of anxiety management and interview practice. And I would say this is maybe the most important piece. Once you have the foundation of what you’re looking for hence, coping skills in place to navigate and to start the process, you really have to manage the anxiety associated with the actual process of looking for work. It can be really stressful. I hear a lot that sitting down and looking for a job, figuring out how to answer questions on application, aside from the actual interview and meeting people and communicating and knowing what to say can be really stressful. So I take very much a cognitive behavioral therapy approach which we learn about our anxious thinking styles, we learn about positive self-talk, cognitive thinking ways to use self-talk to work through these stressful applications and the process, we learn about avoidance variables. The whole group itself from beginning to end is an exposure because you’re forced to face the idea of looking for work.

But this section here really talks a lot about exposure and facing your fears because when we have anxiety, whether it’s the primary issue or it’s a secondary issue, and by that I mean someone might have social anxiety that’s a reason why they’ve had a hard time with the process or maybe someone has ADHD and they’ve had a hard time engaging the process because of executive function challenges but because of that they’ve developed some anxiety about the process. Whether it’s primary secondary issue, it could be a lot of anxiety and which creates avoidance and then we need to learn how to face that fear and the group really teaches individuals about that process and we start to practice it. So it’s an anxiety management aspect here where we’re learning about how to manage anxiety and stress.

And then we practice interviews; we prep for, we dress for interviews. Everyone comes in, we do it a few different ways so we can try to get different experiences. The first what we do is we use actually Zoom video conferencing and I have someone in one room interview with a stranger, in the other room the group watches the interview and afterwards everyone is able to give feedback on the interview including the person who is conducting an interview which is very unique. Often when you have an interview, you don’t understand or hear any feedback to why it didn’t work out. So this is really important.

Then the recorded interview is sent to the participants so they can review it themselves and I also review it and give additional feedback later. Then we also do in-session practice where we pair up and interview each other and the group watches and then we also do fun practice where we call each other from different conference rooms. So we do in a variety of ways all which are targeted towards giving feedback. I think it’s a really important aspect of the group so that helps a lot with the anxieties.

Debra: Because it’s interesting you say that because it’s a little bit of a move I think for interviews be a little bit different because some people really find it a massive challenge to go through that very, I suppose, systematic process of sitting down there, answering questions. So there have been a number of companies haven’t there that talk, that do something slightly different to give people.. because you do not always see skills, do you, in an interview with them sitting and answering a question if they’re not very good at answering questions?

Michael: That’s right. It can be very hard. Yeah, we talk a lot about the difference between soft skills and hard skills. Sometimes I think some people tend to lean on their hard skills, sometime in interview answers sometimes they lean on their soft skills. So we talk about how they can help describe what their abilities are.

What we do is we have people research a job that they want to apply for or they’ve applied for and they do the interview for that job and then when we do it practice interviews again we actually interview over and over again for the same jobs to really refine that skill set.

Debra: And so what’s the final third then?

Michael: The final third focuses more on this idea of once you have a job, maintaining work; workplace communication, healthy work relationships, self-advocacy. So in the last portion of the group, we talk about handling difficult conversations with peers and supervisors, how you might manage workplace conflict, boundaries at work, social skills in the workplace. We talk a little bit about workplace accommodation, so how you might qualify for those or ask for those at the beginning of the process or once you are already employed, assertiveness. So that’s the last third of the group.

Debra: Because that again, that’s quite interesting as well because a lot of people will get a job and then they won’t actually keep it, will they? Because they can’t deal with the day-to-day challenges that work brings.

Michael: Yeah that’s true. That’s where someone might benefit from ongoing supported employment so our long-term support. And that’s something that the group doesn’t have which is the group I think has a lot of benefits. One of the benefits of the group is that you’re with peers and if you’re with peers then there’s accountability and I think that’s the important piece of being in the group. I think that one of the downsides of the group or any group is that you don’t have the ongoing individual support afterwards. I think that the model of having a group such as this combined with individual support, whether it’s from parents (this is why we involve the parents in the process afterwards or family members or if it’s a job coach or an agency that’s working with the individual) to continue the support that you’ve already received. And there are a lot of supports available at least in our area here for individuals with disabilities. The unfortunate thing is that there’s a service gap. Sometimes the individuals who are struggling don’t meet the requirements or their disability isn’t significant or severe enough to be eligible to access those services.

Debra: Do you have any sort of success stories that you could share with us?

Michael: Yeah, I can’t get to specific but I do think that we’ve had… this past group, we had some success actually about 75% of the group went on by the end of the group had a job, full-time or part-time. And I think that part of that was due to the accountability factor in the group. It’s one thing to be accountable to a parent, therapist or coach but I think it’s different when your peers are doing something that you’re supposed to be doing and you know you have to talk about it with them in two or three days and also getting the feedback and having that peer support of knowing others are having the same struggle.

We did have successes this past round in a group where individuals got their jobs of choice that they wanted to. And I think that had to do with also being realistic about what they’re qualified to do and being motivated and wanting to do it.

Debra: What do you think has been the biggest challenge for the young people that you’re helping?

Michael: I think for me, one of the biggest challenges was working through the group topics and curriculum while also tailoring to each participant’s needs. The group is the group. So if someone is able to continue to pursue looking for work on their own without additional individualised support, then that’s great but they’re not. And they need that support then it might be a little harder for them. So I think that the challenge is having a comprehensive support for individuals who need that support and pulling that together so having a team really for the person.

I think that in general the challenges that I see are the emerging adults understanding how to navigate the future. I think that when you’re in grade school and high school, the world is basically organised and structured and given to you. Here’s where you have to be from 9-5 or whatever your school hours are. You know, here are friends, here are your social activities, here’s what you’re doing before school, after school, you have to wake up and go. And then when you go off to college and to work, these supports slowly get peeled away and how to do it on your own becomes more and more foreign. And if you have social anxiety or if you have a social, communication, or cognition challenge such as autism, then you’re really like in a foreign world and you just don’t understand how to navigate it and I think that’s where the challenge really comes into play. Then that’s really the goal that we have here to really try to be a part of the process of helping that out.

Debra: Michael, thank you so much for your time.

Michael: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

Debra: Key takeaway– For me personally it was to listen more and to empower my daughter to think more about her own future; to help her take ownership or as Michael says to have more autonomy in deciding what she wants to do in the future.

Resources
Dr Reiter’s Group
The Occupational Outlook Handbook for self-guided career interest searching
Holland Codes Test
Autism Speaks Employment Toolkit
Stages Of Change

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