The world of work has changed, in part because of new technology but also in expectations of us as employees. Jobs have become more generalized. Retailers, in particular, want flexible employees who can perform multiple tasks. Why is this? Well, as my guest on the latest podcast Yes She Can Inc, Marjorie Madfis said, businesses aren’t in the business of employment, they want as few employees as possible.
The impact this trend has on young people with additional needs formed part of the discussion with Marjorie. She explained that around 80% of adults with autism in the U.S are unemployed and, as the parent of a young woman with autism, she decided to take things into her own hands and create a reselling business called Girl Again. This reflects her own daughters’ interest in American girl dolls. This decision was also driven by her observation that the programs that were supposed to be developing her daughter’s employability skills were not training her in the skills she really needed in the workplace. These included understanding the priorities of others (managers and customers), shifting from one task to another, and dealing with uncertainty and incomplete information.
These types of skills that are harder for our young people with additional needs to develop. In my own daughter’s case, she likes to know “the plan” and changes to that plan do upset her. So I can only imagine what the result might be in a workplace if she was asked to move from one task to another, or something unexpected happened.
One of the keys to the success of what Marjorie is doing seems to be in her actual choice of business type. Girl Again is a reselling business. They receive donations of American Girl Dolls and then sort, clean and prepare them for resale. The dolls are then sold in their retail store as well as online. This process enables the development of a variety of skills because, as Marjorie says, if the dolls were brand new the number of steps in the process would be small. The great thing about a reselling business is it can be in anything that a young person is interested in… I wonder if there is a market for second-hand Harry Potter merchandise!
But, and its quite a big but, it is often the case that even with all the employability training in the world some young people with additional needs will still find it hard to develop the transferable job skills talked about above. They may have an excellent set of narrow skills which may not fit into today’s job market. The answer to this dilemma, according to Marjorie, is to look at smaller businesses where specialization can add value to that business. She uses the example of the real estate company who have sales staff doing data entry rather than out selling houses. The right person with the right skills could free up their time. The key here, as with a lot of what so many people I talk to on the podcast are doing, is making people see that someone with additional needs can be as productive in the workplace as anyone else.