Tag Archives: employment

Creating Job Options

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.


Working Together

We all have a group of people we feel most similar to, who we identify with. For many of us, it is a group of other parents on a similar journey to our own.  My daughter’s group at the moment are her friends at her specialist school. Her friends are in her own word “just like her” and that makes her feel secure. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say and I totally agree. However, there is one problem and that is that this doesn’t reflect the real world of work that she will one day go out into.

So, when one of the ideas discussed in my latest podcast was around an integrated workforce it made me think about the kind of workplaces young people with additional needs really might want to be part of. The main topic of the podcast Enterprising Ideas at Acceptable Enterprises was around creating sustainable economically viable businesses in order to then meet social objectives. But a key part of their model was the idea of 1/3  +  1/3  +  1/3, which is where they try to employ in each of their businesses 1/3 people with additional needs, 1/3 people who have faced challenges in their lives, such as mental health issues, and 1/3 people from the local community.

David, the CEO of Acceptable Enterprises, argues this is much more reflective of the real world. It also creates more opportunity to change perceptions and increase understanding on all sides. Breaking down negative perceptions seems to the first job to be done to enable people with additional needs to be considered on an equal playing field when it comes to employment. So, by bringing people together in this way this must help change perceptions. Work also helps to tackle another major issue, that of social isolation and creates a community both inside the workplace and then outside in wider society.

David also discussed a “perception” that if a company employs people with additional needs, it will impact on the quality of the product or service. The online reviews Acceptable Enterprises receive strongly refute this idea. However, as he suggested the prospect of making reasonable adjustments when hiring employees with additional needs can be quite daunting. However, if you listen to the podcast you will hear how Acceptable has very successfully made these reasonable adjustments.

The most successful employment opportunities, I have discovered, have involved organizations being part of the community right from the start, such as REDinc and Ignition who both strive to become part of their local community and, by doing so, change the ideas people might have about people with additional needs.

Now I’m starting to wonder if we need to take this a step further and be working towards an integrated workforce, not just projects that help young people with additional needs but projects where the focus is also about encouraging everyone to start working together. Surely this would help change perceptions quicker and combat social isolation at the same time.

Off To Work

Our job, our role, our purpose for our day is so linked to our identity. I’m a… My job is… or I work at… however we introduce ourselves is what people recognise us as.

But what happens when we don’t have that? How do we feel then? How do people categorise us? Do they feel sorry as we flounder with I’m just …’ We’ve all heard stories about people who retire and say they lost their identity on the day they stopped work.

Debra and I once had a hard time getting a job when we returned to Australia. We’d always been in work, and the difficulty came as a bit of a shock. And when you say you haven’t got a job, people do look at you a little different. And you feel a little different.

But for the most part I’ve been lucky. I’ve always had a tag to put to my identity, although I must admit it’s not always been the title I would want to put to myself. Published novelist I am not, but I’ve always had a purpose to get out of bed of each morning.

And so this is one of my big fears for my daughter. To not have a purpose to her day.

She would like to get up in the morning, make breakfast very early, and then go on her tablet/computer/Xbox and stay there all day. But what she doesn’t know yet is that is not purpose.

At the moment she goes to school, and as Debra says, teachers are like an annoying boss who tells you what to do. But when that isn’t there, and her workmates – her class friends – have all gone, what then? Who will she interact with?

I don’t know about you, but most of my days aren’t spent with friends. They are with work mates, and then family. If I didn’t work, I still wouldn’t spend all day with friends because they’d be off doing whatever they do to earn their livings. And so if my daughter didn’t have work, or a key purpose to her day, I think it unlikely she would spend all day with friends.

And that could be the problem. Without a purpose she would regress into her own company too far. She would lose the ability to deal with people, even if they are annoying teachers and classmates who don’t always see everything her way.

I know I’m preaching to the converted when I say we need to find a purpose for our children after they finish school. And I know many of you are in the same position as me with children whose special abilities aren’t particularly job friendly. With the best will in the world I don’t imagine my daughter ever being over-qualified for any job. But I do think she would be diligent to the point where it could be written as a strength on her CV and as Sam, in this week’s podcast, talks about making sure her CV showcases her strengths.

So the ultimate goal for us all is paid work for our children – that goes without saying. Supermarket chains in the UK are well known for making extra effort when it comes to employing people with additional needs. But no matter where we are in the world we need to look for opportunities for our young people, because opportunities won’t just come looking for us.

Through my own day job I know a mother who has a son with additional needs, who made his way across London, negotiated two buses to get to his college course. He was so happy that he had a purpose to his day. Then, as any college course does, it came to an end. Suddenly he had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. He felt that acutely. He sat at home, not quite knowing what to do with himself.

To cut a long story short, she arranged an interview with a local supermarket. What she didn’t tell her son was that it was a voluntary position, not a paid role. So now he goes to work one day a week and she puts a £20 note in a brown envelope which she gives to him at home as payment. He has purpose. Obviously this is not a long term solution and has its own issues but it gets him out of the house and he  is learning new skills which one day may help him get a proper paid role, maybe even with the same employer.

The real point is, though, she’s carved out a purpose for him. That’s admirable. But it was her that went that extra mile to get him something, and I think it’s what many of us will have to do to get something for our children. I can’t imagine my daughter being able to imagine all the possibilities for her to find where work is, and so I will have to help. I will have to ask my friends, and anyone else I know.

But if we can’t find paid work for our children we will have to do the next best thing, and that’s give them a purpose to their day. Whether that be with a £20 in an envelope or in a voluntary capacity. It may even be in an activity centre. Regardless, I know my daughter and her online world need to be parted for the best part of the day. They need to so when someone asks in conversation what do you do, or where to you go in the day, she can answer. She can say ‘I’m a…’ or ‘I go …’

Thus far in this blog we’ve talked about identity. But then there’s money to consider too. I’m not going to stray too far into money here, but I want her to have a place to go more than I want her wage to sustain her. In the money blogs we talk about strategies and tactics, but if I’m honest I don’t think she will earn the wage that will give her everything she wants unless she is incredibly lucky. We have to help plan for that. Maybe that is knowing the entitlements she’s allowed. Or maybe that’s us thinking we should cover the big expenses, like accommodation, and let her pay for the rest from her own earnings.

I think I’m saying for me it’s not the wage that’s important so much as the benefits a purpose adds to my daughter’s mental health. A purpose allows her to say ‘I’m a…’ and have pride in her identity. Going somewhere, working for the boss, is a bit of a bind, but at the end of the day it can also be sanity too. I don’t want my daughter to wander through life from 20 to 70 not quite knowing what label she can apply for herself so that she feels comfortable having an identity.

I do think there are plenty of opportunities out there, we just have to work hard to make them come our way. But then we’re used to working hard for our children, right?, because that’s what we’ve always done. Neither we nor them have expected the challenges our lives have thrust at us, but we deal with them. We’ve battled for them since the day they were born. And this is another battle. But it’s an important battle because it can easily be overlooked – I don’t want to ever think that because my daughter is quiet inside her online world she is fulfilled. Fulfilment comes with activity.

For us at Journey Skills purpose is one of the three main areas we focus on. Every parent looks out for their child’s education. But we also need to think about relationships and daily living skills, as well as purpose. A purpose, a point to the day, is a big part of why we are alive. We just need to be pro-active in finding a purpose for our children.

Introducing the Journey Skills Podcast

Listen to the first episode of the Journey Skills Podcast – the podcast for parents of young people with additional needs. Each week we interview someone who is helping young people develop their independence skills.

Full Show Notes

As this is the introduction episode of the Podcast I’ve simply included a transcript below (maybe not word for word but pretty close).  In future episodes the show notes will include key points as well as links to any resources mentioned.

I would also consider it a personal favour if you would rate and review the podcast.  This is critical in the early life of a podcast in helping spread the word and get noticed.

Hi, everyone.  Thank you for joining me on this the first ever journey skills podcast.  So as it’s the beginning of my podcasting journey (pun totally intended) I wanted to take 10 minutes to share my motivation and vision for this podcast and hopefully to give you a reason for coming back for episode one next week.

To cut a long story short I have a daughter with additional needs so really she’s the motivation. As she’s got older I’ve started to wonder where she’ll end up after she finishes full time education.  How will she spend her days (her nights) where will she live, who will she talk to everyday?  Right now all that’s fairly easy as school covers most of it and we (mum dad big sister) manage the rest.

And we’re incredibly lucky because our daughter goes to a school which has started to help her develop her life skills so she’s already getting guidance on things like independent travel, cooking and managing friendships.  And let’s face it school is kind of like a job arrive by a certain time stay until a certain time and sometimes deal with an annoying boss (aka as a teacher).  But she only has a few years left of this.  What happens when she leaves education?  Her older sister will leave school and will have options a job, go college university, a place of her own.  This won’t be the same for our youngest and this is a problem that won’t go away and a constant worry

So the challenge then is to work out what she needs to be able to do after she finishes school which will enable her to live as independently as she is capable of.  How will she manage money, cook without causing the fire department to be on speed dial?  What will she do all day when the routine of school is gone.  I already have visions of endless days spent on unnamed computer games or inane YouTube channels.  But actually more than that I want her to have a life that she enjoys, feels safe in, and has a sense of achievement from just being herself.

So the solution is that I need to teach her as many skills as possible to make her as able as she can be to do things for herself.  I’m not unrealistic of course there will be some things she may never master, maybe she will always be a bit vulnerable but I’m going to give her every tool and strategy I can find to make sure she is able to cope with everything life throws at her.  In short I want to equip her for a life past her additional needs I want to equip her for life.

Anyway having decided all this I did what most people do to find the resources and answers I googled it.  And in fact there’s heaps of information out there in hundreds of different places.  So from that came the vision of bringing together all the information, support ideas resources etc etc into one place

After much discussion among family, friend’s others facing the same challenge we decided that the focus should be three areas that would most help her on her journey to independence,

So the big 3 to us are daily living skills, so things liking budgeting, shopping, cooking, washing, cleaning the house,  purpose by that I mean a job or volunteering, basically something to do each day, and relationships, developing friendships and possibly even one day finding and living with a partner.

So from this then grew the bigger project which my husband I called Journey Skills.  We will be providing a resource hub where parents and young people can come to for help with everything from money skills to cooking to learning to ride a bicycle.  The everyday stuff which we all need to know to just live our lives.  There’s also a section there on money would really appreciate it you had a look at what we’re building at www.journeyskills.com.  Feedback most welcome ideas readily accepted

So why add a podcast to this mix.  Well like a lot of parents of children with additional needs I’m constantly looking for ways to help my daughter.  I will talk to anyone and everyone for the tiniest snippet of information or a contact that can help her in any way.  From this I know there’s lots of people out there who have faced the same challenges I’m facing and they’ve found solutions.  So this is a solutions podcast focused on what can be done to help a young person on their journey to an independent life.  Basically making that road as smooth as possible.  Each week I will talk to a someone who has something to share in 1 of the 3 areas I mentioned earlier daily living skills, purpose and relationships, which will help you guide your son or daughter on their own individual journey towards greater independence.  Topics for the future include supported living and starting up a small business.

Until then, thank you for listening to the JourneySkills Podcast.  Please subscribe to this podcast and let me know what you think at www.journeyskills.com/podcast.  If you have a journey to share I would love to hear from you just email me debra@journeyskills.com

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