Tag Archives: job skills

What’s In A Job?

What’s in a job? An awful lot, I believe, if you’re a young person with additional needs. I should qualify that by acknowledging that for some young people there will be restrictions on the kind of jobs they can hold down because of the nature of their needs. I know certain jobs my daughter has expressed an interest in won’t work for her, like being a tour guide at Harry Potter World. She gets anxious in large groups. But I do remember one parent telling me how important it is to work with what our children want to do, and try and find a creative way for them achieve that. So for my daughter possibly a tour guide in a smaller attraction is an option.

In my mind I have this plan: my daughter will one day have a job, earn her own money and live independently. But it isn’t a plan with a timescale attached. She is 16, so plenty of time to worry about that later, right? No, wrong! the years fly by. So instead of just talking, I need to start timing the plan. At the same age, my oldest already had a part-time job on the weekend. This not only helped her confidence, but it gave her a sense of control over her own life because the money she earned she could spend any way she wanted. A sense of control is an essential part of growing up, and one many young people with additional needs miss out on. The fact is very few young people with additional needs end up having part-time jobs while still in full-time education.

So what is the first step to getting this part-time job? One option is to start with volunteering because there needs to be a dose of realism here. Volunteering can enable her to experience the world of work without the pressures that come with a paid job. But this has to be temporary. Volunteering, in my mind, is not a job; it’s giving something back to the community, which we should all do but it won’t help pay the bills.

Another option could be asking friends with businesses to help out with some work experience, unpaid at first most likely. Most of us know people who have a business, and maybe they have a role which fits into what your young person is interested in. If you’re very lucky you just happen to have a friend who owns a video games company or a chocolate factory. But I don’t think the role is as important as the responsibility of having to be somewhere, to do something. That gives the sense of progress towards independence.

If you are lucky enough to have one of the organizations I have talked with on the podcast on your doorstep, then this whole process might be easier. Approach them and see what connections they can help out with.  This is a good chance to start planning ahead because if you’re similar to me your son/daughter is still at school so not in need of these services just yet. Organizations like Invictus Enterprises, Team Domenica, Acceptable Enterprises, Yes She Can Inc. and bemix are ready and able to provide the stepping stones into paid employment.

In so many ways we support our children, so helping them transition into paid work is just another one of our many challenges. But I feel the rewards will be worth the struggles. I can’t wait for my daughter to get her first paycheck and choose to spend her money on something I totally disapprove of. A job will equal more control over her life, more choices and she deserves this just like everyone else.

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.

 

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.