New Program for Job Seekers Revolutionizing How People With Disabilities Find Work

Article two of three in our National Disability Employment Awareness Month series

For many people, searching for a job is a daunting task. Finding the perfect combination of skills, interests, and wages isn’t easy for anyone, but it often presents additional challenges for people with disabilities.

A new small group career development program introduced by Lifeworks aims to bridge that gap. By utilizing a personalized approach that takes job seekers through three distinct phases, small group career development has been a success since introduced in Mankato in June 2017. The program was first piloted by Lifeworks in the Twin Cities in January 2016.

“It’s really nice that they get to come [to small group career development] instead of working on an enclave and then have two hours to do job searching,” said Lifeworks Career Placement Counselor Chris Jensen. “Now it’s like, this is the full-time job. The full time job is finding a job.”

As they search for a job, participants learn about career possibilities, identify employment themes, and create personal employment plans. But the secondary skills they learn along the way are often just as valuable.

For Adam, he learned about the importance of navigation skills on his first day in the program.

Interior_1“I actually had to laugh,” he said. “The day I was doing my first class here I got lost because I was kind of in a rush to get home. I had stuff to do that day; I wasn’t really paying much attention to landmarks.”

For other participants like Julia, learning to voice their opinion has allowed them to increase their independence.

“Julia, she’ll go check herself into a dental or medical appointment, or order her own food now,” said Amy Herz, who facilitates the group. “Before, she wouldn’t do that.”

One of the key elements of the small group career development program is supporting participants to hone their skills throughout the Mankato community, including the Minnesota State University campus, the workforce center, and job fairs.

“Julia went as far as to make a lunch date with an intern and asked for tokens for the city bus to go across town to lunch,” Herz said. “That was huge for her.”

For some job seekers, interview and communication skills are their biggest shortcoming. The personalized experience of small group career development allows them to focus on their greatest needs.

“I’ve done a lot in group homes, sheltered workshops and all that, but this has been the coolest experience because it’s so personalized,” Herz said.

Weekly research topics, guest speakers, and mock interviews help job seekers gain a better understanding of different career opportunities and the hiring process.

“My favorite part is just trying to get through the interview, like mock interviews,” said job seeker Amanda Black.

So far, two individuals in the program have successfully found new careers. Those who remain are continuing to grow as they make an informed choice about competitive, integrated employment.

“We’re not applying for jobs just to get by,” Herz said. “We want something that you actually like to do, that you want to do, and you get to pick what that’s going to be.”

Guest speakers often help job seekers see the path to success, and none more so than Lifeworks Associate Travis Sprenger.

“Travis, we had him come in because he was one of our more successful individuals,” Jensen said. “He came in and had a really good conversation with everyone. He gave a lot of good advice, answered some questions, [and] just kind of told them how he got to where he is right now.”

While some job seekers are entirely new to Lifeworks, others have been around for many years. Regardless, everyone has benefited from the opportunity to take charge of their job search, identify career themes, and grow as human beings.

“When you give people the responsibility of being a leader, now they have to start paying attention to their surroundings,” Herz said. “They have to start paying attention to everything around them. When they have somebody providing that for them, they don’t use that ability.”

Lifeworks supports dozens of job seekers with disabilities in the Twin Cities and greater Mankato area. Are you interested in hiring individuals with disabilities at your workplace? Visit our Employer Partnerships page for more information. You can also make a donation today to support the Lifeworks Employment program.