When is the best time to prepare for employment?
Yesterday. Okay, well maybe it is better to say the sooner the better. The Star Center is beginning a new chapter in our story of helping people with disabilities find employment: Pre-Employment Transition Services, or Pre-ETS. It is supported by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that was signed into law July 22, 2014. WIOA increases individuals with disabilities’ access to high quality workforce services and prepares them for competitive integrated employment.
This new area of service opens the door to begin serving people at an earlier age. Students with disabilities, ages 14-22 will begin preparing for employment before they exit school.
What’s the big deal? Why do we need Pre-ETS?
Individuals with disabilities are unemployed at a higher rate than any other demographic. Roughly only 1 in 5 people with a disability is employed. This figure is especially confusing when you consider that employers generally feel that employees with disabilities are great at their jobs. Accommodations for disabilities usually cost very little (if any) money to the company. There are plenty of changes that need to happen on a national scale, but the angle we will bring to this problem today is individual development. When people develop job skills and the ability to advocate for themselves, we believe they have a great opportunity to find the best employment fit for them.
What is Pre-ETS?
Five pillars of service are provided through Pre-ETS.
- Job Exploration – “What kind of job do I want? What jobs are available in my area? Do my interests and skills match my career choice?”
- On-the-Job Training – Hands-on learning in real-life vocational environments, such as after-school work, summer jobs, school-based work, internships and even volunteer opportunities.
- Workplace Readiness – Develop social skills and independent living skills to prepare for, apply for, attain, and maintain employment. These include interpersonal and job-seeking skills.
- Self-Advocacy – Knowing yourself, becoming informed of your rights, disclosing your disability, requesting accommodations, decision making, goal setting, and growing in leadership.
- Post-Secondary Education – Assistance with pre-requisite coursework planning, financial aid support, scholarship resources, and introduction to post-secondary disability support services.
Where does the Star Center come in?
The mission of the Star Center is to help any person with any disability to realize their potential. As a part of our mission, we want every person to have the opportunity to find success and fulfillment in employment. The Star Center already collaborates with school systems across west Tennessee to provide a multitude of services to students with disabilities. The Star Center has also been providing job readiness, skills training, and employment services to adults with disabilities for decades. Pre-ETS provided a foundation and natural fit for Star to support successful transition from the school system into adult life and integrated employment.
We perform evaluations to help people identify their abilities and think about the jobs they want to do. We connect clients with employers so they can get hands-on experience with the end goal of permanent employment. We have been providing these services to adults for many years, but we realized that there was untapped potential within our school systems. We are excited about this collaborative effort between the Star Center, local schools, and Vocational Rehabilitation. It will allow us to begin reaching people at an earlier age to set them up for success. For example, Project SEARCH is a program in collaboration with the Jackson Madison County School System, West Tennessee Healthcare, the Star Center, and Vocational Rehabilitation to provide young adults with hands-on work experience and training in self-advocacy, job readiness, and other life skills. We began offering this program because we saw that many people with disabilities often were not equipped with the tools they needed to find and keep employment once they graduated from high school.
Employment services in general and Project SEARCH in particular exist to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and opportunities for employment. This is the driving force for all our personnel who work in this area: to find a way forward even when there are obstacles in the way.
How will the program be implemented?
This summer, the Star Center will be offering SOAR Camp: a 4 day comprehensive exploration of employment and self-advocacy. This camp will equip participants with the skills to identify the job they want and to present themselves as a great candidate for that job. Click here to learn more about SOAR Camp
Collaboration with School Systems
We believe that local school systems are the best ally we have in equipping students for employment. As a result, we will provide Pre-ETS services in collaboration with each school system. Together, we will train students in the five pillars of employment readiness. Perhaps one school is equipping students to self-advocate and is providing great transition counseling. We want to come alongside that school and fill in the gaps that exist in the other three pillars.
What is the impact of Pre ETS?
When someone graduates from a Pre-ETS program, our hope is that they are immediately able to transition into employment. Many of our clients follow this path, as the five pillars of Pre-ETS prepare them for a lifetime of successful employment.
In some cases, an individual might need some more training or support in order to be ready for a job. We have been providing these types of vocational services for almost 30 years with great success. The difference now is that our clients will have already developed many of the skills we teach in our traditional employment services tracks. We will sharpen existing skills and make small changes instead of starting from the ground up.
In short, we believe that Pre-ETS will impact every level of vocational services to make them more efficient and effective. More people with disabilities will find employment because of this partnership between schools and the Star Center.