An Innovative Approach to Skills Training
Until the past decade, many people with physical disabilities found that their training options were very limited due to the inaccessibility of schools and college programs. Many employers felt justified in not hiring these individuals claiming they were not qualified for available positions. Those keens on working were often relegated to homebound employment, telephone solicitation or sheltered workshops.
While full integration is still far from being achieved, the 1980’s heralding of the “Decade of Disabled Persons” has contributed to a significant increase in the number of people who previously experienced barriers to employment, now entering the competitive labour force.
Despite inroads in removing architectural and attitudinal barriers in Kitchener-Waterloo, many of the people served by the Ontario March of Dimes were still unable to get or keep a job. Staff hypothesized that if they could find ways to overcome barriers which limit stamina, self confidence, and familiarity more people could become successful workers.
Developing an “apprenticeship” program was identified as a viable means for individuals to acquire positive work attitudes while gaining familiarity work attitudes while gaining familiarity with the specific responsibilities of a job.
Initially, a pilot project at Ontario March of Dimes was established in 1984 through the generous support of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Labour market research identified three occupational areas in high demand within Kitchener-Walterloo. These included fast food service, light industry and data entry positions. Local employers who were willing to provide such work stations were contacted.
In these early days, Job Coaches were assigned to train participants at each of these community sites. The project went well. Employers were often so impressed with the newly acquired skills of the “trainees” that they offered them permanent jobs. Others very quickly received favourable letters of reference and almost without exception, secured a comparable job elsewhere in the community.
The next phase of Job Coaching emerged by 1987 as persons with an increasingly broad spectrum of ambitions and special needs applied to the program which had become known as “Placement Experience Training”. The permanent work stations were disbanded in favour of individually selected sites based on the participant’s career goal. Autobody shops, retail outlets, day care centres, banks and university administration departments are some of the areas where Ontario March of Dimes has provided training over the past seven years.
Recently, an immigrant woman, now in her late thirties who survived polio in her infancy, came to the Ontario March of Dimes frustrated by the difficulty in securing a job in Canada because of her mobility impairment. With the assistance of her Job Coach, a local bank agreed to host a data entry training position.
By rearranging her work area to maximize her physical efficiency which consequently minimized her fatigue, establishing a plan for her to learn the job at her own pace, she succeeded in acquiring the data entry skills. Ultimately she was offered a more senior position on a full-time basis.
Job Coaches have found that once employers are assured that they are under no obligation to hire the trainee, nor will there be any cost or extensive time commitment on their part, they typically become enthusiastic stakeholders in the process.
To date, more than 150 people have completed “Placement Experience Training” with more than 100 securing work in their chosen field.
What makes it effective is the individual attention a Job Coach is able to provide the participant. Once a site is mutually agreed upon, the Job Coach visits the work place and completes a comprehensive review of the job including the specific duties, quality standards, productivity rates and business protocol. A training plan is then developed which presents the skills to be acquired in a manner compatible with the learning style of the participant. Special note is made to provide ways for trainees to use technical aids or devices to compensate for their disability or minimize any pain and fatigue. Sometimes it is as simple as rearranging the equipment at a work station, providing a footstool, backrest or keyboard stabilizer to accommodate an individual’s functional limitations.
At the present time, there are four full time Job Coaches in the Waterloo Regional Office. Once they have located as suitable site, they are responsible for training the participant in the skills and work behaviours required for the position, offering emotional support and serving as a role model for both the individual with the disability and other employees of the organization sponsoring the work site.
Job Coaching is a unique career. It appeals to energetic individuals who thrive on working in various employment settings with people who have a variety of different learning styles and may require innovative ways to perform a job.
At times, the transient nature of continually moving from site to site can become wearing.
But Job Coaches indicate they are able to recharge themselves by the satisfaction they receive by bridging gaps for individuals who have previously found employment an elusive goal.
Heather Ingram is Program Manager at the Ontario March of Dimes in Waterloo. For further information about Placement Experience Training please contact (519)579-5530.