Career Development: the CLE Way
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Career Development: the CLE Way

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.

by Kati Strong, Career Development Coordinator, CLE Austin

Maddie working in the community gardenWork. For most Americans, it is the priority that fills the majority of our waking hours each day. Through our work, we are able to achieve other important milestones in our lives. James H. Douglas, Jr., lawyer and senior-level official in the U.S. government in the mid-20th century, may have put it best when he said: “A good job is more than just a paycheck. A good job fosters independence and discipline, and contributes to the health of the community. A good job is a means to provide for the health and welfare of your family….”

While there are times when we may dream of vacationing the days away and not having the responsibilities of work, the satisfaction of a job well done draws us back to realize how valuable our careers are to our well-being. Benjamin Franklin said, “it is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.” Through our work, we gain self-worth, confidence and the sense of contributing to our community at large.

The Bad News

Despite all we know about the benefits of work, it is no secret that there are significant barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities. In April 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 19.3% of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force (working or seeking work). Of those, 10% – more than half – were unemployed. These numbers are even more stark when compared to the population of people without disabilities, in which 68.4% participated in the labor force and 4.9% were unemployed during the same month. It is widely agreed upon amongst labor and vocational training professionals that in order to increase employment rates of individuals with disabilities we must increase their access to appropriate education and job training, as well as reasonable workplace accommodations and employment supports.

The Good News

Holiday Inn AustinThe CLE Career Development program is a model example of how to provide the job preparation, training and ongoing employment supports that help young adults with disabilities to achieve and maintain meaningful and sustainable employment. Across all areas of programming at CLE – Academic, Career Development, Social and Independent Living Skills – it is our goal to support each student as they work toward their highest possible level of independence. So, although we began as a program focused on supporting students during their post-secondary academic pursuits, it is easy to see how the CLE Career Development program naturally evolved to continue to support our students in building on their successes as they move on from academics and take their first steps into the world of work.

What does the CLE Career Development Program look like?

While each student’s career program is individualized based on their specific needs, there is a general framework of programming through individual and group sessions in which all Career Development students will participate. This includes:

  • COPSystem Career Assessment
    A comprehensive career assessment that goes beyond most single category career tests to assess 3 areas: career interests, values and abilities. Results present the best-matched career category (or categories) based on all three of these areas and correspond to major sources of occupational information, skills needed, school planning, and available training programs.
  • Career Exploration
    Group session led by a CLE career instructor to give students exposure to businesses and organizations within the community. Students explore work environments, learn about different jobs and interact with professionals through company tours and job shadows.
  • Career Workshop
    Group session focused on learning soft and hard skills through interactive lessons. Topics include: creating resumes, cover letters, and portfolios, interviewing skills, tax preparation, new hire paperwork; and a wide variety of soft skills including motivation, communication, teamwork, initiative, and flexibility.
  • 1:1 Career Advising
    Individualized session with a CLE career instructor. This is an opportunity for the student to work on specific career tasks with which they need immediate or long term assistance on their career pathway.
  • Jobs Groups
    Career study hall in which students develop field training skills in regard to job searching, applying for jobs, following up with potential employers, and pursuing individually needed career tasks with the support of a CLE career instructor.
  • Volunteer Groups and Internships
    Regularly scheduled weekly work opportunities, both in group and individual format, to help students build experience, gain exposure to the community, demonstrate consistency and reliability and receive “on the job” training.

Impact of the Program:

The CLE Career Development program is a vital resource for students as they work to overcome barriers to entering the workforce in order to accomplish their goals of employment and independence. Through their participation in Career Development programming, students gain the necessary skills and experience for success in the workplace, as well as building bridges to potential employers or, at the very least, strong references for future job searching.

For many students, I think employment is the linchpin for their independence, bringing together their academic efforts, their social development, their living skills, and their executive functioning. Career development, then, can be essential for making that independence real—and in a very practical way.

–John Kelly, Academic Coordinator, Costa Mesa

Reese and mentor at Holiday InnBut the benefits of Career Development at CLE don’t stop with our students. Through the outreach it takes to build our business partnerships and student job placements, the CLE Career Development team has the privilege of educating our communities about the many skills our students can bring to the workplace. Professionals and businesses learn some of the many ways that hiring individuals with disabilities can benefit their bottom-line, including improved morale and communication amongst staff, increased customer loyalty, access to a highly motivated and largely untapped labor pool, and even some financial benefits such as tax credits and subsidized funding.

The feedback that we receive from employers who work with CLE students has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, one manager at TJ Maxx said of her CLE student employee, “He has been a great addition. He is so friendly and helpful. He is also a great independent worker. He goes out of his way to help our shoppers and his teammates. Absolute joy to witness.”

CLE Career Development staff also welcome and encourage constructive criticism from employers, because it helps our students improve their skills and performance in the workplace and our staff to determine how we can best support student workers to be successful in their career path. For example, the manager of a Chili’s Bar and Grill said of one CLE student intern, “[The student] was great… His work ethic and attitude were fantastic, but on occasion would need to be redirected to stay on task, but he took feedback very well.”

Even in situations where one student has not been a good fit for a job and the job match ended up not working out, the CLE-employer relationship has not been damaged and companies are still seeing the benefits and remaining interested in hiring individuals with disabilities.

Working for the End Game:

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” CLE believes that every person, regardless of ability or disability, should have the chance to face that challenge. Through the Career Development program, students gain the advancement of job skills and experience, an understanding of ideal career matches and goals, and the development of personal characteristics such as commitment, motivation, and perseverance. And we aim to help Career Development students keep their eye on Roosevelt’s “best prize” because we believe they deserve the rewards that will result from working hard at work worth doing.

Newsletter Articles – June 2015

Shaking hands at interview.

Malcolm Gladwell says that experts like Bill Gates, Roger Federer and Yo-Yo Ma have each put in over 10,000 hours of practice to become the authorities that they are. In learning how to interview and impress an employer, practice is the most constant and important ingredient in the mix of success. But what exactly do I practice and how do I do that?
Start practicing with the job application. Your first contact with an employer is through your job application. It is important that they are neat, clearly filled out and complete. Only apply for jobs that (1) you are qualified for and, (2) you are interested in and willing to do the work. Everyone fills out the same application, so you distinguish yourself through the cover letter process.

Tyler first paycheck 2

When asked to do an article for the CLE newsletter to highlight a career student’s employment experience it was a no brainer for me on who to pick. Tyler has been employed with TJ Maxx for just a month now, but has stepped into his new role with the tenacity of a seasoned employee. Tyler agreed to do an interview with me regarding his experience as an employee at TJ Maxx, giving me a better sense of what a new job looks like for an individual on the career development pathway.

Ethan Mendick

Ethan started working at Best Friends Pet Care on October 10th, 2014. His role is a Play Time Associate where he takes care of both cats and dogs at the facility.

“I had another job before Best Friends, but I was working there alone for many hours.” Ethan began looking for a new job with the help of Rockville’s Career Development Coordinator, Jacky Cohen. “Even before I had the job, I practiced for the interview with Jacky. She came with me for the interview and for my first day at the job.”

Volunteering - CLE Austin

A volunteer experience is an essential part of the CLE Career Development framework across all centers. While volunteering is good for the community and can give students a great sense of pride, accomplishment, and connection, why is it essential on the Career Development Pathway?

Traditionally volunteer experiences are viewed like an extracurricular activity; something that is a nice addition to your daily routine, but not a necessity. The modern job market, however, demands more and more experience and having a consistent volunteer routine is an ideal way to stay competitive, relevant and create opportunities.

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