Helping Students with disABILITIES -Kevin McCloskey & Dr. Amanda L. Walker

As the Director of Partnership Development with Disability Solutions, I take on a dual role when assisting our clients with their goal of hiring individuals with disabilities. I often hear companies say they do not know where to start as they begin a hiring initiative. This sentiment is completely understandable when there are often over 50 groups in their community serving jobseekers with disabilities. On the flipside, the community partners struggle to connect with the employer and get their foot in the door to discuss what programs they offer and the talent they work with. Although both have the same goal (employment for people with disabilities), things tend to get lost in translation due to language barriers: business language vs. social services language. My job, and that of my team, is to bridge that gap and help our clients hire the best person for the job who just so happens to have a disability. In order to do this, both sides have to be prepared.

There are four steps that go into preparing the employer.  The first is that you have to learn about our client, the employer, inside and out.  The second is to host an interactive training that is open and honest, helping to dispel common fears and stigmas that can come with working with individuals with disabilities.  Then, community outreach and creating partnerships with organizations serving jobseekers with disabilities becomes necessary.  Finally, you need to the build the bridge between the organizations identified and the businesses looking to connect.

 

In the past (and actually to this day), community partners have a difficult, and at times, unforgiving job placing individuals with barriers in positions. As a result, they have relied on the old Beg, Place and Pray model:Beg a company to hire an individual on their caseload, Place the individual in that position (hired!), Then pray to the powers that be that it all works out. “Placements” yes but “success” no.

Before I reach out to any community organization and/or refer a jobseeker to an employer, I make sure I know the business and what type of employee the business is looking for. When working with our clients and partners, we make sure the partners know business culture, language, expectations (it is not social services!), job requirements and necessary qualifications, and qualities of successful employees.

Much like any relationship, the ability to understand where the other person is coming from is critical. Once the connection with the CBO is made and the bridge is built, they will readily learn the ins and outs of your business so the most qualified candidates can be referred, and ideally hired. Most importantly, do not be afraid of failure. Not every referral will work out. Not everyone is the right fit for the job. If a goal is not met as quickly as you had intended, understand why and use those lessons to learn and improve. Keep in mind all relationships are built on trust, communication, and reciprocity.

At the collegiate level, the key to any great communication plan is developing internal (on-campus) and external partners (off-campus). Employers and organizations do the same thing in order to identify their stakeholders or consumers. Often they are seeking out these partners to better assist students and alumni reach success in the work world. Employers and community partners must brand or promote their program or initiative to colleges and universities. You cannot assume that one press release about your program has managed to reach all individuals engaged in workforce opportunities or all college and university faculty and staff that assist students in workforce opportunities. A company could have an outstanding program for individuals with disabilities but if no one knows about it, then it’s likely that it would not be a successful or highly utilized program.

Once employers have engaged the campus community leaders and workforce related faculty/staff, those campus leaders must then begin the process of sharing the opportunities with students and alumni. One-on-one advising sessions could provide more information on such employer programs or initiatives that help students transition to the world of work. Employer information sessions, could allow employer engagement with students that fit the criteria for the program and would also allow for students to better understand what they would get from participating in the program. More importantly, it allows for advisors to provide more resources that are focusing assisting students with physical or mental disabilities to become even more engaged in the workforce than ever before. It’s a very exciting time for individuals that have been thought of as having limited opportunities in the workforce.

 

 

Career Services staff can also connect employers with external partners. One example of an external partner may include workforce development or city/state Career Center officials within the city or region. It’s their job to know of any specialized programs that could help more individuals obtain work. In addition, Vocational Rehab Programs, would also be a great external partner to share program or employer initiative. Vocational Rehab programs focus on placing individuals into workplace opportunities that may have been challenging due to a disability or past experience with trauma.

Overall, colleges and universities can serve in two roles to assist companies or organizations that have great programs or initiatives for students or alumni with disabilities. First, they can help identify a population in which they serve that would need programs that assist students with disabilities obtain quality work. And, second, they could also help any said organization recruit talent to fill any said job opportunities. Furthermore, most college and university career services staff usually can assist in helping the employer develop a network with the city/state that provides services for students with disabilities.

In closing, whether you are an employer who finds this opportunity unique and of interest to you or whether you are a member of career services or disability services staff at a college or university, it’s a great opportunity to find out about any new resources or job training programs that can assist in further developing opportunities for students and alumni that have one or more physical or mental disabilities.

If you would like more information on employers with training programs or if you are interested in developing training programs on campus for your students/alumni, please feel free to contact Kevin McCloskey at Kevin.McCloskey@abilitybeyond.org .

Recap: Majors and Career Selection Anxiety in Students: How Can We Help them?

Doug Meyn, M.Ed., Career Consultant to the Muma College of Business, and Jean Keelan, M.S. NCC, Director of Career Planning, from University of South Florida presented findings from a study on how visiting the career center affected student anxiety levels, as well as tools that can be utilized to help alleviate anxiety in students. This re-cap is by Jen Harlan, Career & Internship Advisor at Kennesaw State University, jharlan5@kennesaw.edu.

Doug Meyn kicked off the presentation into this important topic with an anecdote about a student situation that those of us in the advising field are likely familiar with: a student came in to his office anxious about his future. The student told Mr. Meyn that he wanted to become a doctor, but he was anxious about taking the MCAT. From there, he started to spiral – not only was he anxious about taking the MCAT, he was anxious about how he’d do on the MCAT, then he was worried about if he’d even like being a doctor, and so on. He wasn’t certain about his choices, and, as Mr. Meyn puts it, he was “stuck in neutral” and unsure about what to do next.

Stories like these are familiar for a reason. The Spring 2016 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment found that 17% of student respondents had been treated for anxiety, 14% for depression, and almost 11% for both conditions in the last year. This same study found that over 25% of respondents reported “career-related issues” as traumatic or difficult to handle.

To help put the student back in gear and to speak to his analytical leanings, Mr. Meyn came up with a formula: a + i = a3, or if we are anxious and add inaction then it triples our anxiety. Additionally, he came up with a solution: a + (kpA) = a/2, or if we take anxiety, add knowledge, power, and action, then we cut our anxiety in half. While this interaction eventually led to the study undertaken, the formulas Mr. Meyn created paint a decent picture of what we try to do as advisors; we try to fill in the essential variables of the equation, i.e. knowledge, power, and action, so as to cut a student’s anxiety in half.

The University of South Florida study corroborated this sentiment. Undergrad first-time users of career services seeking assistance with any topic were surveyed through pre-appointment and post-appointment questionnaires. The six questions included in each of these surveys were essentially identical, utilized the Speilberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and were chosen to get a read on the level of the student’s anxiety prior to and after the appointment. Additionally, students were asked to rank resources by most effective to least effective by level of helpfulness for them individually.

Based on the results, 69% fewer students identified with “anxious”-related statements–such as “I am tense,” “I feel upset,” “I am worried”— after their appointment. There was an additional significant decrease in the number of students who did not identify with “at peace”-related statements—such as “I feel calm,” “I am relaxed,” “I feel content” — between their pre- and post- appointment questionnaire. Eighteen percent more students identified with “at peace”-related statements after their appointment. Perhaps most striking, 87% of respondents reported “increased confidence” after their appointment at the USF career center. Students ranked the following as some of the most helpful resources gained from their meeting:

  • Gained information about the job search
  • Learned about resources available to help me
  • Identified a plan to develop career direction
  • Learned new tools I can apply

Mr. Meyn offered several key takeaways from this research, such as developing a plan with students who are anxious, identifying their needs and concerns, utilizing next step concept and messaging, and recommending beneficial resources.

Jean Keelan, in the second half of the presentation, offered further strategies for decreasing anxiety in students when dealing specifically with major selection, based on a presentation she completed for a group of students at USF. Ms. Keelan utilized five areas for structuring this presentation: statistics about major selection, the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development, an activity to measure self- and workplace knowledge, information about decision making and personality types, and, finally, next steps for students in the presentation.

The statistics utilized offered a “you’re not alone” approach; for example, from the National Center for Education Statistics, Ms. Keelan shared that about 80% of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once. The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development approach further added the role which chance plays in an individual’s career path. Ms. Keelan led the student’s through the activity of filling out a knowledge wheel, essentially ranking considerations in their major selection process, such as experiences, personality, chance, abilities, etc., from those the student is most knowledgeable of and least. Finally, students were led through considering how their own personality type could impact the decision-making process when selecting a major.

By providing all of this information, Ms. Keelan was able to set the students up to take the next step in their own individual major selection decision-making process. Her presentation provided a different message for different types of students represented in the room, and allowed them all to gain some sort of lead toward continuing in their decision-making process.

These two studies offer important practices in working with students who are anxious about big decisions coming up. Taking note of the best practices and recommendations based on these studies can provide professionals in the advising field a better platform and a larger tool belt for working with students in this situation.

A copy of the presentation can be accessed under the SoACE Membership portal.