Throughout our years of working on employment for people with disabilities, one recurring barrier has come up time and again – it is likely the same employment barrier that has affected many people without disabilities. That barrier being lack of WORK EXPERIENCE as a youth.
The job seekers (mainly adults) coming to us with no previous work experience were severely hindered in their opportunities in the job market. We decided to tackle this issue head on, by collaborating with the Edmonton Catholic School Board to support 10 students to secure meaningful work experience opportunities. Students in the Knowledge & Employment (K&E) pathway towards high school graduation often have the Work Experience component as a requirement for graduation. Our Pilot aimed at securing paid work experiences as typically the students are provided volunteer work experiences. It was an enriching experience for all involved and to draw firmer conclusions on the connection to easier employment as an adult, we have engaged Dr. Ian Gellatly from the University of Alberta business faculty to gather our data and keep track.
“The job seekers (mainly adults) coming to us with no previous work experience were severely hindered in their opportunities in the job market. We decided to tackle this issue head on”
Each student we supported during the pilot project had their own story, strengths & barriers, and each one was unique. Here are their stories..
Teresa – 18 full of light, energy and smiles, and could make the grumpiest person smile! She loves art, dancing and drama. Her barriers were not her disability as much as it was her supports. After many meetings the vision I formed for Teresa was for her to work in the “Arts Community” but this would require her to have supports after school and weekends and this unfortunately was not an option for her and her family and she needed to have work experience during the school hours and within walking distance of the school. Teresa did secure work experience at the Rec center next to her school, with the help of her EA she helps organize, clean and assist where needed.
Peter – a grade 9 student – shy but adventurous. A person wouldn’t know that he could hear very little as his ability to read lips was impressive. One of the biggest barriers to finding Peter employment was his age. Most employers need workers to be at least 16 years of age. The other barrier that he faced was location. Peter had opportunities but had no way of getting there – as they were either too far by bus or there was no service at all.
Griffin – a shy grade 10 student who didn’t share much. Griffin lives with selective mutism and lives with his mom and his brother. They are deep in their Catholic faith and Griffin likes to volunteer at his church doing alter service once per week. I secured work experience at a church supply company where Griffin will learn lots of valuable work skills like shipping and receiving, customer service, stocking, and cashier duties. He started his work experience in May, will be taking a break in the summer but will continue in September with a set shift.
Susan – a beautiful soul both inside and out likes to play soccer and spend time with friends and family in her last year of school. Susan had her first interview and secured paid employment on the day she would be doing her commencements at school! She is now working at a small food store as a product sampler and has already been working her way up to making some of the food! She is currently working 3 days per week 4 hour shifts and doing awesome!
Trish – a grade 10 student, who’s quite the prankster, lives with a blood disorder and has to have transfusions once per month. She also lives with cerebral palsy and uses a walker to help with mobility and stability. Trish really wanted to have a job and make her own money. She had her first and only interview at a movie theatre and instead of giving her work experience they hired her on the spot and she now works as the ticket taker. There were a few bumps in the training process and 1 bump on the job, but she has just past her probationary period and is continuing her journey with the theatre.
Wendy – is a 19-year-old who loves to smile at you and reach out her arms for a hug (that’s how you know she likes you as she is nonverbal). Wendy is medically fragile and has frequent seizures that will require all EA’s at the school to help her, she uses a specialized wheelchair that is pushed around by her EA. Wendy’s classes include foods & drama where her participation is very limited. It became very clear to me that Wendy would be great at helping libraries with the recycling of their old books as she has exceptionally strong hands and could rip apart a phone book in minutes! Unfortunately, Wendy had no way of being supported outside the school and her home supports were limited as well. If Wendy had the supports this would be the perfect job for her and I truly believe this could be something that could grow into a small business for her.
Eric – I met Eric in the middle of April – as one of the other students was missing in action so the teachers filled that spot and I did a very quick meet and greet with Eric. He was in his last year of school and would be finishing his grade 12 certificate of completion but still required work experience. I secured an interview at a fast food restaurant but unfortunately that didn’t go as expected as Eric’s work availability was almost nonexistent… After having a conversation with his teacher, Eric went back on his own to give a new availability schedule, but by that time the Manager had already decided he wouldn’t be a good fit. In the end he secured work experience at the local grocery store.
“The Work Experience pilot has proven to be a vital and very important service and all schools should have the extra supports like Gateway to continue this initiative.”
Patrick – is a quirky shy guy who was very sheltered with not a lot of social interactions. He wanted to work to prove himself and make his family proud. Through connections we were able to find him a work experience opportunity with Edmonton Nerf Parties where Patrick could learn valuable social skills, be a leader to lots of kids, plan, organize and be a part of something fun! He has recently started to learn how to use shop tools to make the nerf bow and arrows for the parties!
Lisa & Alex – I continue to work with both ladies to help find them employment. I had secured work experience for both with a phone company at the beginning of April. They were both going to gain great working experience in their customer support team called the “Street team” and have opportunities to work around the city of Edmonton to assist the sales team in playing games like Plinko with customers to handing out dog treats in dog parks while the sales team approached potential customers. It would have been a great opportunity for them both to begin with a big company that could help them flourish into other job opportunities within the company. Unfortunately, with staff changing and not having the buy in with the new group, this fell through in late May and we were back to searching.
The awesome employment team of Vickie and Ashleigh have both agreed to continue the supports for job search for Lisa and Alex as well as the maintenance for other students even though the work experience pilot project has finished.
The Work Experience pilot has proven to be a vital and very important service and all schools should have the extra supports like Gateway to continue this initiative. Otherwise we will continue to have a huge gap of unskilled students coming out of high school who are already marginalized. Giving them extra supports will only solidify the success of more citizens of Edmonton.
*The names of the students have been changed to protect their privacy*