Job Club: Creating independence in employment for people with disabilities
The spiking cost of living impacts people with disabilities equally as much as people without, creating a need to seek supplemental income.
Despite this need, people with disabilities experience higher unemployment rates and face barriers to employment which contribute to a significant discrepancy in employment for people with disabilities when compared to those without.
According to the Bureau of Labor, in 2021, 11.9% of all people surveyed had a disability, half were over the age of 65, but only 19.1% of the people with disabilities surveyed were employed. The unemployment rate of people with disabilities seeking work was twice that of individuals without disabilities.
There are many Michigan agencies with work programs to assist individuals with disabilities. However, these agencies are not immune to the staff shortages that plague every industry in today’s economy, often causing minimal assistance and delays in helping people with disabilities seeking employment. Disability Network strives to bridge the gap in employment for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are often qualified to fill employment positions, yet face barriers to joining the work force, from the initial job-seeking stage through the application and hiring process and continuing throughout the employment period.
Disability Network created a program called Job Club in response to these barriers. Job Club is designed to assist individuals with disabilities who are contemplating employment or preparing to begin new employment. The program is divided into two series which focuses on career assessments, accommodations, skills, applications, mock interviews, resume and cover letters, self-employment and social security benefits planning.
The creation of Job Club has provided an interesting perspective on the modern trends of obstacles which provide challenges in obtaining employment for people with disabilities. One obstacle is relaying work history and relevant experience on applications and resumes. Gaps in employment or late admission to the workforce are common with disability and can be difficult to explain on a resume.
One Job Club participant needed a lengthy break from paid employment to provide care for her ailing mother for many years. Eventually, the time came to join the work force, but she was concerned about the 10-year gap in her work history. She joined the two series of Job Club to assist her in preparing for employment to create a resume and complete applications in applying her education and experience despite the break in employment history.
Job Club helped her to realize that her volunteer work during the break and the direct caregiving duties she provided for her mother were all relevant experiences that the right employers would be interested in. Furthermore, she disregarded her nursing degree received over 20 years ago because she had not worked in the nursing field. Job Club taught her that this was still appropriate to list on her resume and applications. After this individual completes the two segments of Job Club, she will work with Disability Network staff on finding employment.
Another obstacle that many people face in seeking employment when they have a disability is a lack of confidence in presenting employable skills and presenting themselves confidently in an interview. Job Club helps individuals to understand their skills and abilities and how these are valuable in employment settings, allowing participants to become more confident in discussing these with potential employers. One common example is skills with computers, programming and technology. But because these skills are often developed outside of work experience, many individuals overlook this as a skill that employers might find valuable.
A second Job Club participant worked at a large agency as a COVID tester. The position was this individual’s first job and he had no further experience in competitive employment. As the COVID rates improved in his county, he was informed that his services as a COVID tester would be unlikely to continue much longer. He joined Job Club to assist him in entering competitive employment so that he could look for new work.
Before starting Job Club, he reported having no employable skills and lacked confidence in his ability to hold any other job. After completing Job Club, he learned that his skills in customer service and volunteer work running another program the agency offered were skills that he could report on applications and resumes. This encouraged him to speak with his employer and the human resources department to inform them that he was looking for new work, but wanted to advocate for the creation of another position within the agency because he enjoyed working for them.
He reminded them of his skills, that he had never missed a day of work, that he completed all the work he had been trained to do pursuant to his job description and then took on many additional duties as was asked of him. As a result of his self-advocacy, the agency created a new position to keep him employed with the agency. He would like to continue working with Disability Network to learn more about self-employment to fulfill his life dream of owning and running his own store.
Disability Network encourages employers to remember that people with disabilities are employable, and to be as open to accommodations in the application and interviewing process as you would be during employment. If you need any assistance or are interested in learning more, please visit disabilitynetwork.org.
Alanna Lahey is the associate director for the Disability Network of Northern Michigan in Traverse City. Disability Network Northern Michigan is the first stop for people with disabilities and their families in northern Michigan with a mission to promote personal empowerment and positive social change for people with disabilities.