The Employment Project – Lessons Learned (Part 1)

(A Historical Perspective – original source April 25, 2000)

“Some things change, some stay the same”

The 14 Lessons Learned discussed in this Appendix were documented in the year 2000, following a 3 year Employment Project designed to help blind and visually impaired job seekers secure a job in the mainstream workplace. Some things truly have come a long way, especially as they relate to the front end of the hiring process (see Lessons 5, 6 and 11, dealing with Employer awareness and the Bridge Phone Call). In general, the applicants disability need no longer be kept below the radar screen until a job interview is scheduled. Employers are more aware of Assistive Technology and its role in providing productive disabled employees.

On the other hand, many of the barriers connected to the applicant’s struggle to cope with his disability (see Lessons 1-4) and his experience with the path through the rehabilitation system and long periods of unemployment (see Lessons 7-10 and 12-14) are as appropriate today as they were a decade or so ago.

  • ITEM
  • ClientRelated
  • EmployerRelated
  • Rehabilitation Process

Lesson #1 — A sense of urgency

Consumers need support and encouragement while a job lead is actively pursued. Client feedback about search progress is essential.

Expectation Clients will respond immediately to available job leads.

Reality Many clients have not worked in years. They are unsure of the level of assertiveness needed to pursue and follow-up on job leads, resumes, and interviews.

Result Client delays pursuing a job lead; by the time a client responds, the job is gone.

Lesson Learned:

Consumers need support and encouragement while a job lead is actively pursued. Feedback from the client is necessary at every step of the search process.

Lesson #2 — Self-esteem

Before beginning a job search, clients need help in dealing with issues of low self-esteem related to blindness.

Expectation Clients have successfully adjusted to blindness, and possess the self-confidence to pursue a job search.

Reality Many clients are still in the early stage of their adjustment to blindness.Self-confidence is low.

Result The client is hesitant to pursue job leads.

Lesson Learned:

In order to prepare clients to enter the job search process, they need structured help to deal with issues of self-esteem, coping with loss, and other psychological and social adjustment to blindness.

Lesson #3 — Blindness is not the (primary) problem

If we want to help clients find jobs, we must first address the social, emotional, psychological, and physical problems that relate to blindness or vision loss.

Expectation To support a client in a job search, the major (or only) issue we need to deal with is their blindness or vision loss.

Reality Many clients have multiple problems that must be dealt with, including social isolation, lack of social skills, depression, dialysis, short-term memory loss, and lack of self-esteem.

Result If these major issues related to blindness are not dealt with, and resolution formulated, before an intensive job search begins, it is unlikely that the client will ever find successful employment.

Lesson Learned

Any advocate or sponsoring agency working with the job seeker must be aware of and address all blindness-related client issues that are likely to impact a successful job search.

Lesson #4 — The Second Time Around

A successful job placement is just the first step.Long-term monitoring is necessary.

Expectation Once a successful placement is made, only periodic monitoring is required.

Reality Many of our clients are entering the workplace for the first time in a long time. The workplace culture is not one they are familiar with, or necessarily comfortable with.

Result Approximately 20% of the placements have ended in client resignation or termination within six months of hire. All but one of these clients has since been placed for the second time.

Lesson Learned:

Successful placement is just the first step. Project planning must recognize and deal with the reality that clients need long-term follow-up and monitoring.

Lesson #5 — Employer Awareness

Employers don’t understand blindness in the workplace. We need ongoing, direct dialogue between Project staff and employers.

Expectation Providing employers with detailed information about the Employment Project’s mission, goals and process will open an employer’s doors to Project clients.

Reality Most employers—whatever shape or size—know little about employing blind or visually impaired workers.

Result Attempts to reach and engage employers are often unsuccessful.

Lesson Learned:

To close the reality gap, we need extensive, ongoing, direct dialogue between Project staff and employers. We must pursue every opportunity to meet directly with employers—at job fairs, and especially at employer job sites.

Lesson #6 — Employer Advocacy

It is every bit as important to assure the employer that the Project advocates for employers as well as for employees.

Expectation The Employment Project’s advocacy role is to advocate with the employer for the client.

Reality Most employers, of whatever shapes or size, know little about employing the blind and visually impaired. Since they are uncertain about what they should and must do, they find reasons to back away from the process. They need help (an advocate) to give them information and direction on how they can deal with and profit from this opportunity.

Result The employer does not open up to the client, and the client does not get the job.

Lesson Learned:

It is every bit as important to ensure the employer that the Project advocates for the employer as well as for the employee. This is especially true in the area of assessing what accommodations are needed and locating possible funding sources for the accommodations.

Lesson #7 — Staffing Agencies:

The project’s time and energy are more profitably spent dealing directly with employers.

Expectation Partnering with Staffing Agencies will provide benefits of established relationships with multiple employers and that temp-to-hire jobs would provide opportunity for client to demonstrate capabilities before employer commits to hire.

Reality Staffing Agencies, in general, shield employer completely from the Employment Project. Staffing Agencies do not convey necessary message to employers about what is involved in hiring the blind and visually impaired. Staffing Agencies are hesitant to even connect the project in a three-way dialogue with the employer.

Result Attempts were made to partner with four different Staffing Agencies, with varying degrees of connection. No successful placements were made.

Lesson Learned:

The project’s time and energy are more profitably spent dealing directly with employers, rather than through Staffing Agencies.

Continue to Part 2 of this article (Lessons 8 through 14)

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