How Are We Hurting Employment Inclusion For People With Intellectual Disabilities?

Several weeks ago, a local employment service I consult to encountered an all too familiar situation; the residential services involved urgently wanted the job-seeker “out of the house” and engaged in full time employment. The Career Exploration and Job Search processes were, in their estimation, taking too long. A job placement in which this job-seeker had no demonstrated interest nor aptitude was subsequently promoted by ‘advocates’ who had no resources with which to provide training and job retention supports.  The job lasted two days. The job-seeker felt like a failure and the employer had to reinvest in a costly and time-consuming hiring process. No one’s needs were met.

Some inclusion services address employment on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis, using outreach or community access staff to occasionally find  jobs for people in service who have expressed a desire to work. Other services respond to their funders’ need for rapid outcomes by instituting placement ‘quotas’ and focusing on job placement outcomes over sustainability outcomes. In both cases, it is probable that the inclusion service has inadequately responded to  

  1. the job-seeker’s strengths, interests, values and accommodation needs, and / or  
  2. the employer’s need for training, integration and ongoing retention supports.      

One of the most commonly stated reasons that employment inclusion services are declined by a prospective employer is “We tried this before and it didn’t work for us at all.” Further exploration inevitably reveals that the ‘placed’ employee had limited investment in the work, limited ability to perform the work –  or no support to enhance performance and build retention. In many cases, all of these factors impacted the experience. The employers who communicated a negative past experience with Employment Services typically felt their needs were not recognized and met – some felt deceived, manipulated or abandoned by the services.

In contrast, employer evaluations of services which have ensured effective job-matching as well as effective and available retention supports are ‘glowing.’ It is common for these employers to state that their workplace culture has improved and that they want more employees with such remarkable reliability and work ethic. Many such employers can be enlisted to promote employment inclusion within the business community and speak of their positive experiences.

The negative employment inclusion experience closes doors to workforce participation for people with disabilities. The latter, positive experience can open the entire business community to inclusion. Whether a policy-maker, funder or service provider – our good intentions don’t always have good outcomes. ‘Best Practices’ in facilitation of employment inclusion for people with disabilities guide us to recognize the employee and the employer equally and provide intentional support along a service continuum to both parties. Effective Employment Service provision sets the stage for  job satisfaction, performance and retention before the placement occurs, and supports their realization with post-placement interventions.  This is a clearer path to sustainable employment inclusion.

Employment Inclusion services and interventions must be thoughtfully and effectively delivered so that our work consistently ‘opens doors’ for the people we serve.      

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