By Joanna Samuels
In my role as a job developer and job coach over the past 12 years, I have helped countless talented individuals with disabilities and multiple barriers, from diverse backgrounds and fields, to secure paid placements and internships that have met their employment and career goals. This has required me to consider creative approaches to help those with disabilities secure meaningful employment and integrate into the competitive jobs market.
One of the strategies I have used is “job carving,” also known as job customization or customized employment. Following some of the theory from researchers, this article presents five hands-on job-customization techniques that I have found useful on the frontlines.
1. Understand your job seeker
Conducting a thorough and holistic assessment of the job seeker’s hard (work/job related) and soft (social and behavioural) skills, as well as supports required, is key. This should include talking to employment/vocational counsellors, employers, managers and other job developers, as well as community partners and an individual’s family. As the job developer, I use a strength-based employment-counselling model to determine the job seeker’s unique strengths, passions, interests and limitations. In addition, by identifying a client’s current “workplace skills”, I am able to manage their expectations and confirm a realistic job goal. A reality check might require a visit to an employer’s site or using social media to research potential companies.
For example, I recently worked with a job seeker who loved to cook and bake and wanted to use this in his career. We explored this job goal by visiting one of the local bakeries, meeting with the employees and the managers, and figuring out which jobs my client would immediately be able to perform and which he would have to learn. We decided that an afternoon shift in bagging and tagging the breads would be the best potential fit to pursue.
2. Understand the accommodations
Continuing with the process of learning as much as you can about your job seeker, it is essential that both of you understand what accommodations will be required before contacting employers. For example, if your client can lift a maximum of 20 lbs then you should target roles and departments in which this will not be a problem. Be specific. Engage in employer site visits to check out the environment and to ensure that your client can be accommodated prior to approaching the company.
3. Conduct deep research on the labour market
“Labour market information,” as defined by settlement.org, tells you the demands of the job market in the area in which a client wishes to work; explains how employers fill vacancies and describes the sources of jobs; presents employment conditions, salaries and benefits; and outlines the education, training, and qualifications required for job components.
An important part of understanding the labour market is conducting intensive research on the job seeker’s targeted professions and employers. You can search them on sites such as Industry Canada. Other ways to learn are to look at job boards and the websites of an industry’s associations and organizations, and to visit trade shows, conferences and conventions. You can research occupations on websites such as glassdoor.com or the “Working in Canada” pages at targetjobs.co.uk, as well as social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. By analysing job postings, you will come to understand the value of an individual’s current skills, strengths, experience and education, and be able to identify the gaps and shortages in their targeted sector. You may find that your job seeker will have to learn or upgrade their skills and education, or gain more relevant experience in order to become more marketable.
Research companies. Compile a list of all the companies that your job seeker might be interested in working for, and areas and departments that could use your client’s skills, experience and education. Identify the decision-makers—the people within a company who have the power to offer you and your client an information meeting or interview, or even a job. Once again, social media sites, company websites, media articles, newspapers, trade journals, association websites and visiting the workplace can be valuable sources of information.
4. Understand the business needs
Begin with learning the business. For example, meet with the employer at the workplace site. This is the best way to learn about and evaluate the workplace culture, the people and the existing opportunities. Be alert to possible shortages and try to uncover any potential unmet needs. Using your strong business-savvy sense, assess the employer and their business needs, values and workplace culture, applying the same evaluation as you would with your candidate. By identifying inefficiencies (in confidence) at the employer’s site, you can sometimes turn this into a task or responsibility that works for your client’s job goal. It is about balancing the two “clients” and helping the employer’s business be successful—it is not a make-work project.
Expecting an employer to be a venue for you to train your candidate is unrealistic, unless you have the support of the employer to offer this prior to placement. Alternatively, you can pursue a partnership business or a social enterprise or organization that is already set up for a train-and-place model.
5. Build mutually beneficial relationships
Trust is key. Before you pursue job carving, it is important to first identify how you can help a specific employer with their existing business model. For example, if the employer has an urgent need for an architect, take this as an opportunity to source qualified architects from your caseload or collaborate with community partners. Provide stellar customer service. You might not find a suitable person for the job from your caseload, but identifying a high-quality candidate is a great way to kick-start a good professional relationship. You should also aim to keep employers updated on all the new programs and services available to them that can help their business (e.g., government-funded subsidies, grants, employer events such as job fairs, internship).
Customizing a job for a person with disabilities involves identifying the employer’s problems, shortages and needs, and areas in which they need help. You are looking to delineate a real job that will contribute to the overall operation and productivity of the business, not a “charity job.”
The challenge of securing meaningful and sustainable employment for people with disabilities in the labour market can be addressed by employment specialists through an innovative strategy of job carving or work customization. Using the key information outlined in this article can often pave the way for a paid placement, with improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities and their eventual integration and inclusion in a competitive work force.
References available upon request.
Joanna Samuels, MEd, CMF, CTDP, RRP, is the employment resource supervisor at reena.org. She provides customized supported employment/career services to unemployed and underemployed individuals with disabilities and multiple barriers, and helps employers with inclusive/diversity recruitment.