They talk to employers to ascertain the demands of a job, assess a person with disabilities’ work-readiness and coach them in the initial months to help make the transition into the new work environment easier. They are the conduit between employers and job seekers with disabilities, playing the roles of advocate, coach, mediator and friend. In this article, Elizabeth Chua and Raymond Tang tell us about their roles as employment support specialists (ESS) at SPD.
What ESS set out to achieve
Our goal is to help people with disabilities find employment opportunities in the open market in the hope that they can contribute to society. We also do so to help them develop better self-esteem from having stable, well-paying and fulfilling jobs. We provide them with job support to help ease them into their new jobs to help them stay longer in the job. We are always on the move and we get to meet people with disabilities, whom we call ‘clients’, and employers of diverse backgrounds.
The process may appear straight-forward to many but this is far from the truth. Underneath this perceived simplicity lies a great deal of ground work, hard work and determination.
What we do
A) Building Relationships with Employers
One of our core responsibilities as an ESS is to forge partnerships with new and existing employers through networking and constant dialogue. Understanding the employers’ business – their requirements, demands and needs – is essential but takes time. Through several meetings, we help to provide solutions in order to involve our clients meaningfully in the work environment and in the process, help employers work out the kinks in their workflow processes in order to meet manpower needs. We normally engage employers through public education or awareness programmes that cover topics such as working with persons with disabilities, workplace modifications, workplace accessibility and job accommodation.
B) Building Relationships with Our Clients (Being Client-Centric)
Apart from being employer-centric, we must also understand our clients’ career aspirations. Every client is different in attitude, aptitude, personality, strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Before matching them to a job, we have to take time to get to know our clients. This requires constant communication and rapport building which would hopefully lead to greater trust, which encourages the clients to be more receptive and open to our advice, ideas and recommendations on suitable job vacancies or career options.
One of the challenges that we often face during the initial stages of assessment is whether a job seeker is ready for open employment. We would work closely with professionals such as occupational therapists (OTs), trainers, assistive technology specialists and social workers who have interacted with the client before ascertaining if the client is work-ready. We would suggest vocational training for clients who are not ready for employment. Such training helps prepare the individual for future work opportunities.
Many factors are taken into consideration during the job matching process, including the clients’ educational profile, work experience, skill sets, job preferences, attitudes, aptitudes as well as the professionals’ assessments and recommendations. As we learn more about our clients, we may need to renegotiate with the employers on the job tasks and address any accessibility concerns. Where necessary, we would seek the expertise of the OTs as well as the assistive technology specialists.
C) Playing Multiple Roles between Employers and Clients
After the successful placement of clients in their jobs, we move on to the next stage where we help to ensure their sustainability in their jobs. To achieve this, we often find ourselves putting on the hats of a facilitator, mediator and sometimes workplace counsellor.
Common challenges a client may encounter during the initial months into a job include feeling the pressure of having to keep up with the pace and demands of work, communication issues with colleagues or supervisors, long hours at work, variations in employment expectations, and even dislike for the kind of job he/she is assigned to. These may cause some clients to give up or quit their jobs at the early stages.
Our job coaching sessions include weekly or bi-weekly visits to the clients’ worksites to ensure that they are coping well at work. We would talk to the client as well as his colleagues and supervisors to find out his attitude and work performance. Such feedback is important in helping us offer suitable interventions. For instance, we would:
– take on the role of a facilitator if it is an issue pertaining to the employment contract,
– be a mediator in work situations where face-to-face resolution between client and employer is awkward,
– play the role of a workplace counsellor should the issue lie with the client’s attitude or behaviour at work.
In the event that a social-emotional issue affects the client’s job performance, we would alert or enlist the help of trained professionals such as the social workers in the course of resolution. Should the issue relate to performance or quality of work, we may seek the help of a job coach or an OT in developing suitable intervention strategies, such as work task modification or use of assistive devices or cues.
Hence, ESS and other trained professionals work closely together to provide the support that a person with disabilities requires to find and stay in a job.
Other than promoting the abilities of our clients, we also educate and caution employers on the possible barriers or challenges that they may face. This is to manage expectations for both the employers and clients so that the employment journey would be mutually pleasant and fulfilling.
If the client does well in his job and value-adds to the organisation, he would be rewarded and earn the appreciation of the employer for his efforts. Such positive engagements encourage more organisations to be open to hiring people with disabilities and create more employment opportunities for the community of people with disabilities.