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Your First Job Should Not Be Your Last

I want a job, or two, or three…

Can you answer the following question?

On a load chart, values above the bold line mean:

a.    Capacities based on tipping
b.    Capacities based on structural competence
c.    Capacities should be reduced by 20%
d.    On tire capacities

Know the answer? Me neither, because I am not a heavy equipment operator! So what is my point here? Sometimes we test people on things that can be irrelevant. That can be especially true when administering vocational evaluations to people with disabilities, when we test for things that just don’t matter, such as IQ, reading level, speed, or skills that simply do not pertain to the work they are interested in performing.

If you tested me on load charts, or how many widgets I could put together in an hour, I would fail miserably because I do not know what a load chart is, and I don’t want to put widgets together! Or, perhaps, I do like putting widgets together, but the day you tested my speed I was not feeling well, and it was decided I would never be a widget maker.

Many of us forget that a lot of trial and error went into finding the jobs we currently have. As a trainer, I used to ask job coaches and employment specialists how many jobs they have ever had. I asked this question because time and time again I heard of people with disabilities being deemed as “unemployable” simply because the professionals working with them felt they couldn’t keep a job. Hey, I once had a job that lasted one day, and another that lasted three! This is what I mean by trial and error. Isn’t that how we learn what we like and don’t like? Aren’t those experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones, what shape our conditions for future job success? They sure are!  In fact, it is all that experience that leads us to better paying jobs that require certain levels of experience.

When you think about those first jobs, did you have a vocational evaluation to get these positions? Probably not. While writing this blog, I decided to ask the staff at National Disability Institute what some of their first jobs were. We had several newspaper deliverers; a couple folks who worked on the family farm or in the family business; a number of waiters and waitresses; some babysitters, dishwashers, construction workers, and cashiers; along with a camp counselor and a lifeguard. Many of you reading this blog can probably identify with one or two of these yourselves! Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there is anything bad about any of these jobs. There is value in ALL work. But, it is important to remember a few things about those first jobs. First, no one made us take a vocational assessment before getting the job to make sure we could succeed. Second, many of us did not succeed! And lastly, no one told us we could not work again because some of those initial jobs didn’t work out. It is what’s called dignity of risk, meaning respecting each individual's autonomy and self-determination. We all make mistakes and it can take a while to master things, even the things were are good at! In the meantime, we are building self-esteem, garnering respect from others, developing a sense of accomplishment, becoming a part of a team, and of course, getting paid!

So, how many jobs have you had? Take a moment and try to count them all up. My best guesstimate is somewhere near 25-27. That seems like a lot doesn’t it? Or does it? In the past 26 years, I have held four jobs. It just took me 22 jobs (in almost as many years) to figure out what I really wanted, and boy was it worth it!

About the Author: Nancy Boutot is a Manager of Financial Empowerment at National Disability Institute (NDI). Nancy provides training on Social Security work incentives, benefits planning and work supports and other asset development strategies to empower individuals and communities to maximize financial capabilities. Prior to joining NDI, she spent eight years with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in Florida and 14 years directing nonprofit community based employment programs in Florida and New Jersey. Nancy earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, a Master of Science from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and is also a certified Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) through Virginia Commonwealth University’s National Training Center.

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