National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is the perfect time to jump start your path to gainful employment as a student who is blind or visually impaired. But how do you begin to take control and move toward your goal of having a job?
Simple! The best way to learn something is to do it. Working while you’re in school is the most important thing you can do to prepare for the workforce as an adult. It’s hard to imagine that a part-time job after school, during the summer, or on weekends is so important for your future, but research tells us it is the single best predictor of being successfully employed once you finish school.
CareerConnect’s new Transition to Work: Program Activity Guide can serve as a roadmap to get you started. You can work through the guide yourself, but I suggest you reach out to a teacher or rehabilitation professional who is willing to help you take that first step in employment.
First Steps for Students in the Employment Process
Step 1: Take Charge of Your Education
Start where you are in school by taking responsibility for your educational goals by being more involved in your Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Work toward running the meeting yourself, directing your IEP, and eventually you will be ready to direct your Individualized Employment Plan with your state vocational rehabilitation program. By taking an active leadership role in your education, you can discover what fields interest you, whether or not you need to pursue higher education, and explore all of your available options.
The step-by-step guide in Lesson 1: Student-Led IEP Meeting of the Transition to Work: Program Activity Guide will help empower you to take the lead in these important meetings. But don’t stop there! Continue to work toward this goal while tackling the other steps in the employment process.
Step 2: Avoid the "First Job" Pitfall
Many young people fall into the trap of wanting the "perfect job" as their first job, and they won’t or don’t accept anything less. Avoid this pitfall by talking to people you know about their first job. It is very unlikely that it was even related to what they are doing now, and yet the jobs they have held led them to where they are today. For a first-hand account of this very situation, check out my "first job" story in "Resources You Haven’t Thought of Before As a Visually Impaired Job Seeker."
There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between a career and a job. As a job seeker, you need to be able to distinguish this difference so you can make good decisions about future jobs. Lesson 2: Job Versus Career will help you think about how you’re going to achieve your career goals through jobs that fit your immediate needs as well as lead in the right direction. Although it would be nice to start your first job with a big salary, benefits, and paid vacation, it’s not realistic. Most first jobs are minimum wage, no benefits, and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.
Step 3: Inventory Your Employability Skills
Although you have been developing employability skills since you first learned to walk, talk, follow directions, ask questions, and put your toys away, you probably aren’t able to verbalize them. Employability skills are those transferable skill sets all employers seek in employees that are not specific to a particular job.
Lesson 3: Employability Skills will walk you through the process of identifying and evaluating your transferable skills. You can begin to sharpen those skills you are good at and develop those you lack or need to improve. Work through this lesson more than once as you continue to explore the world of work. Some jobs will value certain skills over others and the more you know about yourself and your skills, the better prepared you will be to choose the best opportunities in the future.