When I was in college, I applied for summer employment with the public works department of a city which shall remain nameless. The job application asked if I knew how to drive heavy equipment. Without hesitation, I did what many desperate job-seekers before me had done.
Of course I know how to do that, I assured them. In reality, I’d never even driven a car with a standard transmission. But, I thought, how hard can driving a two-and-a-half ton dump truck really be? I would discover the answer to that question mid-morning of my first day when I was asked to move the truck about thirty feet. Following the advice my older brother had given me over the phone the night before, I ground the gears and jerked the truck forward the required distance.
Things got better after that. I worked three summers and eventually drove all manor of tractors, graders and loaders – everything I’d dreamed of doing as a little boy.
Let me be clear — I do not recommend blatant lying as a viable job-seeking strategy. However, the experience does serve to illustrate an important point about time spent acquiring job readiness, i.e., it’s often overrated. In fact, languishing for years in ‘readiness’ training for jobs that will remain forever elusive has become a common plight among people with intellectual disabilities.
The ‘Pre’ Syndrome
Professionals in this field have a long history of assuming that people with disabilities are not ready to be with the rest of us.
- ‘Pre-vocational’ settings have long been artificial stepping-stones presumably building skills for job readiness. It has a certain intuitive sense to it. The problem comes when one discovers the process rarely leads to real jobs.
- Some organizations (my own included) designated smaller residential segments of their large residential campuses to act as ‘pre-community living’ settings.
In Disability is Natural, advocate Kathie Snow observes that, for generations, people with disabilities “have been told they’re ‘not ready’ for inclusion in school, at work, and in the community until they’ve achieved a level of ‘readiness’ as defined by professionals and others…and, in general, been prevented from experiencing real lives.”
Longtime advocate and teacher Lou Brown , summed it up years ago when he observed that, in the field of developmental disabilities, “‘pre’ means ‘never’.”
Even at its best, non-specific skill development in artificial environments runs contrary to what we know about learning and skill generalization and people with intellectual disabilities (i.e., teach the skill where it will be used). At its worst, it’s a cruel hoax.
Where Job Training Happens
Imagine that, starting tomorrow, you had to teach your job to someone else. How would you do it? Would you find a classroom and prepare a number of lectures? Construct an elaborate facsimile of your own work area and then lead the new person through a series of related skills? Neither approach seems very likely.
A more logical option would probably involve direct instruction on real tasks, giving progressively greater responsibility and offering coaching and advice when it’s needed. At some very basic level, we seem to know that learning real job skills requires real support in real environments.
Is there risk involved when someone starts a job that requires learning new skills, new people, new methods of communicating, and new expectations, all within an unfamiliar environment? Absolutely. In fact, it’s bound to be a little jerky for a while – like moving a dump truck for the first time. But I’d be willing to bet there are on-the-job teaching and coaching strategies that can minimize the risk.
Filed under: Innovation Tagged: | coaching, college, developmental disabilities, Disability, disability is natural, intellectual disabilities, job, job-seeking, kathie snow, learning, lou brown, readiness, skills, vocational