Work Early, Work Often

The following blog entry is a cross-post from the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The blog is written by Claudia Gordon, chief of staff in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor.

I was recently asked to participate in the Work Early, Work Often video campaign, which was created by the Youth Transitions Collaborative’s career preparation and management working group. This three-part video campaign highlights the importance of work and work-based experiences in an individual’s transition to adulthood, particularly for young adults with disabilities. The videos address some important questions:

Why are early work experiences so important?

Career preparation is critically important for all young people as they transition to employment, but especially for young people with disabilities. As a society, we need to communicate to young people with disabilities as they enter adulthood that they will be expected to find employment and be as independent as possible.

In order to be prepared to enter the work force, young people with disabilities need to gain as many real work experiences as they can, as early as they can. Early work experiences help young people learn about proper business etiquette and soft skills, as well as professional expectations. It can help them determine what type of career they are most interested in and the steps they must undertake in order to achieve their goals.

What role do caregivers and employers play?

This message isn’t just important for the young person with a disability. It’s equally important for parents, family members and caregivers. Sometimes it seems easier for families to shield their child or to protect them from harsh realities. In the long run, the best way to safeguard them is to let them experience those realities and to learn from such experiences so they are better prepared for the world of work. By encouraging their children to have as many work and work-related experiences as possible, families will help encourage independence for the future. As a parent in the video campaign states, “Our job is not to make sure he is okay now; our job is to make sure he is okay tomorrow.”

Of course, work experiences are not possible if businesses and employers do not hire young people with disabilities. People with disabilities are an untapped talent pool, and are known to be loyal, hard-working and dedicated employees with low turnover rates. However, the current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.4 percent, or double that of people without disabilities. If employers review what their job duties entail, they will find that people with disabilities can “sometimes do a better job than just about anyone,” as one employer noted in the video campaign.

To see and learn more about the video campaign, go to www.thenytc.org/workearly or www.youtube.com/thenytc. I encourage everyone to share these videos with their friends, families and colleagues. Please help spread this message to create a mindset that youth with disabilities need to work early, and work often!

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