Watching the second episode of Employable Me last night inspired me to write another reflection piece. Last night we met three new job seekers on the autism spectrum- Krystyna, Jonathan and Ben. Being welcomed into their lives came with a host of new, valuable insights.
We explored themes of hope, connection and acceptance, and understanding and uncovering strengths. In particular, what struck me about last night’s episode was a consistent theme that emerged from job seekers’ responses to the questions, ‘why do you want a job?’ and how that relates to their future.
Jonathan’s response was, “I want to achieve financial self-sufficiency, I want to find a wife and have a few kids, I want to become a philanthropist.”
Ben said, “I need to learn to survive in the big wide world. Having a job is the next step in life. It’s time to give back to society; I can start paying taxes, I can have a voice.”
Krystyna said, “I want to get into the workforce like most people, earn money and be able to lead a normal live. I want to lead a life where I am not handicapped by my condition”.
Krystyna also stated that having a job would give her something to live for, give her more self-worth and dignity.
These messages were so relatable, and I think the core theme from these candid responses is clear: people with disability want what any of us want, and they have dreams for their future.
This reminded me of a phrase I’ve heard bandied around in NDIS circles, and that’s working towards ‘a life more ordinary’.
People might not think an ‘ordinary life’ is anything to aspire to, but for people with disability who long to be on an even playing field, it is everything. And Employable Me is all about how we take steps to achieve that goal.
Another observation I made from last night’s episode was that several of the job seekers were placed in seemingly ‘mismatched’ jobs, namely Krystyna in a retail environment and Ben in a parking inspector role.
At first glance it’s easy to say, ‘that’s not the environment in which that person will flourish’ and it could well be true. But the reality for all of us, including people with disability, is that we learn a lot from being in different environments and having different experiences.
When Ben spent a day as a parking inspector he was outside of his comfort zone. Despite working in an unpredictable and confronting work environment, Ben appeared to learn a lot. It would have been easy to never have put him in that situation to begin with.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ben using the experience to realise his strengths and weaknesses. He stepped up and showed his assertiveness when a man parked in the wrong place. I enjoyed seeing his pride when he was praised for his communication skills and for contributing to the team.
People with disability deserve the opportunity to figure out what they like and don’t like, and what they are good at. They need the opportunity to be exposed to all manner of work environments.
To help achieve a great match between job seekers with disability and prospective employers we need to trust in the resilience of people with disability. We need to realise that allowing them to work their way up, and gain valuable life experience in the meantime, is advantageous.
Landing the ‘dream job’ takes time after all.
I reflect on my experiences as a young man in fast food and retail. I learned a lot in these roles that helped me finally get to where I wanted to be. We all need experience to ‘get our foot in the door’ first and foremost.
Ben’s museum supervisor spoke to the importance of realistic work expectations, and the value of working your way up when she said, “Getting work in a museum is quite difficult. Generally, an employee would have volunteer experience under their belt; I actually started as a volunteer.”
It’s important for us to remember that life’s journey is made in incremental steps; some big, some small, but all of which shape us and lead us to our destination.
At EPIC we talk about joining our job seekers on their journey, and I’m incredibly proud of the great work of EPIC Assist in supporting job seekers to achieve their employment goals.
Each year we support hundreds of job seekers with disability to find and keep a job they love. We walk beside job seekers on their journey and provide them the support they need, when they need it, to make sure their reason for wanting a job is honoured.
I hope that others are getting as much out of Employable Me as I am, and the show empowers people with disability to believe finding a job and working towards their future goals is possible.