In this section:
Exploring new career paths
If a person with a disability has little or no work experience or is considering a career change, there are several ways to explore new career paths. Some approaches include:
- researching companies and learning about careers in the area
- attending informational interviews to meet people who have experience with a specific job, occupation or company.
- job shadowing at work to learn more about an occupation.
- scheduling a job tryout
- considering an internship or volunteering to gain more work experience.
Exploring new careers can also help a person network and gather job leads. Remember that everyone a job seeker meets during the career exploration process could be a potential employer, so it’s important to always make a great impression!
If a person is already employed, exploring new careers can be helpful at different stages of the employment process and may even be incorporated into a vocational assessment or person-centered career planning process.
Types of Career Exploration
The following methods can help determine the type of positions to explore the job development process.
Informational interviewing is not a job interview; it involves meeting with an employer to gather information about the business. The informational interview is a valuable technique for career exploration. It also helps job seekers, and job developers, interact with employers without the pressure of a job interview.
Similar to informational interviewing, a tour allows job seekers and job developers to visit various businesses to become familiar with the workplace and work environment.
Shadowing allows the job seeker to observe an individual in a work environment performing tasks. Shadowing can take place over a short period of time, for the entire workday, or for a series of days, depending on the nature of the job and level of interest of the job seeker.
Community exploration is ideal for individuals who experience difficulty verbally expressing their preferences. Exploration includes spending time in the community with the job developer, visiting businesses, and observing the work environment.
Labor Market Research
Researching the local business community and economy to get a handle on the available jobs, growth industries, and largest employers in the area is a valuable tool. Job developers and job seekers often find that they had not considered major portions of the labor market. Labor market research helps expand their horizons.
A wealth of information is available from the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development including regional and local hiring trends and information on the largest employers. The site also includes contact information for specific employers.
Researching specific employers helps plan for job development and helps identify business contacts. Research sources include annual reports, business publications, and newspapers. You may also contact the employer directly for an information packet. The Internet is a great research tool, but don’t rule out good old-fashioned person-to-person networking.
One-Stop Career Centers
One-Stop Career Centers are publicly funded facilities that help job seekers find employment. The centers are located throughout Massachusetts and offer a variety of employment-related materials and services available at no charge. Services available include a number of career exploration tools that may provide direction for a job and career. A listing of the Massachusetts Career Centers is available at: www.mass.gov/careercenters.
Online Career Exploration Tools
A number of online tools, such as the ones found at the U.S. Department of Labor site (www.careeronestop.org) may be used to explore careers. One-Stop Career Centers (www.mass.gov/careercenters) also offer online tools.
Volunteer work is often a helpful step as part of the career planning process. For example, many people are first attracted to the human service field as a result of volunteer work. Similarly, some enter radio and television production work through volunteer work and internships.
While volunteer work is an option for some people, it’s not for everyone. Regardless of its benefits, volunteer work is not a substitute for paid employment, and people with disabilities should participate only in volunteer work that is similar to what other members of the community are doing.
In many cases, an enormous time and energy is spent finding a volunteer job for a person with a significant disability when the effort would have been better spent on finding paid employment.
Taking a Class
Taking a class through an adult education program or at a community college is an excellent way of determining a job seeker’s interest and aptitude in a field.
Situational assessment involves trying out a job in the community — from a few hours to a few days — so that a job seeker can determine if he or she is well suited for that type of work.
Choosing The Right Method
The methods you use to explore careers will vary depending on the needs and abilities of the individual. Keep in mind that there is no one proven formula for every individual. Consider the following:
- Select methods that are appropriate to the individual. For example, a job seeker with limited interpersonal communication skills and abilities may not perform well in an informational interview, but might do better in a situational assessment.
- Choose methods that get results quickly so that you can get started with the job search. Methods such as taking a class or doing volunteer work can take an extensive amount of time. Long-term methods should only be used if there is a clear rationale, or if the individual is already working and the methods are part of a career progression strategy.
- Don’t let excessive career exploration become an excuse for not moving ahead with job development. The purpose is to gather enough information to move ahead with the job search, not spend an extensive amount of time researching and exploring jobs and careers.
The situational assessment (also known as job sampling, on-the-job assessment, or environmental assessment) utilizes employment and community settings to help people with disabilities determine the types of jobs and work environments best suited for them.
The assessment also cuts down on ineffective job searches, since assessments in simulated work environments and in facility-based programs such as sheltered workshops do not accurately model real work environments. Real-life situations are necessary to help make educated choices concerning employment options.
The situational assessment exposes the job seeker to a variety of work environments. The job seeker and job developer experience firsthand the reality of the work environment. This real-life experience helps him or her make a personal, informed choice about the type of work to pursue, rather than relying on the opinions of professionals or family members.
The assessment must be conducted in a sensitive manner and must be based on the job seeker’s needs. Situational assessments are helpful for individuals who have little or no work experience, experience difficulty communicating, or who have unclear job goals. For people with extensive work histories or for those whose job goals have been determined through traditional methods, the situational assessment may not be necessary.
Situational assessment reduces risk both to the job seeker and the employer in the placement process. Particularly for job seekers who may be ambivalent or concerned about working in the community, the situational assessment expands his or her exposure to the community in a low-risk way.
Situational assessment evaluates the support needs of the individual in the work environment, as well as the ability of the work environment to naturally provide those work supports. The assessment also addresses the issue of job readiness. A major barrier to the employment of people with disabilities is the determination that the individual is not ready to work in the community due to behavioral issues, lack of motivation, or some other condition. More often than not, these turn out to be non-issues.
Making It Happen
When identifying assessment sites, start with the job seeker’s preferences, and remember the types of jobs he or she has expressed interest in. But don’t be limited by these interests — your job is to help expand the horizons of the job seeker. Seek out work environments that may help the job seeker expand his or her preferences.
When you have identified sites, it’s time to contact employers to arrange situational assessments. Networking and cold calling are effective ways to do this. However, contacting employers to set up situational assessments is considerably simpler than job development for actual placements, since the commitment you are asking from the employer is relatively small — the use of their facility, and a little bit of their time and cooperation.
Length of the Assessment
The length of assessments may vary. In some cases, a few hours may be enough to provide sufficient information about a specific type of job. In fact, the individual may not be able to tolerate more than a few hours of work. In other cases, several days at the same job site may be appropriate.
It is often worthwhile to conduct an assessment at the same site several times in order to help the job seeker become familiar with the work environment and tasks.
Number of Assessments
The number of assessments may also vary. For some people, one or two assessments may be sufficient while for others who are unsure about their interests, several assessments may be needed at a variety of employment sites.
Conducting the Assessment
Follow these basic guidelines while conducting the situational assessment:
The presence of agency staff during the assessment depends on the individuals involved and the employer. If the job seeker is fairly independent, he or she may not be comfortable with ongoing staff presence, or may feel that it is stigmatizing. There may also be assessment sites in which a well-established relationship with the employer exists. In these cases, supervisors and co-workers may feel comfortable being involved in the assessment and could handle any issues that may arise.
Ask the employer how staff will be informed about the assessment, and how you may assist with educating the staff about how assessments are performed.
Be sure that the job seeker is dressed appropriately for the work environment, and is well aware of the purpose of the assessment.
Variety of tasks
Ensure that the job seeker performs a variety of jobs and tasks within the work environment.
Utilize a standardized tool to collect information. Be certain that the assessment includes a comprehensive evaluation of job skills as well social and workplace culture issues.
Encourage interaction between the individual and employees.
Minimize any intrusion into the workplace and avoid creating a distraction during the assessment.
At the end of the assessment, ask for feedback from the job seeker as well as the employer.
Using the Information from Situational Assessment
After conducting the situational assessment(s), the job seeker should discuss the experiences with the job developer, and make decisions about the direction of the job search. Discussion topics may include, but are not limited to:
- The work environments the job seeker liked or disliked and why.
- The tasks they performed well as well as those that were challenging.
- The environments the job seeker felt were more comfortable
- Situations that were different than expected.
This information can then be used to target specific jobs and employers. For individuals with significant disabilities who may require some job creation or job carving, the situational assessment is a particularly useful tool to help identify specific tasks that can be “carved out” to create a job.
Wage Issues To Consider
A common question that arises during the situational assessment is the matter of payment to the individual for the tasks he or she will perform as part of the assessment process. The United States Department of Labor regulations do allow, under specific guidelines, for assessments to occur without payment (your state and local laws may be more restrictive). The guidelines for non-paid assessments are available by clicking here.
We believe everyone should be compensated for his or her time, and this includes the job seeker who takes part in an assessment. Paying individuals makes sense not only from a values standpoint, but in many ways makes conducting the assessment a simpler and straightforward process. Not compensating for an individual’s assessment can change the dynamics of the assessment since the impact of working for pay cannot be evaluated. The flexibility of the assessment is also limited by the restrictions of non-paid assessments, and time must be spent on monitoring and tracking information to ensure that regulations are followed.
What you can learn
No matter which methods you use as part of the career exploration process, it’s important to gather certain vital information, including:
- The types of work and skill requirements that interest the job seeker.
- The types of work cultures and work environments that make the individual feel comfortable.
Job development for people with disabilities often focuses exclusively on an individual’s task skills, yet many people — with and without disabilities — succeed or fail on a job based on their compatibility with the work environment.
When determining successful employment opportunities, consider work environments that fit the individual’s personality. For example, a friendly, outgoing personality is an important attribute for a customer service job while a quiet personality might be a good fit for a data entry position.
During the career exploration process, both the job developer and job seeker should look for common themes among areas of interest. For example, if an individual has explored several different fields and has found that jobs with a good deal of interaction with others are of interest, this is a common theme and should help determine the career path for the individual.
The following is a list of some areas for consideration while undertaking a job or career exploration process. This information should be examined from several perspectives:
- the criteria or requirements of the field or specific job in each of these areas
- the comfort level or ability of the job seeker to meet these requirements.
- formality or informality of workplace
- amount of supervision
- level of interaction with co-workers and supervisors
- camaraderie and socialization of employees
- level of worker autonomy
- variety of tasks
- training required
- stamina and endurance
- mobility requirements
- production rate
- strength: lifting and carrying
- manual dexterity
- reading requirements
- level of independence required
- customer contact
- dress requirements
- need to work independently
- flexibility and changes in routine
- complexity of tasks
- repetitive nature of tasks
- amount of self-initiative required
- need/ability to tell time and time awareness
- stress and pressure of position
- need to ask for assistance
- area orientation requirements
- environment: noise, temperature, indoors/outdoors