A Supported Employment Program for Youth with Disabilities
Over the past few years, we have witnessed an increase in younger people seeking our services, not only for positions within our centre, but also for support in seeking and supporting them in paid opportunities in the community. In our discussions with these young people and their families, it was clear to us that there was a gap of support between graduating high school and finding either vocational training or paid work experiences in the community.
Quite simply, young persons with disabilities were increasingly graduating to extraordinarily limited opportunities, and in some cases, complacency within the home as they struggle to find those opportunities. They have often characterized after high school as “graduating to the couch.”
To that end, Easter Seals Nova Scotia and New Leaf Enterprises have launched The Next Step: Youth Employment Support Program which focuses primarily on persons with disabilities who have recently graduated high school up to the age of 30.
Our person-centered approach to supporting our clients with disabilities find employment is as individualized as our clients. We know that young people, either recently diagnosed or living with a lifelong disability, present different assets, interests, challenges, aspirations and goals. The focus of The Next Step is to work with each person to develop a vocational way forward centered on their individual employment plan. It is our objective to bridge the gap between high school graduation and paid employment support for young adults who seek our services.
Our philosophy, not only for this new program but for the overarching values of New Leaf Enterprises and Easter Seals Nova Scotia, centers on the belief that everyone has the right to their own self determination in all aspects of their lives based on inclusion, independence, and mobility. The goal of The Next Step is to enable young persons with differing abilities to learn new skills while gaining valuable work experience. We know that employment in the community adds to the social inclusion of young people with disabilities as their social and employment networks grow. As a result, young people can become more independent and more confident while expanding their own personal horizons.
We also know the advantage these young people present to employers. Our trainees are dedicated, reliable, eager and committed to their job experiences. They show up. They perform. They contribute. We see that in our own social enterprise and the many employment partner relationships we have stewarded over the years.
As indicated previously, families in search of vocational training and job opportunities for their children who have recently graduated high school is on the increase. Families who approach New Leaf Enterprises for possible placements of their children have detailed their frustration with the lack of vocational and skills development programs available to them, especially framed in the experiences of new graduates.
As the shift in accessibility and inclusion continues to move in a positive direction in Nova Scotia, community capacity is struggling to keep pace. The development of The Next Step has become a fundamental way forward for young people with disabilities looking to progress into skills development through paid employment, with our support.
We believe that by providing supportive employment and job coaching opportunities primarily for new graduates up to age 30, we can effectively address the increasing number of young people seeking our services. We know from numerous interactions with families that providing a choice of options for new graduates and those in early adulthood has been tremendously difficult with community capacity not keeping pace with the need for services.
We also know that young people coming out of high school have specific challenges due to their age, particularly around skills development, interview performance and resume building. The Next Step Program incorporates training and coaching in these areas, in addition to the job development and one on one support with current and future employment partners.