Frontline Initiative: Direct Support Professionals Supporting People's Employment
Benefitting from Supportive Colleagues: We Encourage Each Other to Try
Hanna Bernbaum is pictured with some of the direct support professional/career coaches at JVS Boston.
In our profession, comfort is important, but constant growth is always my goal. In order to point job seekers in the right direction for them, I strive to create an environment where people choose challenge over complacency. As a career coach, I support people to explore their strengths and interests, practice work-related skills, and to find and keep jobs that they want. But I am also supported by a great team of career coaches where we help each other to grow our professional skills together as we support people to find and keep jobs.
Six weeks into my position at Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), I was invited to participate in a pilot project for individual employment supports in the Career and Community Access Program, a new day program that supports young adults with disabilities to explore and make career development goals. The program is intended for young adults who are between high school transition programming and finding a real-world job. For some, the program has vastly increased visibility of Boston’s available resources, such as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority system and potential employers. As an organization, our mission is to equip career seekers for success, and to partner with employers to meet their hiring needs. In doing this, we aim to create a more diverse, inclusive workforce. Thus, as a JVS Career Coach, I am always steering towards a win/win for job seekers and employers.
We key into the interests of the person we support and determine how to connect these interests with community needs. I have learned that asking the person questions usually isn’t the best way to discover their career interests. Instead, we look for informal assessment opportunities through unprompted everyday interactions, like when we are out in the city. This is where we collect our data. We take note of the moments where the person we are supporting feels the most confident and happy. Where was the setting? Who else was (or wasn’t) there? Did the person supported get to use something that they just couldn’t put down? Most importantly, is there a work or volunteer opportunity where they can have this experience again? Can we find a space where their contributions will mutually benefit the employer and themselves?
Although I support people in resume writing, applying for jobs, practicing interviews, and running career readiness workshops, these are not my most central work responsibilities. I am also an anchor for the people I support as they identify and overcome barriers toward their career goals. Sometimes this looks like talking about self-advocacy while a person I support disarms security locks on the wheels on the shopping carts. I have supported a person on a conference call with their supervisor when they feel challenged by interpersonal dynamics on the sales floor at work. I taught a person how to use a sewing machine because making a cape was a concrete experience that nurtured their interest in costuming.
Everyone employed at JVS, regardless of seniority, coaches job seekers and cultivates employer relationships. Because my supervisors also actively coach, we are unified by the humility of fresh experiences. These inform the solutions that we develop and encourage each other to try.
There isn’t much time for processing when my days are filled with these activities. By the end of the day, I need a sounding board to reflect on what went well, and what can be improved next time. That’s why I value open communication with my supervisors. Everyone employed at JVS, regardless of seniority, coaches job seekers and cultivates employer relationships. Because my supervisors also actively coach, we are unified by the humility of fresh experiences. These inform the solutions that we develop and encourage each other to try. The collaborative culture of my team at JVS helps us all keep moving forward. We swap job leads, report who has landed interviews, cover coaching shifts, and guest teach in each other’s skills training programs. We set the expectation of showing up consistently to support job seekers. We grow together and become better at taking on challenges when we take a moment to celebrate the successes. This might be when you call the supermarket to confirm the person’s schedule for next week, and you receive an unsolicited comment from the manager about how respectfully the person treats customers. Maybe it’s the moment a job seeker, previously disinterested in work, begs you for a slot in your schedule today to support them to apply for a job. Or maybe it’s when the supported person got fired but did so with dignity and gained some newfound wisdom about their work preferences. Taking a moment to reflect and enjoy helps us all to grow.