Understanding Employment First

By Victoria Smith-Thompson, MS, BSW

“Every working age Marylander with a disability, including those with the most significant disabilities, must have access to opportunities which lead to employment in competitive, integrative settings.”

This mandate from the state sets in motion Maryland’s plan for Employment First, a program created to help eliminate barriers and increase the number of Marylanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the workplace.

While Employment First may seem like a tall order, at JCS we feel the key to success for this program is teamwork.  That means getting everyone, including client, family, clinicians and professional support staff, in sync with realistic, obtainable career/vocational goals.  Along with this concept comes the need for creativity, trial and error, fact finding, patience and sometimes a box of tissues.

Here’s how it should work:

It’s important for the client to choose a realistic career/vocation goal.  For example, it’s not just saying, “I want to be a child care assistant.”  A client should be able to define what child care work means and give examples of what daily activities would take place and what  responsibilities would be necessary.

Support from family differs for each situation.  The most desired is a supportive family unit that has a valid recognition of strengths, weaknesses and abilities of the client.   The placement process can be smoother if family members are on the same page as the supported employment agency regarding client abilities and employer expectations.

• Clinical professional
Another opportunity for positive support can come from the clinical professional. This person provides services to help the client navigate the obstacles that come with  transitioning from home to the working world.  With proper approval, family members may also receive guidance and support from the clinical professional on the team.

• Supported Employment Specialist/Job Coach
The SES and the job coach often work together in determining if a client meets the qualifications of a certain job.  The SES designs a customized job placement plan which often includes working on certain behaviors that might be helpful in the interview or on the job.  Often the SES and job coach will simulate job activities with the client at the agency in hopes of making that person more comfortable once they get to the job setting.

Next, the job coach implements the plan in the field, which could mean facilitating a visit to a childcare site to observe or volunteer.  The SES then helps the client process these experiences in realistic and self-assessment terms.

• Employer
The employer should be open to assisting with client placement.  A company might have a childcare position available, but the employer might not realize that certain job tasks can be modified or adapted for special needs employees.  Examples include the use of talking books with pictures for story time or Jenda Talkin recording calendar for keeping up with class schedules and activities.  Other technology could be incorporated into the training process.  Today’s children are usually tech savvy by the time they say their first words.

With everyone working together in the Employment First program, the chances for the client to succeed in a new job increases dramatically.  For more information about Employment First at JCS, call 410-466-9200.


Victoria Smith-Thompson, MS, BSW is a Supported Employment Specialist for Ignite Career Center.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or visit ignitecareercenter.com



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