The close of the school year hasn’t meant summer off for a number of Pennsauken and Lindenwold High School students, who have recently completed JEVS hireAbility’s first School-to-Work Transition Program.
“This year, we worked with twenty young adults, a number of whom have obtained employment and will either be working full-time or working and attending school in the fall,” said Karen Dawson, JEVS hireAbility Career Navigator. Dawson, along with Job Coach Emilyann Colbert, administers the School to Work program in New Jersey, which provides career exploration, group training, job-shadowing and individualized work-based learning experiences to assist young adults in their personal transitions to the working world.
This effort – a partnership between the school districts, the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and hireAbility – seeks to improve the employment rate among persons with a disability. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gap between the employment-population ratio for those with disabilities vs. those without was 47% in 2017. Advocates note the potential for “falling off a cliff” – the period after high school ends, with no employment – and know that opportunities for full community integration after high school are increased with continued, sustainable employment.
According to Dawson, the program and students have benefitted from community employers who are looking to build the region’s workforce by providing opportunity.
“The students have really enjoyed exploring careers at Wegman’s, Wawa, Becker’s School Supply, Cooper Hospital, and so many more,” she said. “At first, some members could be quite shy – but the confidence that comes with learning something of interest from an employer who cares, of having choices, of the experience of commuting on your own, and finally, of advocating for yourself, or knowing who and when to ask for help – it’s been wonderful to watch these young adults grow.”
In fact, according to Dawson and Colbert, plans are already underway for the 2018-2019 school year, where they’ll be once again working with students at Pennsauken and Lindenwold.
“We’re very excited to work with some additional employers this year, and introduce career exploration in the criminal justice fields, take some additional tours, mock interviews and more,” said Colbert.
“Our members are very excited that the jobs will continue while they’re in school – and for four students who have graduated, that they’ve either started or are awaiting orientation,” said Dawson. “It’s the best outcome – we have parents and employers who are happy, and young adults who smile all the time.”