For many high-school students, obtaining a first job and gaining work experience is a fairly simple endeavour – but for youth with developmental disabilities, navigating the workforce can be much more difficult. That’s why Vecova, a centre for disability research and services, partnered with Rocky View Schools to provide an employment-program pilot project.
“We help families who have a kid with special needs navigate the system from high school into adulthood and make sure they get connected with the right supports and resources,” said Kimberly Yager, Vecova youth program manager. “We make sure [youth are] successful, because it’s not always a smooth transition.”
The employment program started in November 2018, and, Yager said, the success has been encouraging.
“The intention was to start the pilot program, prove that it’s successful and then to get some ongoing funding – which we’re currently working on,” she said. “The confidence [students] get from being at work translates to other areas of their lives, like making friends, joining groups and [doing] things their parents used to do for them at home that they now do for themselves.”
Yager said student Johnny Trotter obtained a position at Jumble District in Airdrie through the program, and has since been hired on as a part-time employee at the indoor playplace.
“[Trotter] was really successful in picking up the skills associated with his job. Ultimately, he was hired,” she said.
Trotter said he enjoyed the experience and was excited to continue as an employee of Jumble District.
“[The] major things I learned is what it’s like to get a job, what it’s like to be working in a playplace and, really, just how to become a better leader,” he said.
Trotter added the team at Vecova assisted him in writing his resume and taught him interview techniques, which, he said, is why he landed the placement at the playplace.
“[Vecova] noticed that I have a big background in leadership, so they wanted to look into it a little more,” Trotter said. “I’ve had experience with a lot of leadership – I’ve been a leader of a few groups I was in.”
His mother, Jennifer Trotter, said she is proud of her son’s progress since starting with Jumble District, and has noticed a change in his confidence.
“Johnny was quite nervous about starting – [Vecova] actually stayed at work with him and supported him through the day,” she said. “They did that for a few weeks until [he] started to feel more comfortable, and then they eased off and he had less hours with them.”
She added the program was a relief when she discovered her son was eligible for the work-experience support, and would like to see the program continue to benefit other youth and families in the community.
“I worried about what he would do,” Jennifer said. “As a parent, I would have found out and been able to finally muddle my way through to figure it out, but with [Vecova] being there, they knew how to approach the community and the places in the community that would provide a supportive work environment for him.
“It’s huge for families to feel that there’s places out there for their children to be able to be accepted and to be able to work – [Vecova] helps do that.”
The youth employment program runs in Airdrie, Cochrane, Beiseker, Chestermere, Crossfield and Langdon.
For more information, visit vecova.ca