The Role of the Job Coach

Regardless of the supported employment approach, the primary support person to the supported employee is the job coach. In the early days of SE, the job coach typically arranged for the worker to be placed in a job and then provided training and support to the worker at the job site. Today, supports that are provided off the job site are more common. Previously, the job coach often educated the employer about disabilities and effective ways to teach the new employee and also tried to facilitate the development of relationships between the new worker and his or her coworkers. Today, more typically, job coaches do not disclose the disability status of the consumer they work with unless directed by the consumer to do so. Job coaches continue to assist the supported employee with money management, transportation, Social Security benefits monitoring, and other needed supports.

Over the years, there has been increasing recognition of the highly professionalized role that the job coach plays. Usually working without direct supervision, the job coach must successfully accomplish many different tasks. With the emphasis on career choice, the job coach has to know about career planning and development. Taking a broad view of potential careers for people with a psychiatric disability, the job coach has to know about marketing, job development, and effectively interacting with the business community. The job coach has to understand the needs of the business community in general and the needs and work culture of specific work settings.

In some cases, the job coach or employment specialist will teach the skills of job acquisition and the clients will do the actual tasks of job development themselves. Many clients prefer not to disclose their disabilities to potential employers and so prefer to do their own job development. In other cases clients need more direct support in this area, and the job coach will be more directly involved in contacting the employer, presenting the candidate's qualifications, and perhaps even accompanying the client to the job interview. The job coach also assists in the other tasks of job acquisition such as resume preparation and practicing interviewing. According to Becker and Drake (1994), job development strategies include time spent on the part of the job coach; getting to know the particular operations, needs, and hiring practices of potential employers; tapping into personal networks for job leads; and creating jobs where a task and setting match the skills and interests of a client but the job doesn't currently exist. This is sometimes referred to as job carving (DiLeo & Langton, 1993) and is a strategy often used when the severity of a person's disability prohibits the individual from performing all of the duties associated with existing jobs.

Gervey and Kowal (1995) reported that it takes an average of 42 job development contacts to generate one job offer. Obviously, the job coach has to be persistent. The job coach may interact with family members, community members, doctors, and other service providers in assisting the supported employee to access needed supports. Perhaps the most important characteristic of a job coach is flexibility. An active job coach may have to provide these services in an executive office, on a loading dock, and in a restaurant kitchen all on the same day.

Reflecting the complex nature of the task, the job coach title has undergone some changes as well. Titles such as employment specialist, employment consultant, and human resource consultant reflect the sophistication and professional nature of the job and the person doing that job.

BOX 9.6

APSE: The Network on Employment

APSE: The Network on Employment (formerly the Association for Persons in Supported Employment) was formed in 1988. This grassroots organization, founded by early practitioners and leaders in supported employment for people with developmental disabilities, is committed to increasing integrated employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities. APSE: The Network on Employment has grown over the years to include practitioners serving people with all disabilities, their families, funders, and businesspeople. Chapters of APSE exist in many states. APSE: The Network on Employment defines its mission as follows: "to improve and expand integrated employment opportunities, services, and outcomes for persons experiencing disabilities" (APSE, 2006).

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