Who is a job coach and what is their role in the career path of people with disabilities?

Work for people with disabilities is one of the most important instruments of rehabilitation and social integration. It influences the increase of financial independence, social activity, self-esteem, that is the general psychological and social well-being of a person.

Everyone in Poland, including those with disabilities, has the right to work, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. Also in the Charter of the Rights of People with Disabilities in 1997, it was indicated that people with disabilities have the right to „(…) work in the open labour market according to their qualifications, education and opportunities, and using career counselling and mediation, and if their disability and health require – the right to work in conditions adapted to the needs of disability ”. Nevertheless, still people with disabilities do not benefit as much as non-disabled people from employment opportunities in the labour market.

In order to meet the specific needs for people with disabilities work, began to introduce supported employment in Poland.

It is a relatively new model of supporting the labour market. It was introduced in the United States in the 1970s. Its positive results influenced Europe too. In 2005, the definition created by the European Union of Supported Employment was created: „Providing support to people with disabilities and other groups at risk of exclusion in obtaining and maintaining paid employment on the open labour market”.

This method is based on three main assumptions:

  • Work is performed on the open labour market under the same conditions as other employees working in the same positions;
  • The employed person receives a salary commensurate with the work performed;
  • The employed person and the employer are entitled to support depending on individual needs.

The role of the job coach is to help in the social and professional reintegration with people at risk of social exclusion, including people with disabilities, based on the above assumptions. It is a multi-stage task:

Creation of a professional profile – the job coach together with the client (a person with a disability looking for employment) create an action plan related to professional activation, taking into account the possibilities, qualifications, needs, interests, predispositions and other strengths of the disabled person.

Searching for employment – a job trainer helps to find a suitable job. The most important thing at this stage is to match the client’s needs with the employer’s requirements. The jobseeker and a future employer together determine the appropriate position, responsibilities, working time, taking into account both the qualifications and capabilities of the disabled person and the employer’s needs.

Support in the workplace – this is the most important stage in a trainer’s work. Introducing the client to a new environment, helping them to implement their duties, solving current problems of the employee and the employer. The type of support and its size is suitable to the individual needs and capabilities of the client.

Monitoring of the client at the labour market – the job coach monitors the activities of the employed person for a long period of time, supports them in keeping the job and further professional development. The coach has regular contact with them and is ready to help, support in more difficult situations. Also strive for the self-determination of the client about their further professional development.

The job coach is to properly activate, support, motivate the client and create such conditions in which the client independently decides about their professional path and believes in their potential and performance. In a coach’s work, they take into account all aspects of the client’s life: not only work and education, but also relationships with family and friends, interests and free time. They become an integral part of creating a professional action plan. In order to look at the client holistically, the job coach is in constant cooperation with a psychologist, employment agent, social worker and employer.
As a result, the coach receives a full picture of the situation and is able to individualize support according to the client’s needs and environmental requirements.

The basic rules of the job coach are:

  • individual approach – each person is unique and has a certain potential that should be properly used. Everyone has their own life experiences, conditions, interests and therefore each client should be approached in the right way.
  • partnership approach to the client – the job coach treats the client as a person who can decide about their choices;
  • comprehensiveness of activities, interdisciplinarity – gives the ability to look at situations and thanks to that this type of support can be better adapted;
  • respect – the actions of the job coach should always strengthen the self-esteem and dignity of the client;
  • supporting the client’s self-determination – mainly by focusing on the client’s strengths and possibilities, the client develops the awareness of making choices in accordance with their own preferences and awareness of the consequences of these decisions. The job coach strives to enable the client to make their own choices and create their own career plans, taking into account – not only interests and preferences, but also personal circumstances and available opportunities.
    The job coaches themselves, working in one of the Warsaw associations, say that the most important thing in their work is an individual approach to each student, patience and awareness that everyone is making progress at their own rate.
  • It is important to offer the support that is necessary and has an individual dimension. Sometimes it concerns strengthening the client’s self-confidence and performance, sometimes it is enough to accompany them, help in preparing for contact with the employer and starting work. Further support is also very important and is related to the implementation of specific duties, assistance in planning and work organization. Also, I often help clarify emerging doubts about the responsibilities or difficulties in contacts with superiors or colleagues. It is also important to strengthen persistence to maintain employment – one of the job coaches shares his observations.
    When job coaches are asked whether employers are open to this type of support, they reply that the approach of companies is very different. There are employers who see the benefits of the offered support and are willing to cooperate, but also there are those who do not want to agree to the presence of an additional person. Then the job coach is in constant contact with his client and provides him help outside the place of employment. As well there are situations when companies have many doubts about employing a disabled person and often do not want to cooperate. The trainers get attention that during the pandemic, appeared difficulties with restrictions outside the place of employment.
  • Some employers inform about the rules introduced, limiting the possibility of direct contacts in a larger group of people – informs the job coach.
    Another problem is that disabled people often avoid live meetings. Obviously, it is understandable for trainers, but it also affects the quality of provided support and makes it difficult to build professional relationships.
  • There are fewer job offers in specific industries, people are more stressed and therefore less open – including employers – mentions one of the trainers.

When asked what is the most difficult in their work, they reply that these are difficulties in communication and cooperation and problems that arise despite commitment and effort. However, despite many challenges that stand in their way, they have a positive attitude to act, try to pay more attention to minor successes and draw strength from them for further work. Success of those that are supported is a source of motivation. Other sources of motivation are: retention of the employment, the joy of starting work, positive opinions of employers, good cooperation and satisfaction of solving emerging difficulties and problems – adds the job coach.

The role of the job coach brings many positive results, and their work is increasingly valuable for the socio-professional reintegration of socially excluded people. For people with disabilities, the support of a job coach is invaluable, both in terms of helping to overcome architectural barriers, choosing duties and adapting in the workplace, as well as at the socio-psychological level. Job coaches not only support clients in finding their career path, but also change the perception of people with disabilities in the labour market and break numerous stereotypes related to it.

Agata Żuławnik, Redaktor Bloga Work 4 Life, wolontariusz
translated by: Magdalena Antonik

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