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Making work part of your plan.

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“I had a job coach for my first job. After 40 hours, I could work on my own. Anyone can work with the right kind of help.”
– A Hub user

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Exploring work options

Getting a job can help you reach your goals.

Working and earning money opens doors to new things, such as living in your own place, having more choices about how to spend your free time, and having other opportunities that can positively impact your life.

Still, thinking about working for the first time or finding a new job or career can be a little scary.

Whether you're exploring options for a first job or a career change, we all take similar steps when looking for work. It's a lifelong process where you:

  • Figure out what you want to do
  • Choose a job or career path
  • Accept a job or start your own business
  • Grow in that position, possibly changing jobs several times and eventually retiring

As you gain more experience, your preferences, support needs and skills will change. Consider taking the following steps to start exploring your work options.

Find your interests and strengths
If you're unsure about working, take it one step at a time. First, think about your interests and what types of work you find interesting. Next, think about your strengths. Everyone has different strengths that are needed in the workplace. Explore yours with career workshops and coaching, such as those offered by Minnesota's CareerForce Centers. Or, go to work with someone who does the type of work you're interested in to see what it's like.

Share your interest in work
Tell your family, friends, counselor, case manager and others who support you that you want to work. As you talk about your interests with more people, you'll learn about different careers, places people work and things they do. You might even find opportunities to job shadow (go with someone on their job to see what it's like) or to work with a mentor (have someone help you learn a job). All of these things can help you make a decision about work.

Get work experience
If you don't have any work experience, start by learning more about different jobs. Talk with people you know who do the type of work you're interested in. Ask them things like: How did you get your job? What's the best thing about your job? What don't you like about your job? Find (or ask the people who support you to help you find) someone who can take you with them to work for part of a day to see what their job is like. You might even talk with employers to see if you can try out a job. Learn about as many parts of the job as you can to see what it takes and if it matches your interests.

Consider work options
It's important to remember that employment doesn't have to be a traditional full-time job. There's no one-size-fits-all job or type of work — and you have many different employment options and supports to help you succeed.

Check out details about common work options and see how employment has worked for others:

Competitive integrated employment means you work in the community with people with and without disabilities, earning the same wage (minimum wage or higher) and getting the same benefits as everyone else doing the same job. You work for an employer, not your service provider.

Competitive integrated employment includes:

Full-time employment means you work 35 to 40 hours a week. Part-time employment is any number of hours less than that. You might need supports to work, or you might be able to work on your own. Full-time jobs often have benefits, like health insurance and paid time off. Part-time work and self-employment typically don't have those same benefits. Still, part-time or self-employment can be a good fit if you're not able or don't want to work a full-time schedule.

Some employment happens only during certain times of the year, like construction work in the summer or harvest season on a farm. Retail stores or restaurants may have seasonal employment during the holidays. In Minnesota, landscaping or lawn maintenance positions are seasonal during the summer. If you're considering seasonal employment, it's important to plan for the off-season. What will you do for work during that time? How will the off-season affect your benefits, like your health coverage?

Customized employment is finding or creating a job just for you, based on your strengths and skills.

With customized employment, a job developer (a person who works for an employment agency like Vocational Rehabilitation Services or a waiver employment service provider helps you find work by discovering your strengths and skills, and then working with an employer to find the right job fit or create a position based on those strengths and skills.

The job developer negotiates with the employer on certain parts of the job to meet the employer's needs while creating a good fit for you. The job description is personalized for you and you're hired and paid directly by the employer. With customized employment, both you and the employer have a good work arrangement.

If you think customized employment could be right for you, contact your local Vocational Rehabilitation Services office.

You might prefer the flexibility of self-employment or starting your own business. Or, customized employment might lead you to discover that self-employment is the best fit for you. You'll need to think about things like writing a business plan and how to get funding to start your business.

Check out these considerations and resources for self-employment and entrepreneurship from the U.S. Department of Labor. Also consider ways Vocational Rehabilitation Services can help (PDF).

When you work with supports like a job coach or assistive technology — whether it's full-time, part-time or some other type of work — it's referred to as supported employment. Supported employment is competitive integrated employment. It's a great option if you're nervous about working or need help with certain parts of your job.  

If you're interested in supported employment, check out Minnesota's Extended Employment Program. If you're on a waiver, talk to your case manager about waiver employment services for supported employment.

Noncompetitive work means you work only with other people with disabilities, and you may be paid less than minimum wage. If you're considering noncompetitive work, it's important you make an informed choice with a good understanding of your work options. Noncompetitive work is meant to help you build skills and prepare for competitive employment. It's not an employment goal on its own.

Typically, noncompetitive work will be one of these models:

  • Work crews. In a work crew, a group of people with disabilities (typically six or fewer) works together to complete tasks such as cleaning, mail sorting or document shredding. The crew may work at a single business or rotate between two or more local businesses.
  • Sheltered work. Sheltered work takes place in a facility owned and operated by a service provider. These facilities are commonly known as day training and habilitation centers. If you're in a sheltered work setting, you'll likely do work such as assembling boxes or information packets.
  • Service-provider owned and operated businesses. Disability service providers run businesses in day training and habilitation centers and community-based locations, primarily employing people getting services through the provider. Common examples are thrift stores and recycling centers.

As you think about work, take a moment to read these real-life stories from people who found employment in the community after participating in center-based work.

Meet Micah and Sean

At age 16, Micah started asking for a job. His school connected him with Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS). Unfortunately, this was long before Minnesota became an Employment First state, and it was determined that Micah couldn't be employed competitively due to his disability. His case was closed with VRS.

When Micah graduated from high school, he started going to a day training and habilitation (DT&H) center-based  program for adults with disabilities. Due to limitations with using his hands, his productivity rates were low and he earned just 37 cents an hour.

Micah asked for a job outside the center-based DT&H over and over again, but no action was taken. Finally, at age 31, Micah had a conversation about employment with a person from a Center for Independent Living (CIL), who asked if he liked where he was working and what he was doing. He again expressed an interest in working in a different setting and this time it worked. The CIL worker helped Micah contact his waiver case manager. The case manager updated Micah's community service and support plan to show  his competitive integrated job goal and helped him connect with Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS). Micah applied for VRS services again and this time he was found eligible.

With support from his VRS counselor, Micah connected with a Disability Benefits 101 benefits specialist to see what  would happen to his benefits when he went to work in the community. When Micah saw he would make more money working in the community  and he could keep some of his Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and his health care wouldn't change, he was even more inspired to find a job.

At the same time, Micah, his VRS counselor and his waiver case manager agreed that employment exploration services — which included some customized employment strategies — would help Micah figure out what he wanted to do and set a job goal.

After Micah worked with a waiver employment exploration provider to learn about different careers, he found he would like to work with technology. Once he had that goal, Micah began working with VRS to secure a job. Micah visited local technology companies. During a tour at a large technology retail store, a manager saw Micah's job skills and asked him to return to meet the other managers. From those conversations, Micah was offered a part-time job working 25 hours a week earning $11 an hour. Micah needed support to do some of the job tasks. He worked with his case manager to find a job coach to help him four hours a week, which is paid through waiver employment support services.  

Now that Micah is employed, he no longer attends the center-based DT&H. In Micah's free time, he works toward improving the lives of others with disabilities through the use of creative technology.

Sean had been in a center-based work setting for many years paid through his Developmental Disabilities (DD) Waiver. Sean told center staff and his waiver case manager that he wanted to work in the community. His waiver case manager authorized waiver employment exploration services and connected him with a service provider. Sean and the waiver employment service provider worked together to better understand his skills and interests for competitive integrated work. They also went to Disability Benefits 101 to see how work would impact Sean's benefits and found Sean would have a lot more money working in competitive integrated employment.

When they had some ideas about what Sean might like to do, his waiver employment service provider helped him contact Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) to further explore his options. Sean applied for VRS. Sean and his waiver case manager attended the VRS intake meeting and brought verification of Social Security benefits and information that documented his disability. With this information, eligibility for VRS was determined right away.

With a team approach, VRS and the waiver employment exploration provider identified Sean's skills and interests and his goal to work in a manufacturing career. Sean's VRS counselor contacted a local manufacturer. After a conversation about Sean and what he could bring to the business, the manager of the plant was open to exploring Sean working for them. Sean had not worked in the community for many years, so he and his team thought job shadowing would help Sean better understand if he would like the job. 

Sean went to the manufacturing company and followed one of the employees through their day to see what it was like. The job shadow was a success, and Sean was interested in the job. The team knew Sean would need support to learn more about the tasks and skills required before moving directly into the job. A 280-hour paid internship at the manufacturer was arranged through VRS, and Sean's waiver case manager authorized ongoing employment support services through the waiver for job coaching during the internship. 

Sean's internship was a success! He was offered a job at the manufacturing plant. He worked with his VRS counselor to purchase the steel toe boots he needed for his position. Now Sean is working 15 hours a week. The waiver continues to pay for four hours of job coaching each week, and Sean decided to keep going to the center-based DT&H program on his days off.

Next: Work and benefits »