The Importance of Connections in Customized Employment

In November, Melissa Holt shared her experiences finding a job through customized employment. In this guest blog post, Kaori Kelly, the employment specialist Melissa worked with, shares her thoughts.

If there was a theme of my work with Melissa to support her to find a job, it would be the importance of connections. When I started working with Melissa, she knew her strengths and she knew she wanted to work with computers. She had taken technology and computer classes at HACC, and she enjoys administrative work, especially with computers.

We visited many local offices and businesses, but none of them were the right fit for her. With customized employment, the person matches the job just the way they are, without needing to learn a new set of skills. Many of the offices and nonprofits either wanted a volunteer or were looking for someone with specialized skills.

Good connections are important, no matter who is looking for a job. Job development starts with social capital connections, so when Melissa didn’t find a job, we refocused on who we knew in the community. That’s when we hit the turning point.

Melissa and her family have been deeply involved with Special Olympics, so I met with the current program director, and through her, I met with the former program director, who was responsible for many of the connections Special Olympics has with community businesses. Through the former program director, I met the regional director of Keystone Apple, the company that operates Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar. As you can see, it really is all about a network of connections.

Keystone Apple’s regional director actually knew Melissa from Special Olympics when she volunteered at a veterans’ breakfast. I explained customized employment and he started brainstorming for both more community connections and possible positions with Applebee’s.

Although the administrative work at the restaurant is done by managers and supervisors, he came up with the idea of having Melissa start as a hostess, and he would then set aside some of his own administrative work for her to do. These ideas were great, but they brought up one of the challenges that employment specialists face. Businesses and people can be extremely supportive, so when they suggest something, you want to say, “Yes!” However, sometimes what they suggest is not a good fit for the person, and you really have to say, “Thank you, but no.”

The hostess position wasn’t really a good fit for Melissa, but she decided to try it anyway and she began a two-week internship. Ultimately, however, although the manager was willing to train her and Melissa really wanted to work there, it truly wasn’t the right fit, so she turned the job down.

(As a side note, during my discussions with Applebee’s, I realized there was another opportunity there that would be perfect for another person I was supporting. So even though our connections didn’t result in a job for Melissa, the other person did get hired.)

About two weeks later, I learned of an opportunity with DB Schenker that sounded like a good fit. They process technology products and Melissa would have to process the products, which involves multitasking and using a computer.

After taking a tour and talking with the business, she was hired. If you read her blog post, you’ll see how much she likes her job. Because she’s a dedicated employee, when her company experienced cutbacks, she was transferred to a new position in a different department.

Melissa’s story shows how important relationships are to finding a job. Everyone has connections that can make a difference, even if they only lead to more connections.

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