Part-time Jobs: Cerebral Palsy
Career Builders for High School Students

By Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, Disability Employment Expert
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Working in part-time jobs, even with cerebral palsy (CP), gives high school students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience.

It's part of the road map created by the National Career Development guidelines, which outlines 11 skills your youngster needs to learn at the "knowledge acquisition" level during high school. See links to my 20 individual articles in this section about how to develop those skills.

Gaining work experience through part-time jobs during high school is essential in competing effectively in today’s job market because it gives your son or daughter an opportunity to hone the “soft” work skills every employer now seeks in a job candidate.

That statement comes from Jennifer N. Kemp, Youth Policy Team Leader, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

“I’ve had a dozen part-time jobs -- from fudge maker and baby sitter to editorial assistant,” says Kemp, who has CP.

“I’ve never really faced the situation where I couldn’t get a job when I wanted one,” she adds, looking back on her career of more than 20 years.

Kemp was a featured speaker at the annual Careers Conference in Madison, WI, January 26, 2011. She’s showing today’s youth that the old “Catch 22” some individuals with a disability like to repeat (“How can I gain the required work experience for a job when no one will give me a chance to work?”) may still be comforting but not necessarily relevant.

Kemp got her first “real” job in 1988 -- two years before the ADA. She credits her soft skills as her key to successfully landing her jobs.

She’s been a Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S. Department of Labor and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. She began her career in the disability field through a Workforce Recruitment Program internship at the U.S. Department of Defense.

I was surprised to hear Kemp give this Office of Disability Employment Policy recommendation to an audience consisting mostly of career facilitators, coaches and counselors within a secondary or post-secondary educational setting:

“All youth, including those with disabilities, today need two or more part-time jobs before graduating from high school.”

That’s a challenge. The U.S. Department of Labor (December 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics) shows employment among 16- to 19-year-olds is 25 percent among non-disabled individuals and 11 percent among individuals with a disability. In the 20- to 24-year-old age group, the gap widens even more: Employment is 60 percents for non-disabled individuals but only 32 percent for individuals with a disability.

Why are part-time jobs during high school so critical? Kemp says a young person needs work experience to build these five critical “soft” skills:

  1. Communication - How to express personal feelings and needs effectively one-to-one and in a group.

  2. Attitude - How to be assertive instead of aggressive.

  3. Teamwork - How to value each team member and the role each member plays.

  4. Networking - How to find common interests as well as accept and offer support.

  5. Problem solving - How to framework personal experience with a situation-task-action-result (STAR) format.

“You get to know what you’re good at by gaining work experience,” says Kemp. “It develops your enthusiasm and self-esteem.”

Even if your youngster beyond high school or college is unemployed and lacks job experience, I would suggest considering volunteer work at a targeted company or organization to gain the experience your young adult needs.

Your youngster can also apply for an internship or apprenticeship as an adult. Adult internships are more common today than in the past when internships were considered only for high school or college students.

Soft skills are needed, asserts Kemp, to launch any kind of job marketing campaign. According to Quintessential Careers, on average, one of 12 informational interviews results in a job, while it can take 300 to 1,500 resumes to get a job offer, she says.

Kemp maintains the gap in soft skills she often sees between youth with a disability and youth with no disability can be closed not just through work in part-time jobs but also through family, community and school relationships. She has a five-year-old, for example, who recently learned how to shake hands effectively from an uncle.

And, if flipping burgers as a way to gain work experience is not realistic for your youngster, Kemp recommends framing what your youngster has accomplished from the perspective of soft skill development.

What your high school student needs to know

According to the National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG), these are the 11 career development competencies your youngster can develop at the “knowledge acquisition” level during high school:

  1. Understand that discovering one’s personal interests, likes, and dislikes is a step toward building and maintaining a positive self-concept.

  2. Show respect for diversity as an essential positive interpersonal skill.

  3. Recognize that growth and change are essential parts of career development.

  4. Achieve a balance among personal, leisure, community, learner, family and work roles.

  5. Recognize that educational achievement and performance levels are needed to reach personal and career goals.

  6. Realize that ongoing, lifetime learning enhances one’s ability to function well in a diverse and changing economy.

  7. Discover that creating and managing a career plan is essential to meeting career goals.

  8. Start making decisions within an overall personal strategy for managing a career.

  9. Recognize the importance of accurate, current and unbiased career information in planning and managing one’s career.

  10. Accumulate fundamental knowledge about the variety of skills that are important for success and advancement in school and work, such as communicating, critical thinking, and problem solving.

  11. Realize that changing employment trends, societal needs and economic conditions have an impact on one’s career path.

I follow the NCDG framework for each of these five stages in your youngster’s development:

  1. Elementary, when your child becomes aware of job titles.

  2. Middle/junior high, when your youngster begins to appreciate individual personalities and preferences among family and friends through a simple career test.

  3. High school, when your youngster needs to start gaining work experience through part-time jobs.

  4. College, when your youngster needs to master specific job seeking skills, such as absorbing and implementing interview tips.

  5. Job search, when your young son or daughter becomes a job finder by putting together job seeking skills into a comprehensive marketing campaign and career management approach that he or she can routinely update throughout a lifetime.

As your youngster progresses through each of these five developmental milestones, I’ll show you the barriers I personally encountered (and worked around) as a person with CP and the options you and your youngster can consider for your own “workarounds.”

20 articles: Each about a high school career builder

Specifically, I have divided the 11 NCDG competencies for your high school student into two sets of 10 disability-focused articles. One set is based on self-confidence, and the other set is focused on competitive advantage for your high school youngster:

10 career builders which foster your youngster’s self-confidence. These include developing:

  1. Self concept (Personality Test, Manage Your Emotion)

  2. Career mindedness (Resume Writing Guide, Career Information for High School)

  3. Decision making skills (Problem Solving Skills, Problem Solving Strategies)

  4. Career information gathering abilities (Employable PopulationOnline Degrees)

  5. Career path management skills (Effective Goal Setting, Resume Writing Tips)

10 career builders which provide opportunities to discover a personal competitive edge. These include developing:

  1. Interpersonal communication skills (Teamwork in the Workplace, Importance of Teamwork)

  2. Balance between work and personal time (Job Search Tips, Motivation Plan)

  3. Educational and lifelong learning orientations (Career Clusters, Career Search)

  4. Career trend tracking abilities (Discrimination Definition, Americans with Disabilities Act)

  5. Job marketing skills (Job Descriptions, Job Application)

In essence, each of these career builders are small steps toward getting hired in part-time jobs during high school and eventually making the transition from school to work.

Since 1997, I’ve met many accomplished people with CP who are successfully working within a wide variety of occupations. Many of them started their careers with part-time jobs. On this site, you’ll find their success stories (and how their parents and other mentors have helped them succeed).

Follow me, and you and your youngster with CP will also have the opportunity to share your views about specific mentoring issues as well as personal success stories with others facing some of your same challenges.

You'll have the opportunity to grow together within each of the above stages of discovery and learning.

Return from Part-time Jobs to Cerebral Palsy Career Builders.

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