Bridging the Gap from Academics to Career

Vocational rehabilitation is a mouthful of syllables, but it’s not meant to be complicated. VR, or voc rehab as it’s also known, is a set of pre-employment transition services. They’re designed for people who have a disability that makes it difficult to prepare for, get, or keep work. Services range from training programs to help getting a job to living independently.

“The first step is self-awareness,” says Mike Faeth, Director of Franklin Capstone, an adult learning program that offers VR to people ages 18-28, among other programming for neurodiverse individuals. “It’s being aware of skill deficits that could get in the way of your future. If you know you want a job, think about not just getting it, but keeping it. Knowing you need some help isn’t a weakness; it’s the key to your future success.”

How To Find and Choose Vocational Rehabilitation Services

After that step – knowing you need help – the next step is to get a referral. If you’ve already graduated from high school, you can get that from Career Force. If you’re still in high school, check with a guidance counselor who should have information for the Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator serving your school.  

Once you have a referral, what should you look for in a VR program? In general, each one will include five pre-employment transition services. 

  • Self-advocacy
  • Career exploration
  • Work readiness
  • Worked-based learning
  • Post-secondary exploration 

Just like any other type of program, the difference is in the staff and in the details of how each service is offered. If you choose to enroll at Capstone, you’ll start by meeting with an intake specialist who will explain the services as well as talking to the Career Force counselor. The goal is to find the best match between the individual, their goals, and the program.

“The really wonderful thing at Capstone is that we individualize all our offerings,” says Amy Epperson, Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator. “For example, with one student I worked on their interaction skills — how to have a good dialogue. With another one we helped them get a driving permit so they could apply for a job. It’s all tailored to the participant, their needs, and their goals.”   

The Upside for Businesses

In addition to building skills and improving confidence, which can help in situations from job interviews to peer interactions to customer service, Capstone also helps connect participants with job shadows.

“We reach out to businesses in the community – both for-profit and nonprofit – and ask if a student can work there on a short-term trial basis. Being inside a business is invaluable experience,” said Epperson.

What many companies might not know is that the state will pay you to have a VR participant work at your company. You as an employer pay nothing, yet you benefit from a resource working with your team for 20-30 hours/week. The individual gains invaluable experience, the employer gets to “test drive” a potential employee, and in the meantime, increase productivity. 

“There’s also a diversity benefit to your other employees,” says Faeth. “Most of the conversation about diversity is about age or race or gender. But neurodiversity is another kind. Learning to work with people who think differently is a necessary skill to have – one that all of us can improve, frankly!”

One Capstone participant did a job shadow at North Metro TV station, editing videos for the news, transferring film from tape to digital. One potential partner is a museum, where participants could hand out fliers, help with exhibits, and do other related tasks. 

“It can literally be life-changing – to give a neurodiverse person a job shadow,” said Epperson. “To give them short-term work experience or a part-time job can change where they end up in the future. It can also change the company. By creating that welcoming environment, being part of that community for staff, volunteers, our students – everyone is affected by that one choice.”

The Mindset of Success

It’s not always about getting a job right away. Sometimes it can be about gaining relevant experience. Maybe you want to be a dog groomer. What can you do now to prepare for that?

“It’s not just neurodiverse people who need help thinking ahead,” says Faeth. “Part of how we help students is general life skills. Thinking ahead, imagining possibilities, analyzing what’s needed to take advantage of those opportunities.”

What do Capstone students think of VR? In the words of one participant who already graduated: “It’s really nice to be able to talk to someone about this stuff. You don’t really talk to people about post-secondary options, other job options, job shadows.” 

Capstone plans to add more staff like Epperson, who works with both students and businesses.

Give Back by Giving Someone a Chance

The team contacts hundreds of businesses to find job shadows for their VR participants, in addition to offering the other components of the training. Unfortunately, many employers see the opportunity as more “paperwork” or more time, and they say no.

“We know it’s new and different for many employers, but we would ask people to give it a chance. If you remember anything about vocational rehab, remember that one small decision for you can be hugely positive for someone else. A part-time resource for free might not be a big deal for you, but it can change a life for the better,” said Epperson.