The beginning of a new school year is upon us. This marks the third year that LifeSkills preemployment transition services will be made available to high school students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who express an interest in making the transition from school to the workplace.

Preeducation specialist McKenzy Chaffin receives referrals and authorizations through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide group and individual services in high schools or community settings.

“We tailor our classes to address the needs of the students we are working with,” Chaffin said. “Our initial goal is to determine what kinds of jobs our students might be interested in pursuing. Then we educate them as much as possible about those jobs. This includes anything we can do to give them an idea of what it takes to do the job. We review the qualifications that are required. We might watch videos or visit places where they can actually observe people doing the jobs they are interested in. Basically, we do whatever we can to give them a good idea of what the job requires and what it looks like in the real world.”

Chaffin expressed her appreciation to the many local professionals who have taken the time to address her students.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to us and to our students to have people make the effort to actually come in and visit our group and talk about their jobs,” Chaffin said. “It’s a shining example of community resources coming together.”

Chaffin has had firefighters, police officers, emergency service providers, employment agency personnel and skilled laborers talk to her students and answer any job-related questions they may have.

“Professionals from Western Kentucky University have come in and handed out folders of information, in case they are interested in furthering their education,” Chaffin said. “And we’ve had employees from the health department come in to talk about the importance of establishing healthy habits … like getting enough sleep and eating the right foods … these kinds of visits make our individuals truly feel important and valued.”

After job interests are identified, the next step is to establish what skills are needed to be successful, Chaffin said.

“Our main focus is to build job-ready skills that will allow them to move toward their goals,” Chaffin said. “These skills vary greatly and are based on each person’s needs.”

Some examples of specific areas that may be targeted include:

  • how to open a checking account.
  • budgeting.
  • the importance of being punctual.
  • how to utilize public transportation.
  • job application activities such as sending resumes and thank-you letters.
  • dressing for success.
  • successful job interview tips.
  • conflict resolution.
  • telephone etiquette.
  • teamwork and why it’s important.

“We conduct mock job interviews and talk a lot about work values,” Chaffin said. “Anything we can do to make our students feel prepared and confident to take the next step in their journey. In some cases, we’ve actually placed people in volunteer positions so they can gain firsthand knowledge of what a job entails.”

After going through the curriculum, students often team up with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and LifeSkills supported employment program to further their employment ambitions and receive on-the-job supports.

Chaffin would like to extend an invitation to local professionals and skilled workers to schedule a time to visit her students to share their job knowledge. Specialists who might offer apprenticeships are also encouraged to contact her, as well as anyone who might have an established group that could benefit from LifeSkills’ services.

– For more information, call 270-901-5000, ext. 1004, and leave a voice message.

– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky in three main areas: mental health, addiction and intellectual disabilities. Her column appears monthly.

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