By Mark Grossman, Employment Specialist
The Employment Services department at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers several programs for job seekers. Once a consumer has gone through the first phase of any of these, we invite them to join our Tuesday Jobs Group. This ongoing meeting gathers job seekers together to discuss current trends in the market as well as learn from and support one another. We read and discuss relevant articles, watch or listen to podcasts and videos. The subject matter might include topics as wide as crafting the perfect resume, how to beat the applicant tracking software systems used by employers, interviewing for positions, disclosing one’s disability, and requesting job accommodations. We also engage in practical exercises like mock interviews. Initially, these meetings were held at our wonderful, accessible, modern headquarters in San Francisco. Just as one would need to travel to get to their place of employment, this simple act of coming to the LightHouse gives people the extra practice they might need to hone their orientation and mobility skills, time-management and communication skills in the event they get lost. At the end of last year, when we started offering services to job seekers throughout the state, we opened the group to people using teleconferencing software. Little did we know that by the middle of March, all of our job seekers would be joining us virtually due to coronavirus.
Even though the content of the meeting changes from week to week, we try to start off by giving each person the opportunity to share what is new in their job search. This could be a success story around networking or an interview. It might also be identifying a challenge or barrier that somebody experienced. Of course, we might ask people to give us their “elevator pitch” to see how the other job seekers respond and provide constructive criticism. Occasionally, we are joined by guest speakers that can offer insight into the world of employment. Job seekers are encouraged to suggest their own ideas for discussion, and we encourage them to also lead the discussion. This is one way for us to help job seekers build up their leadership and public speaking skills.
Some of the former Employment Immersion students find it hard to leave the group even when they do find a job. JJ Datchalian found himself a job in March as a contractor for the Independent Living Center teaching technology to blind seniors. JJ professes himself to be ‘kinda shy’ and was struggling with the networking required when you are looking for work. He says the LightHouse gave him strategies to help open up. And, even though he is thrilled to be working, he will be sad saying goodbye to the jobs group when he leaves in September.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus earlier this year, the group discussions have pivoted slightly, and many job seekers have concerns that other job seekers might not have. For example, if employers are going to switch to exclusively having video interviews, job seekers with vision loss might need to consider disclosing their vision loss at a different time than anticipated. Job seekers who are looking for roles that don’t require computer skills are suddenly unable to apply for jobs in person as employers might only be accepting digital applications. What about those students that don’t have access to a computer or reliable internet access? Since most public libraries are closed and we are supposed to be socially distancing from anybody except the people we live with, this limits the support people can get with technology. While there has been a spike in the number of available jobs for “essential” workers in areas such as healthcare and supply chain, other industries such as hospitality have seen deep declines. Companies all over the state have announced layoffs and hiring freezes. Some job seekers have the skills and education to be more flexible with their job search, while others don’t have the education or abilities to find a new industry or career. As a team, we work with job seekers to help them identify networking opportunities, modify their application materials, highlight transferrable skills, and expose them to alternative career pathways.