The value of pre-employment skills training

Posted: 
1 August 2014

Karen Wolffe manages a private practice as a career counselor and consultant in Austin, Texas. She is the principle author of RNIB and Action’s Pre-employment Programme.

For many years I have had the pleasure of working with youth and adults who are blind or partially sighted (blind and partially sighted). The emphasis of my work has been on helping individuals move into employment, because I believe that when people with disabilities join the work force it provides them with both financial and emotional support in their lives. Work is a great equaliser – by contributing to the larger community, people support one another and achieve communal goals without regard to personal characteristics such as disability. Self-respect and acceptance from others without disabilities occurs when individuals with disabilities work and contribute to society, whether for pay or voluntarily.

Unfortunately, employment has been an elusive goal for many blind and partially sighted people. In an effort to break down some of the tangible barriers to employment, RNIB has published and made available for educational purposes a pre-employment curriculum and guide for trainers, the Pre-employment programme trainers toolkit.

Iterations of the Pre-employment programme (PEP) are being offered to blind and partially sighted people in many countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Poland. The PEP offerings vary based on participants’ needs. In some locations, the PEP has been expanded to include training modules devoted to assistive technology, independent living, and/or orientation and mobility. However, the core training remains the same with a primary focus of giving blind and partially sighted individuals the employability skills they need to choose career goals and secure jobs.

The PEP empowers blind and partially sighted job seekers by providing information, activities, and resources to:

  • help blind and partially sighted individuals identify their interests, abilities, values, work personality traits, and barriers they may face in securing work
  • evaluate whether their personal characteristics match employment offerings and determine what to do if deficiencies are evidenced in their qualifications or abilities
  • capture information about international, national, and local labour markets – what and where jobs are, what’s required to do available jobs, and how to research companies or agencies of interest
  • learn and practice strong job seeking skills, including how to find specific job openings and submit strong applications, tailor-make CVs to match jobs posted, interview successfully and address employers’ concerns about hiring someone with a disability, and organise an effective job search
  • give blind and partially sighted people the knowledge and techniques (positive communication skills, problem-solving and goal setting strategies, and self-advocacy skills) required to maintain employment.

The PEP has enabled blind and partially sighted people to successfully find jobs or develop action plans to remediate skill deficiencies that are inhibiting their employment efforts. The programme meets blind and partially sighted participants’ individual needs while offering a supportive milieu in which to learn.

PEP participants are typically blind and partially sighted individuals who are out-of-work or, occasionally, part-time employees who want to investigate full-time work or change careers. The participants work individually on some assignments and together in small groups to accomplish other tasks they are assigned. Tasks range from self-evaluation activities to performing mock interviews. Staff who are knowledgeable about blindness and vision loss are available to teach, guide, or assist as needed. Guest speakers (successfully employed blind and partially sighted people, human resource representatives, and mainstream labour market specialists) are invited to lead discussions with participants whenever feasible.

Materials are readily available in alternative formats (braille, enlarged print, and recorded or electronic media). Adapted technology is provided for on-site research and to complete individualised assignments ranging from CV development to applying for positions on-line. The PEP is a structured learning situation that provides the best of all worlds: general information about employment and specific adaptations for blind and partially sighted job seekers. It’s no wonder that many PEP graduates have secured employment.

For further information or if you have questions about employability training resources, please email karenwolffe@gmail.com.

Further information

Visit our Employment research section or read our Evidence-based review on people of Working Age.

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