Meeting: October 20, 2016 Job Readiness

Panel Discussion:   Kalena Kavenaugh, Anjela Godber, Caroline Gatchalian, Sarah Blackmore

Employment success for people with Asperger’s, HFA, or a similar profile, is dependent on effective preparation and follow up for both employers and employees. Many people with these diagnoses do not qualify for assistance after the age of 19, yet they are required to compete in a neuro-typical world. Social skills can often trip them up, particularly if they did not receive treatment or training when they were young. They now need to become prepared to seek and keep employment if they are to fulfill their dreams of acceptance and independence.

Louvain Chalmers and Joette Heuft organized two speaker panels for this meeting:

The first group consisted of people from some of the agencies that run employment programs, and who are working hard to find solutions to the challenge of job readiness for our family members and other like them:

Kalena Kavenaugh – Manager of PosAbilities Employment Services

Anjela Godber – Outreach Manager for Ready, Willing and Able (RWA)

Caroline Gatchalian – Facilitator for Open Door’s “Jobs in Demand” employment program

Sarah Blackmore – Facilitator for Youth BEAT Employment Program, run by the YMCA in Vancouver


The second group consisted of four of our family members, willing to speak about their experiences with job readiness, finding work, and their aspirations for employment:

Sam Guenther

Alex Donohue

Aaron Michael

Peter Wlasenko


The First Group:  The Service Providers

 Kalena Kavenaugh, is a manager at PosAbilities, an employment agency specializing in working with clients with a disability. Kalena stated that job applicants need to have both the technical skills and soft skills specific to a job. She wanted to know about our family members’ wants and needs in order for PosAbilities to provide good services for job-seekers on the Spectrum. She discussed the job-coaching process as something that is different for each person, depending on their needs. PosAbilities is a fee for service model.

Anjela Godber, of Ready, Willing, and Able, (RWA), a federal government pilot project that began in February 2016. This particular RWA program is run under the umbrella of the Pacific Autism Family Network, and therefore, its staff has knowledge and experience working with individuals with autism. Anjela outlined their intake process, which may include completion of their pre-employment program, Employment Works. EW is a 12 week program, consisting of 2 ½ hours, 2 times per week. One session each week is in a classroom, focused on a particular employment theme. The second session each week is in a workplace. There are six workplace experiences in each 12 week program. Anjela emphasized that employers are unanimous in claiming customer service and flexibility around work hours and job tasks are key assets in employees. Aside from doing good intake, so that they find the best possible employment “fit” for their clients, they also work on employee “soft skills” to help to make them “job ready”. As well as working with their clients on the Spectrum, RWA has a staff member whose full time job is to seek out, to educate employers about the advantages of hiring ASD individuals, and to prepare and educate employers about how to support these new employees.

Caroline Gatchalian, of Open Door Jobs in Demand, emphasized that their program focuses on job readiness in particular employment sectors (currently – security, hospitality, retail, construction, and social services). She talked about the advantages of openness with employers in disclosing the need for accommodation. She explained that this is an opportunity to highlight a job-seeker’s abilities and to explain how accommodations can be made to effectively integrate individuals with disabilities into the workplace. Caroline feels that employers are equally accountable to understand, and to work with individuals of diverse abilities.

Sarah Blackmore, of Youth BEAT, talked about how her program serves people up to 29 years of age. It includes a pre-employment course that includes both hard skills, and health and wellness components, including mental wellness. This is a recognition that good mental health is a huge component of “job readiness”, and that often, anxiety and depression affect many people on the autism spectrum. The Youth Beat program provides 3rd party support to assist their clients to effectively communicate with employers, and focuses on equal opportunity and employers. This program is also relatively new, and, as such, is still developing and adjusting to meet the needs of its clients.


The Second Group:  SPS Members Experiences in the Workplace

Sam Guenther talked about his experience with the Employment Works Program through Ready, Willing and Able. He entered the program because he was not satisfied with the work he had been able to find so far. He was surprised by, and appreciated how “hands-on” the program was. The program included on-the-job-training in a variety of work situations including hotel maintenance, a recording studio, and a horse ranch. In the past, Sam has worked at Garden Works, Safeway, and at Stanley Park and Granville Island in security and parking enforcement. He currently works at CanPar, loading delivery trucks. He has held this job for 2 ½ years. He got his current job through an employment service called Regard Resources. He is now looking for full time work, a living wage, and job functions that are less physically demanding. He would also prefer to work day shift rather than nights. He likes working with people. RWA has put some jobs forward to him but the jobs that have been offered to him so far, have not seemed to him to be an improvement from his current job.

Alex Donohue is studying part time. He also found his current job through RWA. Currently, he works a Dietary Aide at Vancouver General Hospital preparing patient meals. His employment status is casual. He would like a regular shift with predictability and permanent status. He prefers not to work early mornings, because his journey to work by transit early in the day is long, and requires waking very early. Alex may enter film studies at Capilano University full time, starting in the spring of 2017.

Aaron Michael participated in employment programs with RWA and BC Win. He is working full time, in insurance, and is taking one course at SFU. His previous job was at RGI, as a travel agent, booking rewards trips for Avion clients. Aaron has insurance education and credentials, and he has just been made a permanent full time employee in the insurance department at London Drugs. Aaron likes his work and his manager, and has settled in well. Initially though, the job was very demanding, due to a province-wide effort to implement  a new ICBC computer system, working under two interim managers, and staff shortages due to the sudden departure of a co-worker. Nevertheless, the changes have been managed well by London Drugs, and learning the new ICBC system together has made Aaron feel part of a team. Aaron also feels that he is learning transferable skills that will benefit him in future jobs.

Peter Wlasenko discovered 4 years ago, as a mature adult, that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. After his diagnosis he participated in the Open Door Program. Peter worked with three specialist employment agencies for two years to find his current job. He discovered that he needed to build a good rapport with the intake worker at the agency; Peter realized that he or she needed to know him very well in order to understand what type of work would best suit him. He found success in VanCity’s Workforce Initiative, a program designed to find and hire employees with barriers. As part of this program, Peter’s disability was disclosed at the outset, in his employment interview. He was therefore, able to describe the type of work tasks and work environment that will best enable him to feel comfortable and to be successful. For Peter, the specific work assignment is less important to his success than the workplace colleagues and environment. Peter enjoys feeling part of a team, working on a common outcome, and believes that people should feel supported, stable and not anxious, in their jobs. Peter’s peers are accepting and inclusive, and his supervisor is supportive. He sees himself moving forward at VanCity.

Observations and Questions

  • The gift is in identifying what we don’t like, and turning the negative aspect around to focus on what does work for us. Then go for that.
  • Managers who can effectively organize and communicate tasks and how to do them are very helpful.
  • Managers can help by identifying a problem as soon as it occurs. It doesn’t help to let a small problem develop into a bigger problem, especially when the worker does not understand that his or her behavior may be a problem. Being clear and direct is best.
  • Whether or not to disclose barriers to supervisor and co-workers is a personal decision. Generally, those who have disclosed find that this helps, as they are able to seek the support that they need, and gain understanding and accommodation.
  • The work team plays an important part in contributing to a worker’s enjoyment of the job and success at work.
  • Families are important support networks. They know the supported individual’s strengths and weaknesses best, and are highly motivated to see them succeed. Sometimes the worker doesn’t know, due to youth or inexperience, what work they might be able to do, or are unable to clearly communicate their thoughts and feelings about their job path.
  • A good friend can be a mentor. Victor talked about the role his school friend played in helping him to learn communication skills. Now Victor operates the Capability Club, which offers training in communication skills to children on the Spectrum.
  • Finding and keeping relationships is key to being successful in finding and keeping work.
  • There is general concern that agencies will find only entry-level or menial jobs for our family members. Having Asperger’s or HFA does not mean low intellect, in fact, ¾ of individuals with ASD have an intellect that is average or above.
  • There is an acknowledged gap in services to job-seekers on the spectrum who have average or above average intelligence. They need work to match their intellectual capacity and technical skills and training.
  • Some workers already employed may need some support to be more successful and to keep their current work, or to advance in their job, by taking additional training, or by making it clear that they are willing and able to take on larger roles in their jobs. There is an identified need for support to these people.