Looking For Free Labor? Program May Assist
Special ed students in a Maine Township District 207 program are able to fulfill many workplace tasks; and they need the real-life training.
Wanted: Companies in Maine Township to employ loyal, cheerful workers. At no cost.
The Maine Township High School District 207 Transition Program, which helps special education students age 18-21 acquire independent living and work skills as they prepare for adulthood, is looking for community-based employers who have work their students could be trained to do.
“Our students are very reliable,” said Michelle Dwyer, who coordinates the program with Jeffrey Gallichio. “They really enjoy going to work.”
The 26 students currently in the program have a variety of learning disabilities and intellectual challenges, Gallichio said. Some are on the autism spectrum.
They do rote tasks very well
But most do well with the kind of rote tasks other workers might find boring: sorting and folding laundry, preparing mailings, stocking merchandise. Among jobs that various students can perform are food service, stocking, banquet set up, housekeeping, janitorial, day care or mailroom sorting. Some are capable of working as a valet, service clerk or in such areas as hospitality or shipping and receiving.
Current employers who work with the young adults from the Transitions Program are Dominick’s, Jewel, McDonald’s and the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Some of the jobs are full-time while some are only a few hours a week.
“If there’s a company that has something that maybe someone has to do for an hour every morning, setting something up or something, that’s a job one of our students could do,” Dwyer said.
Coaches help them understand duties
While students are in Transitions, they receive support and training not only from their employers, but also from job coaches who make sure they know and understand their duties. When they are not working, they get training in independent living skills in the program’s home facility at Maine East High School.
The students are not ideal candidates for every job. Most don’t have the capacity to multi-task or to shift rapidly from one kind of task to another, Dwyer said.
“For example, in a clothing store, our students could bring merchandise out, put it on the racks, sort and fold and straighten things,” she said. “But then when stores get busy, they want to call everybody to the register, and they are not going be able to do that.”
Students need training for future employment
Gallichio said the ideal would be for students to develop enough skills that their training employers want to actually hire them – or that they could take those skills and find a job with a similar company.
Some of the students will not be able to do that, he said, but they can still use their employment skills in a supportive workshop environment.
Most employers who work with the Transitions students find that they bring a positive attitude to the workplace and make it more pleasant for everyone.
“It does really change the atmosphere of the workplace,” she said.
Recent high levels of unemployment mean that more traditional workers are competing for the jobs the special-education students could do, Gallichio said, and employers most often are looking for people who can do more than one thing.
“They want people who can do two or three jobs,” Gallichio said.
For more information on the Transitions program, call Gallichio at (847) 626-8480 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.