As a young adult living with disability, and having graduated from high school a few years ago, it’s safe to say I’ve been thinking about how I can best hone my skills to assist me in gaining employment. As someone who is vision impaired, I already have somewhat of a barrier in terms of job access.

Luckily, there are many programs out there that offer post-school, disability-focused employment support to people just like myself and others who may be struggling, whether with working out what job or field is best for them, or developing job-ready skills like office etiquette and routine.

The program I attend is classified as “school leaver employment support” (or SLES for short), and, like several others, is funded by the NDIS. As mentioned, it is aimed primarily at young adults with physical and/or intellectual disabilities which may hinder their chances of finding work, and intends to refine their best attributes and improve on areas they may not be as familiar with. This also extends to things like daily life skills (i.e. cooking and mental health) and money skills (i.e. budgeting and cash handling), among other things.

Although most participants at the program have recently finished school, there are several that are still in their final years of high school and are wanting to get a head start when they graduate with their able-bodied peers. We also offer support to older people, who have either had past job experience and are looking to expand on what they already know, or wish to learn a whole new set of skills for a future career path.

My SLES program runs during the week, with many participants able to choose which days they attend. As each day will usually have its own range of activities both at our factory and out in the community, this allows for a variety of options for participants to choose from, whether it be one, two, three or more days per week.

This ensures they can learn a multitude of different skills, no matter which days they choose or how many they attend each week.

In addition to employability skills, such as resume writing, job interviews and workplace etiquette, there are many other areas my SLES explores.

Having our own factory space, this enables us to engage in more hands-on activities, including woodwork and using tools, horticulture and plant care, self defense and physical exercise, coffee making and barista training, and, my personal favourite, cooking and preparing meals to share. I’ve always been interested in cooking ever since high school, so this one appeals to me very much.

We will usually work in small groups, depending on how many people we have on any given day, in multiple areas at one time. For example, one group may be doing woodwork while another is using the kitchen.

But most often, we will all join together for things like self defense and life skills, which allows us to learn more centrally as a group and each ask individual questions that we can all learn from.

Outside of the factory, we also have days each week dedicated to gaining knowledge and experience in volunteering in the community and using public transport independently.

For these, we will split up into two groups, with one group volunteering at a workplace doing odd jobs, and the other group catching public transport, like the train or bus, to different places near us, like a shopping centre or park.

The groups will then switch the following week, so each group gets to experience both aspects of community-based learning.

But my favourite day of all at the program is every second Friday. That’s when we’ll go as a group to do something fun, like see a movie, go swimming or play games. These are, without a doubt, the highlight of the program for me; not just because of the excitement of doing these things, but because I’m doing them with friends and connecting with them at a deeper level at the same time.

In a way, I think that’s what SLES as a whole is also about: making new friendships and gaining lifelong connections with people more like ourselves.

As well as all the areas already touched on, the program also assists individual participants with their own employment in different industries of interest. I have known several participants that have gained some level of employment, whether voluntary, casual or part-time, with help from the staff at SLES, through personal connections and reaching out to businesses best suited to the individual.

This shows that not only are they dedicated to educating and supporting on a group basis, but they also care about each person and the best options available to them. This is another reason I’m so impressed and thankful for being a part of this program.

As a small side note, we have also recently launched an online store to sell the different crafts and creations we’re making at the program, and are also preparing coffees and hot chocolates to sell to people in the local community, so it’s safe to say we’re only going from strength to strength at SLES. This has also helped us further increase our communication and retail skills, adding to our already lengthy asset list thanks to the program and its ambitious, patient and understanding trainers.

If you’ve been reading this and have someone in mind who you believe would benefit from SLES or similar disability employment support program (whether it be yourself, a friend or a family member), I strongly encourage looking further into it. As I’ve said, it’s a great way to harness new job and life skills, as well as improve on existing ones that may not be up to scratch.

The NDIS funds many of these particular programs, and they can be used in accordance with areas of your plan if you are plan-managed. You can find out more information on their website, or by using a search browser like Google to learn more.

– Sam Valavanis
A List Ambassador

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