Employees with disabilities are hired for the same reason as any other – they are qualified to do the job, with or without an accommodation. However, some individuals with certain types of intellectual or mental health disabilities might benefit from additional support in the workplace. This additional support could include working with a job coach. Understanding the role of a job coach and how to best collaborate with them can help employers create an environment where employees with a range of ability levels can be successful.
What is a job coach?
Job coaches are paraprofessionals who work with people with disabilities to support their vocational goals and performance outcomes. Their services are typically free for employers as they are funded by a variety of organizations within the public and non-profit sector. A job coach can provide assistance with finding a job, training on the job, and job retention. They might provide assistance at the site of employment, or off-site “behind the scenes”, to support a person with a disability (including meetings after business hours or weekly check-ins over the phone). Job coaches are sometimes referred to as “Employment Specialists”. They can provide support during the initial phases of employment, but can also be a source of long term support.
How does a job coach help employers?
A job coach works in conjunction with an employer’s own onboarding and training procedures, to facilitate certain types of accommodation requests, and assist in training employees with disabilities who may benefit from instruction and guidance in alternative formats. For example, a job coach might work with an employee to learn new tasks and increase efficiency. Job coaches typically remain on site until the employee achieves full productivity. During that time, a good job coach will facilitate the development of natural supports in the workplace, such as coworkers who can be informal sources of information and camaraderie contributing to a sense of inclusion. Job coaches reduce their involvement and presence over time, spending less and less time on the job site.
There are a variety of other free services that job coaches can provide to employers, including:
- Comprehensive task analysis which can later be used to develop position descriptions
- Information on employer rights and responsibilities under the ADA
- Information on inclusion and disability etiquette
Who receives job coaching services?
All employees can benefit from access to additional training and support when learning a new position or adding new responsibilities. Mentoring and coaching in the workplace can take many forms, and for some people with disabilities the option to work with a job coach can augment a company’s existing training processes. Most people with disabilities do not need a job coach, and the choice to use one is voluntary and completely up to the individual. Employers cannot make job coach services mandatory, or obtain them on behalf of an employee.
Working with a job coach does not mean that an employee has to disclose a non-visible disability. Job coaches can meet with people away from the work site to provide training and assistance with issues such as soft skills and stress management. If an employee chooses to have a job coach onsite, it is considered a form of accommodation request.
Introducing the Job Coach to the Work Environment
When an employee chooses to use the services of a job coach, your obligations and rights as an employer do not change. The job coach does not replace existing orientation/onboarding or supervision procedures; and your expectations regarding workplace performance may remain the same.
It is up to the individual employee when and how to introduce the job coach to coworkers. Managers play a big role in creating a welcoming environment for the job coach, and will set the tone for other employees who might be unsure about the situation.
Do’s and Don’ts of Working with a Job Coach
- Do welcome the job coach into the work environment and set the tone for other employees.
- Do share any concerns or questions you have about the process with the job coach or their supervisor.
- Don’t use the job coach as a surrogate supervisor.
- Don’t exclude the employee from conversations about work performance.
- Don’t allow the job coach to become an artificial member of the team; the job coach will fade out over time and all employees benefit from natural supports and social connections at work.
Creating Partnerships with Community Agencies
Employers wishing to include people with disabilities as part of their overall diversity recruiting initiatives will benefit from developing partnerships with agencies that provide vocational assistance and supports. Mangers and Human Resource Professionals who develop collaborative relationships with job coaches can use them as a resource when recruiting to fill vacant positions. A job coach who is familiar with the work environment, position details, and employment culture can often recommend qualified candidates with disabilities.
Disability and HR: Tips for Human Resource Professionals<http://www.hrtips.org/>
This guide provides information for Human Resource Professionals and managers on supporting and accommodating employees with disabilities from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment Policy and Individuals with Disabilities at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.
New York State Vocational Rehabilitation Manual<http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/cbvh/vocrehab_manual/08-38_job coaching.htm>
This comprehensive guide, developed for providers of vocational support services in New York State, includes detailed descriptions of the goals of vocational support and the role of the provider.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports and Job Retention (Virginia Commonwealth University)<http://www.worksupport.com/index.cfm>
The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports and Job Retention provides information and case studies which describe the process of employment support, and how employment supports can be effectively integrated by employers.