The first in AccessATE and DeafTEC’s “ACE It!” tip sheet series, Advocating for Students, discusses the importance of being a good advocate for your students with disabilities when working with industry partners and employers. Below we will expand on how to promote the good work of your students, via routes such as writing a solid referral, or talking to potential employers to give them a deeper understanding of the student’s skill set.
Tip Sheet: Advocate for the Student
It can be difficult to decide which of your student’s skills to focus on in your discussions with employers. We’ve all been in the position of not knowing how to describe ourselves in a job interview, and it can be even harder to do so for someone else!
No matter the field, most of us split job skills into categories, with a common distinction being hard skills vs soft skills. Hard skills, of course, are technical skills; specific knowledge likely learned in class or in previous jobs. Welding, process automation, coding, data analysis, and benchwork are all examples of hard skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, have more to do with the student’s ability to work with others, manage their time, adapt to new environments, think creatively, etc. These may not be as emphasized in job applications and referrals, but are (as all of us in the ATE community know) just as important as hard skills, and can help paint a clearer picture of the student’s potential in the employer’s mind. In fact, Forbes’ Data Reveals Why the 'Soft' in 'Soft Skills' is a Major Misnomer cites studies suggesting that soft skills have ever-increasing value in the workplace.
If you’re wanting for terminology in discussing your student’s skills, check out Robert Half’s article on job skills or the first section of the National Center on Deafness’ Job Seeking Skills for People with Disabilities handbook. (Both are oriented more toward resume writing, but can help with referrals as well!) Another good way to prepare for discussing your student’s skills may be to sit with them and flesh out a list. For example, here’s what you might come up with for a student applying for a welding job:
- Able to communicate their ideas clearly, both verbally and in writing.
- Excellent at doing detail-oriented work.
- Has mastery in MIG, TIG, and Stick welding.
- Consistently arrives early to prep materials and discuss the day’s tasks.
Of course, it can also help to take a look at the job application itself, discuss it with your student, and pick out specific qualities or skills they feel particularly good about, that may make them stronger candidates for the position.
The tip sheet also briefly discusses to the importance of self-advocacy in the workplace. For some students this is second-nature and they’ve been doing it for years. For others it may be more daunting or anxiety-inducing. This may be because they are nervous about discussing accommodations and are worried about being viewed in a certain way, or needing special or different resources or tools. Remind your student that all of us need different tools or resources to be good at our jobs and the goal of these discussions is to work with their employer to ultimately be more productive and successful.
As you help your student begin the job application process, it may be prudent to help prepare them to self-advocate for their needs once they enter the workforce. Your college’s disability student services center may have some great resources that can help them with writing up a self-advocacy plan, being prepared to describe the type or nature of the accommodation(s) they need, or coach them in how to best ask for accommodations.
- For more data on the value of soft skills, see these articles from Virtual Speech and Ray Williams; the latter in particular cites many studies and examples.
- RespectAbility has a lot of cases where a person with disabilities was hired for a job and thrived, including in positions in hospitals and companies like Freddie Mac. There are many similar stories on various websites, such as SHRM’s article on how hiring people with disabilities is a win-win for the employee and the company.
- LDA’s article on requesting accommodations in the workplace is a handy, step-by-step guide to discussing your needs with your employer.
- WINTAC’s Instruction in Self-Advocacy guide is specifically geared toward people with disabilities, while Monster’s How to Advocate for Yourself on the Job isn’t disability-specific, but still covers important aspects of self-advocacy in the workplace, including thinking of yourself as a vital member of the team who deserves to be heard.
- Beloit College offers a series of tips about writing letters of recommendation for people with disabilities. This article from the ADA National Network goes into more detail on writing about people with disabilities.
- If you’re writing a reference letter, it can be helpful to get some ideas from other sources – see Indeed’s guides for writing a job referral and writing a letter of recommendation.