When Dwana Back thinks about the impact of Easterseals Crossroads’ Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), she recalls one high school student who found his passion through the program.
“He was feeling lost before graduation, and he lacked support at home,” said Back, the manager of Pre-ETS at Easterseals. “One of our career coaches helped spark his interest in culinary arts, and he entered a culinary training program at Second Helpings.”
This is just one of the many success stories born out of Pre-ETS.
“Our organization is all about helping people transition toward success,” said Brian Norton, the director of assistive technology at Easterseals. “Like assistive technology, the Pre-ETS program is a tool people with disabilities can use to prepare for the working world. Inclusion and accessibility is of vital importance in making the workforce stronger and more diverse. Students with disabilities can sometimes shy away from employment opportunities, so we hope this program encourages them to put themselves out there and chase their professional dreams.”
With the school year coming to a close and summer just around the corner, now is an opportune time for young people with disabilities to explore the job market. Pre-ETS helps students prepare for the workforce and carve out a career path tailored to their individual needs.
A Young Program
“It’s not in its infancy anymore, but the program is certainly still in its toddlerhood,” Back said with a chuckle.
It may be young, but it’s a robust, rapidly-evolving program.
The Pre-ETS program started statewide in October of 2016 as a result of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which requires vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to use federal funds to provide pre-employment transition services for students with disabilities. It’s an ongoing initiative — rather than a time-limited grant — with funding from Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
“At Easterseals, the program started out as a smaller collaborative, but it has grown exponentially over the last few years,” Back said. “We currently have 10 partner agencies, and we serve 18 counties in Central Indiana.”
The Pre-ETS program serves students between the ages of 14 and 22. These students are eligible for, or receiving, special education services through the Individualized Education Plan or 504 Plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Career coaches and other Pre-ETS contractors work with students and school staff members year-round to identify students’ needs and guide the way toward educational and professional opportunities.
The Five Core Services of Pre-ETS
As outlined on the Indiana government website, Pre-ETS includes, but is not limited to, five core services. Career coaches work with students one-on-one or in groups to introduce them to these services and determine which ones, all or only a few, will fit their needs and goals.
Job exploration counseling
- Discussion of students’ vocational interests
- Review of local labor market and in-demand industries and occupations
- Non-traditional employment options
- Identification of career pathways of interest to the students
Work-based learning experiences
- Apprenticeships and job shadowing
- Paid and non-paid internships and/or work experiences
- Informational interviews
Counseling on post-secondary opportunities
- Gaining awareness of career pathways
- Promoting participation in post-secondary education
- Attending college fairs and tours
- Accessing services and supports from agencies that assist peoples with disabilities
Workplace readiness training
- Receive training on communication, problem solving and other specific social and interpersonal skills as well as independent living skills
Instruction in self-advocacy
- Training on self-awareness, disclosure of disability and knowing individual rights and responsibilities
For Back, the best part of overseeing the Pre-ETS program is witnessing the personal and professional growth of students all across Central Indiana. She thinks back to the culinary arts student and forward to the incoming students and always finds herself eager to see how the program will help young people tap into their potential.
“Hearing success stories about students excelling in a training program or finding a job is incredibly rewarding,” she said. “Knowing they made it to these points because of our program is what compels us to keep growing and expanding the services we can provide.”
Young people are the future, and tools like Pre-ETS are essential in helping them shape it.