The role of a job coach is not that different from the role of a sports coach: help someone reach their maximum potential.
While no one enjoys someone standing over them as they attempt to buckle down to the business of the day, it’s important to remember that a job coach is not your boss or supervisor. They work for you, technically speaking, and should be providing the support and encouragement that you need to learn a new job or reacquaint yourself with an old one.
When I worked as a job coach for the Ontario March of Dimes and other organizations, in work environments that ranged from factories to auto body shops to hotel laundry rooms (one assignment was to help a client build a chip wagon in his garage), I learned that a considerable part of the job is learning to stay out of the way. While a job coach is generally expected to set reasonable goals for their clients, always working towards the employer’s idea of full productivity, an effective coach will do everything possible to gradually eliminate themselves from the equation.
Having a “buddy” shadowing you around all the time can very easily create a social stigma in the workplace. I’ve seen so many coaches go about it wrong, furiously filling their notebooks with their client’s every word, gesture, or nuance. No one likes to feel judged, we have long outgrown babysitters, and very few people enjoy constant over-the-shoulder surveillance. A good job coach knows when to fade away.
A job coach obviously has a long list of responsibilities to attend to before they plan their vanishing act. These can range from finding a job placement or unpaid “work trial” for their client, assessing the work environment for accessibility, determining their client’s barriers to success, and working with them to overcome them.
A normal “return to work” action plan will involve a steady increase in hours worked (accompanied by a steady decrease in the presence of the job coach) until a full-time working day is achieved. The job coach should be available for follow-up after the period of direct one-to-one coaching has concluded. The truth is, most clients are glad to see their coach go, despite any bonds of friendship that may have formed. The departure of this benevolent overseer signifies that they are just another worker now, reliant on their own merits rather than on any special assistance.
What can a client expect from a job coach? How can they benefit from the experience? First of all, try to accept your coach’s advice. Remember that their motives are pure (no one would become a job coach for the money). They should respect your space, be reasonably unobtrusive, and should function as a calm, supportive presence. Ideally, your work should improve a little each day as you incorporate their suggestions. Ultimately, you should begin to operate in a smoother, more efficient manner.
There’s a tried and true maxim: ‘Never do for someone else what they are capable of doing for themselves.” A job coach should never do your job for you! They are with you for a short time to help you succeed in the job that you are qualified to perform and paid to do. I also believe that you should be allowed to see their written notes and observations upon request. That’s not a novel they’re working on back there! It’s about you!
I ended up becoming quite chummy with most of my clients, something I credit in part to my commitment to being as non-distractive as possible. A little levity didn’t hurt either: there’s no doubt that this world suffers from a laughter deficiency. I’ll even confess to taking the odd wander about the workplace. Sometimes it was questionable who or what exactly I was watching and, on at least one occasion, I was branded as a spy from head office.
It’s very important for a coach not to interfere with the social aspects of the workplace: you should be able to spend your coffee breaks and lunch hours with your peers, unencumbered by a perpetually looming bodyguard. Work is our primary place to socialize, after all, and a job is a great place to develop and refine people skills. Unless absolutely necessary, a job coach must resist the urge to act as the primary advocate for their client in their dealings with their co-workers, and, especially, in their dealings with their boss. Employer’s needs must be high priority. Their perception of people with disabilities and their willingness to hire them in the future may depend on a positive outcome for this “work trial.”
A steady job is essential not only for food and shelter but also for the preservation of one’s self-esteem. An effective job coach should gently guide you towards full independence. Coaches seem to be subject to a lot of turnover in the world of professional sports – they are first to be blamed if their team has a losing season. Most job coaches, on the other hand, are in it for the long haul, mainly because they genuinely want to help. Your success is their success!
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JASON RIP is a freelance writer, teacher and playwright from London, Ontario, Canada, where he runs his own theater company, Theatre Nemesis. He has many years experience working with individuals with special needs. His personal website can be found at www.theatrenemesis.com.