What would you be if you could be anything? That’s the question Job Developer Karen McCormack recently put to Perkins Secondary students. It’s a question some answered easily, while others had to really think about it.
For many students, queried by McCormack during a recent vocational event at Perkins, it was the first time they had considered such a question. But every teen was eager to offer an answer or two.
“Instead of us telling them, ‘This is where you’re going,’ it’s their chance to tell us,” said McCormack. “They learn to advocate for themselves.”
The open house, held in February in Dwight Hall, was an opportunity for students to ask questions about potential job openings and to practice skills they can use in an informational interview, McCormack said. It’s part of Perkins’ expanded focus on helping students who are blind successfully transition to an independent adult life by preparing them for college, work or community living.
Potential employers at the open house included businesses such as Drumlin Farm and Watertown Savings Bank, as well as on-campus vocational opportunities like the Perk Café. Each potential employer had a table, with information about job openings and a sign-up sheet for anyone interested in learning more.
McCormack took a different tack with her table. Below a sign reading “I Have a Dream,” her table held blank sheets of paper where McCormack diligently wrote down each student’s name and their ideal job.
“We get to tell you what kind of job we want? Sweet!” said one enthusiastic student.
But this wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky exercise: McCormack’s role was to offer the students realistic steps to achieve their vocational dream.
When Sara, 17, said she might want to be a writer, McCormack suggested she talk to someone who writes for a living, perhaps someone at the Watertown Tab, the local newspaper. “Maybe you could write a column for them once a month,” McCormack said.
Brian, 18, who described himself as outspoken, had two jobs in mind, the first as a sports broadcaster and the second as a punk rocker. McCormack suggested he do the second one on the side, as a hobby, while earning a living at something else.
Several students spoke of jobs they were familiar with, such as auto mechanic or car wash attendant. One student said he’d like to work in the arcade near his house: “I’m a funny guy, I need a funny job!”
Some dream jobs came from family history. This was the case with Justin, 20, who said he wanted to be a florist because his great-grandfather had been one. “We usually know what our grandparents did for jobs, and that’s a great way to start,” McCormack said.
According to McCormack, students frequently mention wanting to work in technology. “But they really have no idea what that means,” she said. “They think because they use technology – iPads, email and smartphones – that it would be fun to have a job in technology, without really knowing what it takes.”
By the end of the open house, McCormack had three pages lined with names and jobs to look into. Her plan was to find avenues for the students to get more information, including contacts in the field and places to go to observe the jobs in action. She could then take this information into her meetings with the students’ case managers as part of their future transition planning.
“These students have the responsibility to create and design their own life,” McCormack said. “They just need to find the steps to take to make it happen.”