Three years as an Employment Specialist

Direct Support Professional

Melissa Lowe, 58, from Penobscot County, has spent three years as an Employment Specialist with Maine Medical Center.

What has your career path looked like? What different jobs have you held or trainings have you taken to get to where you are today? What has been most essential to your success?

My path goes way back to when I was in sales and marketing. From there, I have a medically fragile son, so through his therapist, I ended up going back to school, getting my master’s degree, and working with children, teens, and young adults diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD. I had that job up until I took this position with Maine Medical Center, ready for a new challenge.  The other piece of my job is that I network with businesses to get my clients certain jobs.

I had a lot of transferable skills, but when I first started they did give me a lot of training. Working with children, teens, and young adults, I developed coping strategies and supports to help them live as independently as possible. With those skills, I can help the clients I have now develop coping skills for anxiety and depression within the workplace. It has also helped me provide them with supports within the workplace. 

Can you provide a specific example where you might have had a big impact on a client?

I had a client who was my first intake who had some very strong personal biases and that was a big challenge for me. We’ve slowly been working on his social skills in the workplace environment and teaching him to understand what the workplace expectations of his behavior are. He’d gotten fired from numerous jobs before we started working with each other. As a vocational counselor, I had to do a bit of research with him on understanding transgender people and how to interact with women in the workplace. Those basic social skills, we really had to work on. We also worked on his ambitions. He’d had a long history of working in fast food restaurants, dishwashing, and food delivery. So with more vocational counseling, we got him to explore other professions. He did a lot of thinking about what he might want for his future,  And today he is working in health care with some certifications under his name. He’s been there seven months now, which is a long time for him. He does really well, working closely with his supervisor and he still works with me in post-employment support. Whenever there’s something he’s struggling with that he doesn’t understand socially within the work environment, he contacts me and we talk it through.  It’s been a long and rewarding road to see his growth–he’s doing amazing now. 

What advice would you give people who want to enter your line of work for the first time or older people who have experience in other areas but are looking for a new opportunity?

There’s a quote by John C. Maxwell, an author and speaker, which shortened says, “Embrace possibility.” And I think that’s key–it says it all. They would need to meet the clients where they’re at. With any client, they’re going to have their strengths, and things they struggle with. You need to meet them where they are struggling and help them build on their strengths. Celebrate the small successes they have along the way and give them hope. 

What kind of person is the right fit for your line of work, both in personality and character traits?

You need work maturity and you need to be a lifelong learner in that you want to learn and are willing to learn because there is always something to learn in this field. For example, I had to do my own research working with him on transgender issues he was struggling with. I had to educate myself before I could address it with him. With work maturity, you have to be intentional with the relationship-building, with the agencies you work with, with the employers you go out and network with, and with the client. It would not be a good fit if someone doesn’t recognize there is still a lot to learn on the job, someone who doesn’t have a strong work ethic or decides they want to work when they want to work and where they want to work. It doesn’t always happen the way you want it. There is a necessity for collaboration with the agencies and there’s a lot of attention to detail; there are a lot of steps to go through when you bring a client on. Your employment plans have to be well thought out and individualized; you can’t cut corners just to get to the result: which is to get them a job.  In order to get clients into a job that they are happy in and successful in, there’s a lot of work that goes into it. 

The other traits I think are important to be an employment specialist are: compassion, insight, respect, encouragement, willingness to enter a partnership, and helping people to identify their strengths and sometimes push them out of their comfort zone. 

If there were one thing that you could change about your job, what would that be?

The only struggles I come across are the lack of additional resources that would support my clients in their jobs such as transportation and child care, and if I had a wishlist, more wellness programs to help them balance their work and personal lives. 

What do you want them to know about the rewards of your line of work?

I know when I’ve made a difference because I can see the growth in my clients’ self-confidence, how they present themselves, and their demeanor. When I can see that growth even before they get the job, I know that after they get the job, they’ll grow even more socially and emotionally. I had one client, a gentleman, who cried happy tears when he got a job, who told me now that he had some money in his pocket, it was time to look for a girlfriend. He was so proud. I did some post-employment work with him and yes, he found a girlfriend! 

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