One year as an Employment Specialist
Arnold Bulley, 54, from Aroostook County, is a career planner/employment specialist/job coach with Living Innovations, an agency for shared living, community support and has been with them a year.
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?
I’ve spent most of my career in the management of grocery stores and a fast-food franchises. I did that for about 20 years and got my kids through college. At the age of 53, I made a different career choice to work with Living Innovations. Thinking back to what influenced me, my sister was a special ed teacher. When I graduated high school, I went to live with her for a summer. She had students with special needs and I used to go to school with her and it was as if something clicked; I’ve always had a connection with people who had intellectual disabilities. This is what I was meant to do. Understanding what their struggles are is part of why I’ve had success in this job. Helping them realize they can do so much more than they ever thought possible.
Can you provide a specific example where you might have had a big impact on a client?
Not long after I started working with Living Innovations, I started with a client as a DSP. After that, I began working in career planning, so I took him on as a career planner. He was discarded in a way; people didn’t give him much credit. So, as his employment specialist, I started getting to know him and the many struggles in his life. As I coached him, seeing his growth along the way was incredible. I would take him to different places to do a job simulation; we’d be there for about an hour and he’d work with someone who had experience in the fields he was interested in.
For example, I took him to a taxidermy business, because he had an interest in skulls. This was a guy who could not focus for five minutes; he had to have a cigarette all of the time. He was so intrigued by the taxidermy place, he focused for three hours and never asked for a cigarette that whole time. I also took him to an automotive shop because he liked tinkering around with lawnmowers a little bit. It was an exercise to see what his knowledge was in these areas and what he could do. But now I’ve placed him in a job where he’s doing a little automotive and has changed some tires. He can only work six hours a week, but he’s learning so much. After he got that job, he got in the car with me and cried. He told me, ‘I feel worthy; I feel good about myself.’ Of course, here I was right beside him with tears in my eyes.
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?
You’re never too old to try something new. If you have life experience and all kinds of work experience in different jobs, you can take that and use it to help someone else. I would say keep an open mind and an open heart. Find work that you’re passionate about that makes a difference.
What kind of person is the right fit for your line of work, both in personality and character traits?
You have to have compassion, understanding, and patience. You also have to have structure. There’s a lot to this job and you have to take things step by step, building on your skills. Be willing to try and try again because a lot of these people are learning from scratch and don’t always succeed the first time. You have to be tenacious get out there and push for them. You have to put yourself in their position and say, “What would you want someone to do for you?”
If there were one thing that you could change about your job, what would that be?
Opening people’s minds to the job itself might help fix the pay scale because the pay scale is not very high. To be honest, I don’t like all of the paperwork. Also, the businesses we work with in order to pair them with our clients–the employers could be educated more on what vocational rehabilitation is all about and what that means for employing people with disabilities.
What do you want them to know about the rewards of your line of work?
There are many rewards in life, however, there is nothing like seeing those small steps each client takes and watching them grow. Helping them achieve something they never thought was possible each and every day. This is the type of job where you’ll take those rewards home with you every day and helps keep you staying positive. They say if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, but with these clients, they take the lemons they’ve been dealt with in life and make lemonade every day. If that’s not enough to inspire you, then I don’t know what is.