The six guiding principles are part of the BC Employment Strategy for Youth with Disabilities. Through research, we identified gaps, barriers, and best practices in the current employment support landscape. From this learning, we were able to identify specific support needs of youth with disabilities that were not consistently addressed in employment programs. We translated these needs into the guiding principles.
Provide youth-friendly programming
As young people transition from childhood to adulthood, they are faced with decisions about their futures. They are forming their identities and learning what it means to build a life for themselves in community. This is a dynamic transition, with changing environments, relationships, and priorities. For youth with disabilities, there is the added complexity of barriers.
Adult-focused programs are not designed to complement the intricate web of change and growth that youth face. To meet youth needs, employment programs need the flexibility to support the range of learning, exploration, and change that governs daily life.
Employment support also needs to consider how to communicate and engage with youth with disabilities. Youth seek out, access, and absorb information differently than adults. They rely on social media, apps, and other digital spaces. The recruitment, engagement, programming, and knowledge-sharing of youth-serving programs must fit these platforms.
Create program spaces that are safe and accommodating to all youth
A program’s environment can strongly influence a youth’s capacity to move through the employment journey. Youth need safe and accommodating spaces that promote self-expression, exploration, and discovery. Getting to know and express one’s full identity is an important part of the employment journey. This is especially true for youth with intersecting identities. A safe and accommodating space can help youth explore and understand who they are and what they want to contribute with their work. It can also help them understand what work means to them, which clarifies motivation and goals for employment.
Recognize that each youth’s circumstances are unique
Each youth comes to the employment journey from a different place. Some may come from highly supportive families with resources available to support movement through the journey. Others may be living in poverty with no family, resources, or support. Some youth experience intersecting barriers that pose a complex mix of challenges to employment. Each youths’ capacity to engage with programming and move through the employment journey is influenced by many factors. It is important that support is available to all youth, regardless of their capacity to engage. Support that is flexible and responsive to a continuum of needs and experiences is essential.
Every young person is also at a different stage in their employment journey. Some have a clear idea of what their employment goals are, while others may not be ready to consider employment as an option. Some are ready to pursue their first job, while others are looking to grow in their careers and engage in professional development. Support needs to be available and catered to youth at any stage.
Many youths also experience challenges that interrupt their employment journey. For example, things like housing instability, family challenges, and addiction issues threaten basic needs and take precedence over job search. When these things alter a youth’s priorities, it can be difficult for them to re-engage with their employment journey. Adult-focused programs often lack the flexibility to respond to this type of change. To serve the needs of youth, programs need the flexibility to meet them where they are at.
Empower youth throughout their employment journeY
Youthhood is a stage of exploration and growth. Many youths with disabilities are learning who they are, building their self-awareness and identity. These things are key to the employment journey. By facilitating this exploration, employment programs can support youth with broader personal development and self-awareness. This will empower them to understand who they are and how they want to contribute to their work and community. Youth should also feel empowered to guide their own support at any stage of the employment journey. They should have the information and resources they need to make informed decisions, regardless of where they are at. Staff should always be framed as advocates who support youth to navigate their personal journey.
Promote the mental wellness of youth
Youth with disabilities are facing crucial life transitions and navigating barriers during times of constant change and uncertainty. Their defining years take place in a world that is evolving and changing at a rapid pace. This can have a significant impact on mental health. Youth are also growing up in a time where mental health and wellness are more accepted and openly expressed. Today’s youth understand the importance of mental wellness and place value on environments and experiences that promote it. Employment programs need to recognize youths’ expectations and need for support that addresses mental health and promotes mental wellness.
Emphasize continuous learning and career growth
Youth with disabilities have much to offer. Their strengths, skills, and potential should be nurtured at every stage of their employment journey. Support should also focus on helping youth develop professional skills and establish and pursue development goals throughout their careers. Professional growth and development should be a focus for every youth.