While coronavirus cautions put some people’s lives on hold early on, many people with disabilities continued to rely on employment services. ProAct in Eagan delivered them.

People who had been placed in jobs still required coaching, and ProAct was one of the only providers early on to go to for that service. “As a result, we received an increase in referrals,” said Employment Development Manager Anna Cahak. There were people placed in jobs by other service providers that had either shut down or were not able to provide direct support.

Anna Cahak

Job placement services have continued on since the spring, as well, with weekly meetings to help people look for work, Cahak explains. These were mostly virtual. For those without that capability, ProAct staff would meet them outside in the warmer months, sometimes in parks, keeping their distance.

Short pause for evals, then ramp up

On the job evaluations, OJEs, were paused from the middle of March until the end of June. Several or ProAct’s business partners had closed, so access was limited. Early on, Cahak said some participants were hesitant due to the unknowns surrounding the pandemic.

But partners like Hardware Hank and the Design N Bloom florist continued to operate and welcomed ProAct participants to try the work. Several YMCAs connected with ProAct in September to add further options for those seeking work experiences.

The beauty of the evaluations is the ability to help people who may have never worked a job or who haven’t worked in a long time, explains Cahak. It’s a safe way to try out different tasks, different jobs without the fear of getting fired or disliking the work. Each worker is supported by a ProAct employment specialist and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, VRS, pays the wages.

Adjusting to virtual

In a similar vein, Pre-Employment Training Services, or Pre-ETS, for high school aged individuals, were being done virtually. Virtual job shadowing for roles like veterinary technician. Other businesses that were working remotely could plug into ProAct’s platform and offer these experiences, said Cahak.

“For students who decided that ‘I feel safe and want to be working,’ we could do it directly,” said Cahak. Some received help finding a part-time job.

VRS was a key player to figure out ways to adjust in the COVID-19 environment. Comfort that students had with virtual schooling transferred to the virtual aspects of Pre-ETS with the nonprofit.

New services, plus expansion in Goodhue, Scott counties

And, ProAct is offering Pre-ETS “Boot Camp Services,” to assist high school and transition students on a flexible one day per week schedule for four weeks, Cahak explains.

Pre-ETS and job placement services are also growing in Goodhue County and an employment specialist has been added to serve Scott County. As of late October, ProAct in Eagan has 11 employment specialists on staff.