JMMB Group helps prepare autistic students for work world
The JMMB Group is one of the corporate companies that have responded to the call to provide Abilities Foundation of Jamaica students with work experience, through its Work Apprenticeship Programme, which is designed to provide vocational training, in order to prepare students to function as productive citizens.
Adrian Campbell and Tarique Allen, two autistic students from the last cohort of 20 students, participated in a six-week-long apprenticeship programme with JMMB, at its head office in New Kingston. The interns were charged with daily documentation management, clerical duties and data entry, during their stint; having completed a two-year programme in data operations.
In explaining the value of this component of the foundation's programme, Nadine Chambers-Goss, job coach, says, "The job placement exercise is a part of the preparation for the students in getting them employment ready and (equipped) with the right attitude, to keep their respective jobs... and support their transition to entrepreneurship."
The programme is also structured to allow the students to apply the skills they have learnt in the workplace and improve their independence.
Campbell described the experience as a rewarding one, while adding, "(It enabled me to) build on the skills I learnt and now I feel more confident (for the world of work)." He further stated, with his eyes set on a career in the field of computing, the programme serves as "a stepping stone to where I want to go, learning to walk before I run", noting that the experience has helped him to not only hone his technical competency, but especially his soft skills and the value of operating in a team environment. Allen expressed a similar sentiment about his experience and commented on the friendly working environment that JMMB provided.
Following the apprenticeship programme, JMMB Group also provided both interns with scholarships to assist them to pursue further studies in their respective fields of study. Campbell is now employed part-time with Roots FM as a producer, while pursuing further studies in computing, and Allen is exploring his culinary skills as a student in the Heart Trust/NTA Level 2 programme.
Forming a Culture of Inclusion
Simone Dunbar, human resource administration manager at JMMB, highlighted that the company has facilitated other similar programmes in the past, and thinks that such programmes are mutually beneficial as, "this opportunity... helps to further expose (our team) to an inclusive working environment, and encourages us to work with persons with differing abilities, as a part of a team". She also revealed that it is important to integrate the interns in the team. "I therefore took the time to brief my team about their varying skills, shared expectations and the approach, so that it could be a seamless and productive process for both parties," said Dunbar.
This initiative is in keeping with the company's belief that there is greatness within each individual, and is aligned with its Vision of Love - whereby the JMMB team recognises diversity, while celebrating differences among team members, realising that there are commonalities that bind members together.
Abilities Foundation executive Suzanne Hamilton lauded several corporate companies and government agencies that continue to support the programmes of the foundation. She added that since the passing of the Disabilities Act in 2014, there has been an uptick of placement opportunities for graduates, to approximately 90 per cent, as an increased number of corporate bodies have come on board.
She, however, notes that employment opportunities for persons who are visually impaired or deaf remain a challenge, because of the perceived communication challenges and, in some instances, limited infrastructure to accommodate these individuals readily.
The Abilities Foundation of Jamaica seeks to place students in organisations with the right cultural fit, where the interns will have adequate supervision, coaching and meaningful assignments, commensurate with their skill set and training. During the internship stint, there is periodic check-ins made by a job coach, to ensure a positive outcome and provide intervention, where necessary.
The Work Apprenticeship Programme is funded by a grant from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, through the Jamaican Government, for its Workforce Inclusion Project, and is managed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The aim of the project is to enhance training delivery and upgrade staff capacity, through professional training and development. It has also strengthened the Foundation's capacity to place students in jobs, provide on-the-job coaching and mentoring and do follow-ups with graduates, for at least one year. It also helps with acquiring assistive aids for students.
The Kingston-based foundation, also provides other training opportunities, including customer service, housekeeping, horticulture and landscaping, garment construction/design, decor and furniture-making.