The un/employment saga continues

It is important I give updates to my life in general as time goes on as a record of what I’m going through as it is imperitive for others who are in a similar situation to have another viewpoint to consider. I won’t rehash the commonalities we all are aware of regarding the 80+% unemployment amongst the blind. Rather, in this post, I’d like to give some insight on my battle with what we call Vocational Rehabilitation and education.

If you are a client assigned to a counselor, you likely have signed what they call a plan, otherwise known as an Individualized Plan for Employment. With this document, only one of two goals can be active at one time – education or employment.

In most cases, Vocational Rehabilitation looks through a very narrow window and because of their slim funding both by federal and tax dollars, not much can be done to help further goals, even educational ones outside of the processing plant we call college. Since my days as an early teenager my hobby had centralized around technology, posting ads in the paper and such to find folks around town with old computers that I could either take or buy for cheap and take them apart to learn the different components while sitting on my floor. I would be up late at night with my hands dirty disassembling very old pizza box style desktops while in PC tech chat rooms on a program called PalTalk which was a thing 15 or so years ago, asking questions most of the time not receiving very much help since explaining that I couldn’t see often time resulted in sarcastic comments. Comments such as the ones you’d expect like “maybe you should have someone do this for you that knows what they’re doing” or “we can’t help you based on your description of what you’re looking at” etc. In other words, no forthought, no effort at all, but I still pushed forward and did my own reading and eventually learned a lot. Even back then I saw what I was up against.

Fast forward years later after passing my Novell CNA OES 6.5 certification which is no longer an industry recognized company, my Microsoft MCTS for Vista, taking an passing my Cisco Discovery 1 and 2 final exam with a 98% and receiving a certificate of completion from Eastern Center for Arts and Technology and obtaining a general associates degree from Linn-Benton Community College, I still not only can’t find a job, but from those who are in the position to help someone like myself, keep giving me excuses and using specific keywords which really spell out their motive. Let me explain.

Since after completing my associates, completing cooperative work experience A.K.A work study and after working in a valuable capacity for the special education department of my school district, I still not only can’t find a job, but am told that I’m still not qualified, not even for an entry level job and that I must go back to school for yet more and more degrees.

I wrote a very detailed response to a blog post written by Chris Hofstater that talks about this blind unemployment fenominon. My comment outlined a lot of points I’d like to make here but since they’ve already been said I’ll try and find my comment and post it below and link the original post. But first I’d like to mention a couple of things that not only are infuriating about vocational rehability departments/counselors but really drive home the very narrow window you have of using these people to your benefit. In short, they don’t really have your employment or future in their interest. For people looking to get into IT, degrees won’t help you at all, not even a bachelors in computer science. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but I promise you, the first thing any prospective employer is going to ask you is if your certifications are up to date. Think about this logically. If I told an employer I graduated from Fred’s community college with an associates in network administration, how much do you think that would mean? How many other people have walked through his door with similar things. How is he supposed to know what you learned in that program? Every college and every program in that college is different no matter where you go. Yes, they may teach you similar things, but there is no standardization. This is why if you aspire to work anywhere in information technology, certifications are a must.

In a recent phone call to my counselor, actually over several phone calls, I asked him if we could all have a meeting this spring after my first year of the program to discuss looking for internships. He was adament that doing so would be detramental to my success since if I “seemed too enthusiastic without the piece of paper” not only would they deny me, but even after getting this piece of paper known as a degree I would have permanently “burned that bridge” These are the counselor’s words, not mine. This completely blew my mind. To me, it would seem as if companies would want to hire someone who is excited to learn, to be a team player and be a positive contributer to their business and as long as they knew you were working towards some sort of education they’d at least consider you. Now I realize the counselor went to school for years to get his masters degree so he has been sold hard core on that. He cannot fathom that in only 3 to 4 months I could test for an take 3 Comp Tia certifications and start making at least $15 per hour. In reality, high school students are working in help desk positions making at least what my counselor makes with his master degree in VRC.

All the while, I have kept trying to drive the point home that I am sick and tired of being poor and living on government benefits that do me more harm than good. After being teased with several positions both in call centers in town and the local Social Security office who both offered paid training to get the job done, he told me that we could try another job developer to get me a “survival job” You’ve got to love the words he uses here. A “survival job”, as in, you aren’t qualified to work but maybe we can put you in a slave position to help you pay your bills. Unfortunately because I was pushed into a corner to go back to school my schedule has really screwed me into even having this as a possibility. Without certifications in my field it is unlikely this will even work. This leads me to my next point about obtaining certifications.

A good friend of mine who has a number of credentials has been taking 3 Comp Tia courses through a company called CBT Campus who offers thousands of certifications. It was quite easy to get a hold of them and after an hour long phone conversation with one of the training advisors, it solidified what I already knew. Cisco CCNA is one of the best seriously looked at certs on the market. But as a precursor to the CCNA it is also important to A+, network+ and security+ which are a baseline to getting into IT. To keep a long story short and with personal recommendations and a quote provided to me by this advisor at CBT Campus, I promptly sent the information to my VR counselor who gave me a runaround story about how the commission for the blind is at the end of their bi-anual funds and that CBT Campus would have to be added as a vender which could take months or even a year and that after seeing the quote it was so expensive (about $3,500 for 5 certifications and unlimited access to every other certification) that he would have a hard time justifying this. This coming from the same person who was ready and poised to pay for my associates degree that is scheduled to drag on for two years and who says only one vocational goal can be set at a time, either education or work. They are shewing me away from work and directing me towards degrees degrees degrees. When I brought up the actual real education I need to break into the industry, all of a sudden it is too expensive and we’re not sure.

Now folks, if your success was important to rehabilitation counslors, this should be a no brainer. Take 3 or 4 months, study for a handful of certifications, pass them and start looking for work which could make you up to 40 or 50 grand a year, way more than the counselor himself makes. While a lot of IT folks will turn their nose up at Comp Tia certifications they are still an important baseline, and most companies still require you have these at an absolute minimum. Besides, a starting salary of 50 thousand? I’ll stay in help desk the rest of my life!

You need to keep in mind most of these people who claim to be in positions who can help you have no concept of how shitty living on government benefits is. To have the drive to want to start working and gain experience only to be knocked down since it essentially makes the counslor look bad to have you working in fear that you might be fired or leave or whatever, they discourage you from working until you are “qualified” but the problem is school takes so long to complete just to get a generic degree that means nothing you will constently live at school since what you really need are certifications not a handful of degrees. Having degrees prove nothing. It shows you did a bunch of schooling and are now in a lot of debt. Even with a bachelors of computer science you’ll be lucky if you land a help desk job, and if you do, you probably have no hope of advancement since you’ve got nothing to offer the company. Get your CCNA and now we’re talking. There are very few educational institutions who’s degrees and credentials are able to stand on their own, MIT and Harvard come to mind. Then for the counselor to use the term “survival job” as if even wanting to work is a bad thing.

At this point, I am awaiting anxiously for my counslor and this training advisor to have a meeting so that hopefully he will justify and approve the funding so I’m able to take these Comp Tia certs, push through my CCNA and start making real money. I was backed into a corner with another associates degree but as he isn’t paying a dime for this degree it should be nothing for him to justify me getting certified if it means faster access to work.

Just understand that if you seek to be successful, these agencies have no protocols or systems in place to track companies, verify who has accessible platforms, make connections etc. They are under funded, under staffed, and have far too many clients looking for their help that will never get the help. IT is the only field that I know of that you can easily learn what you need and get certified. How you will find the up to date course materials without paying for them, I’m not sure, but I would assume there are books availabel to reference for Comp Tia. you’re going to need to advocate for yourself as no one will do it for you. You’re going to have to find your own source of funding that isn’t surrounded in a mountain of bureaucracy. Learn the scam of vocational rehabilitation, learn the scam of college and set your sights on the clean road to success. You should obtain as many letters of recommendation as you can and try and use those individuals or one or two additional ones on your list of at least five references. Until then, I send best wishes to you and your job search. So until next time………

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