During Shannon Coccimiglio’s social work practicum as a job developer for Challenge Workforce Solutions in Ithaca, she noticed there wasn't a training manual for those in her position. Her solution? Create one.
As a job developer, Shannon, a social work major in Keuka College's Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) helps prepare adults with disabilities to enter and remain competitive in the workforce. Specifically, she assists individuals in identifying their skills, goals, and strengths within the realm of competitive employment.
At her practicum, Shannon was charged with creating, implementing, and evaluating a curriculum called the Pro-Skills Workshop. The challenge was to help job seekers with disabilities and other such challenges learn about “soft skills” they would need to be successful at their job.
“The series of nine training sessions focuses on interpretation and use of appropriate professional engagement and nonverbal communication such as tone of voice, body language, appropriate eye contact, as well as understanding and responding to employers,” said Shannon.
Shannon and Emily Koester, another job developer, spent 40 hours creating the first six lessons, totaling 12 group hours. Now, the Pro-Skills Workshop series covers nine subjects and 27 group hours, and participants receive a certificate of completion.
Recently, Challenge Workforce Solutions received a $364,186 grant from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities through the Balancing Incentive Program (BIP) Transformation Fund. The award will support the transition of workers from sheltered to community-based employment, and will expand outreach to students to support their transition from school to work.
According to Shannon, the Pro-Skills Workshop series she helped create will be utilized within the grant as one of the expanded offerings for area high schools, along with helping prepare recent graduates for entering the world of work. Another key aspect of the BIP grant is to help transition individuals from contract production departments into rewarding community-based services.
As it happens, community-based services are something Shannon is quite familiar with. Raised by her grandparents, she grew up watching her grandmother work for a non-profit agency that supported individuals with developmental disabilities, give back to the community, advocate for “at-risk” populations and strive to make a difference.
Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Shannon worked for one non-profit agencies upon graduating from high school.
“I worked with individuals with disabilities for six years, but began to feel stuck,” she said. “So I changed professions and did something totally different, but the work was not as enjoyable for me. After three years, my department was outsourced and I had the opportunity to go back to college. I saw earning my bachelor’s degree as an opportunity to advance my skills, knowledge, and employability.”
Shannon had some challenges of her own to face. Prior to enrolling at Keuka College, Shannon said she enjoyed working on the micro level and was hesitant to work in a group. “Group work was going to be new professional territory for me, as I felt intimidated in that setting,” said Coccimiglio. “But I took a group process class which helped prepare me for the planning and collaboration that occurred during the development of the Pro-Skills Workshop series. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed collaborating with my classmates, and my Challenge colleagues.”
Another course she credits for preparing her was a research class. And while she admits she struggled with the terminology and the research process, “[Assistant Professor of Social Work] Dr. Gretchen Rymarchyk was supportive and available to answer my questions. What I learned helped me approach my senior practicum with a critical eye and focused intent on my research assignments.”
Said Dr. Rymarchyk: “Shannon is a high-energy, proactive, and eager student who embraces big opportunities. She will be an asset to any agency.”