Summer Work Program Entering Second Year, Aims to Connect 2,000 Texas Students with Jobs and Soft Skills: Colton Head is Ready

Work experience equips you with certain soft skills such as effective communication, time management, and problem solving, all of which are sought after by employers.

Last year Colton Head learned these soft skills while working at H-E-B in Austin. This year, Colton and other students in Texas will receive paychecks again by participating in Summer Earn and Learn, a program that provides students with disabilities, aged 14-22, with work-readiness training and paid work experience. The program is a partnership between TWC, Texas Workforce Solutions Offices and Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS).

Colton started gaining work experience in the 2017 Summer Earn and Learn program through Workforce Solutions Capital Area. While working at H-E-B, Colton provided customer service, stocked groceries and retrieved carts from the parking lot. Colton said the positive experience he gained motivated him to participate in the 2018 program.

Photo Colton Head
Photo: Colton Head

“H-E-B was my first job, and when I started working, I was nervous. But after a few days, I quickly learned how to complete my job duties,” said Colton. “It was a great experience to learn about working and receiving a paycheck.”

Later this month, Colton will know more about his 2018 employment placement. He hopes the job will relate to his career interest of photography. He recently completed photography and digital imaging classes at Austin Community College. To hone his skills, he’s been volunteering to take photos for family and friends.

“I’m trying to get into the habit of taking my camera with me wherever I go, because my mom constantly stresses the importance of always being ready for your career goals,” said Colton.

Though he knows his summer will be busy with work and photography, Colton is confident he will be successful and cites the support of his mom and TWS-VRS counselors as motivators.

“I just really appreciate people who take the time to help you, to make you feel comfortable,” he said.

Last year, more than 1,500 students participated in Summer Earn and Learn and worked in positions as assistant graphic designers, customer service representatives, peer counselors and others. Small and large businesses who participated in the program include Alamo College in San Antonio, the Clements Boys & Girls Club in Killeen and CVS, H-E-B, and Verizon locations throughout the state.

Workforce Solutions Offices are actively reaching out to students, parents and employers to spread the word about the 2018 Summer Earn and Learn program and encourage participation. Informational efforts include:

For more information about the Summer Earn and Learn program, contact your local Workforce Solutions Office.

A Service Animal Named Makiko Allows Mobility, Assists With Independence in the Workplace

Makiko, a black six-year-old Labrador retriever, is no ordinary pet. According to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Makiko falls under the description of a service animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. It is because of Makiko that Jessica Naert can fulfill her work activities as a Transition Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Denton.

Photo: Jessica and Makiko. Photo by LalaLand Photography/Lauren Ferrell
Photo: Jessica and Makiko. Photo by LalaLand Photography/Lauren Ferrell

The ADA and Texas law guarantee the right of people who have disabilities to be accompanied by a trained service animal in all public places. In addition, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees who need to use service animals. This workplace requirement allows Makiko to work alongside Naert, which she appreciates.

“Makiko is my first guide and she has changed my life in so many ways,” says Naert. “Makiko is literally the best guide dog I could ever imagine, and she has been such an easy partner when learning and adapting to the guide-dog lifestyle.”

Though Naert first experienced vision loss when she was in the second grade, she was officially diagnosed in the eighth grade. Her vision worsened through college, and in 2012 she was declared legally blind. She then applied to the Guide Dogs for the Blind school and attended training in Boring, Oregon. She graduated with Makiko in 2013.

“As a counselor, I travel multiple times per week to various campuses and meet with high school students with disabilities to help them transition into the workforce. I offer skills training courses and other individualized services, based on the customer’s need,” said Naert. “Makiko brilliantly remembers where we go in each of the schools and allows me to be confident without letting my vision loss affect that.”

For more information about service animals, read our brochure Rights and Responsibilities of People Using Service Animals (En Español).

We also have additional information on our Tips & Tools – About Service Animals webpage.