Shifting Gears to New Careers

When it came to landing his first job, Pavel hit the jackpot.

It’s not easy for people like Pavel to find the right fit, but he navigated the difficult path that people with developmental disabilities travel when looking for community-based employment, and he beat the odds when he was hired by American Place Casino in Waukegan this past fall.

There are roughly 4.5 million open jobs across the country and, while people with developmental disabilities have the skills and ambition to fill many of those openings, the opportunities for them remain limited. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that roughly 22 percent of the population with disabilities was employed in 2023 and that number is even lower for those with developmental disabilities.

There are roughly 4.5 million open jobs across the country and, while people with developmental disabilities have the skills and ambition to fill many of those openings, the opportunities for them remain limited. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that roughly 22 percent of the population with disabilities was employed in 2023 and that number is even lower for those with developmental disabilities.

But people like Pavel are changing the mindset by showing employers the value they bring to the workplace.

Kelly Wagner is Pavel’s job coach at Little City and said Pavel was one of the most ambitious and dedicated job seekers she has ever worked with. That work ethic shone through immediately in his job at the casino where he works in the kitchen washing dishes, cleaning, and helping organize and prep work areas. While they did not apply to all of them, Kelly said they found 26 places of interest during the initial job search because of how eager Pavel was to get to work.

“He takes pride in his work and puts 100 percent into everything he does,” Kelly said. “He takes responsibility and ownership of everything. There were even interviews we went on where he set up his own transportation, so I just had to meet him there. He even called the Department of Rehabilitation Services on his own about his employment eligibility status.”

It did not surprise Kelly how quickly Pavel transitioned from being a student in the Employee Development Services (EDS) program at the Grayslake Center to landing a job. Pavel started EDS in October of 2022 and was able to land a job within one year because of his commitment. Kelly said that, during his job search, Pavel would do any small job available at the Grayslake Center, such as shredding paper, just to get experience, and he would absorb all the information and experience he could, whether it was in the classroom or a volunteer opportunity.

It has paid off for Pavel who now works independently without a job coach and is already working six hours a day, four days a week. This is on the higher end for people landing a first community-based job out of programs like EDS.

“He has already talked about wanting to work two jobs, so I actually have to slow him down a bit,” Kelly said with a laugh. “I’m just very proud of him and it has been amazing to see him realize his dreams.”

There are so many people like Pavel who are making their dreams come true at Little City thanks to an ever-growing employment program. There were 61 adults in the Employment First program who earned their first jobs in 2023, a 53 percent increase from 2022 in employed adults with disabilities at Little City.

Opportunities continue to grow as Little City now works with 105 local businesses over seven counties to find employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. Over the last five years, Little City has placed more than 240 individuals in community jobs, with a 97% retention rate.

Shawna Pearson, Director of Employment & Innovation Services at Little City, said 2023 was a great year but there are still more people like Pavel looking to achieve groundbreaking success in 2024.

“It’s been amazing to see so much growth in our participants developing job skills and also the excitement and energy of our local businesses in working with us,” Shawna said. “Pavel is just one example of the kind of hard work and commitment so many people at Little City have to share with employers when given the chance.”