A Relationship for a Lifetime!
Catherine Chin (in white) is one of the Job Coaches at the Enabling Academy, an initiative by Yayasan Gamuda, that prepares young adults with autism for gainful sustainable employment in Malaysia’s corporate companies.
In the past, we’ve shared plenty of information in respect to Enabling Academy, an initiative by Yayasan Gamuda, the Group’s foundation arm. We’ve shared that there is a level of improvement with the number of high-functioning autism youths being hired in white-collared job placements. And, we’ve introduced the star job coaches all of whom are instrumental in transforming the lives of these young adults through the Employment Transition Programme.
We were presented with the opportunity to have a sneak peek into the professional lives of Jonathan Soo, a Junior Test Engineer (SalesCandy International Sdn Bhd) and Sri Laxman Sri Ramesh, a Global Support Executive (HSBC Global Service Centre Malaysia) – both are Enabling Academy graduates. It was clear to us that these young men are certainly flourishing in the workplace thanks to a positive support system offered by our Partner Companies, their families and last but not least: Enabling Academy’s job coaches.
If you look at job advertisements via a quick search online, you’ll see that the role of a ‘job coach’ states that it requires one to have knowledge in managing people with disabilities in the workplace, is experienced in coaching and guiding individuals to fulfil their new employment roles and goals and provide targeted evaluations. But, as we come into conversation with one of Enabling Academy’s job coaches, Catherine Chin, we learn that beyond the written job requirements, it takes a lot of heart, trust, navigation and honest strength to be one.
We speak to her about the challenges she faces and the highlights of being a job coach:
We’ve been following the Enabling Academy’s collective journey since day one. However, now after hearing it straight from Jonathan, Laxman and some of your Partner Companies, we truly understand the profundity of what goes into the roles of job coaches. You are all basically a ‘work parent!’
Yes, actually. Now that you’ve said it. It’s a little bit like that because we do build a bond and trust with our graduates.
Yes, of course. Building trust basically means you have a relationship with the individual. How do you balance that whilst also having a sense of detachment to the job itself?
Every graduate is different. Take Jonathan for example, he’s very literal. When you ask him questions, he answers accordingly, but there are also times that he gets frustrated. And when he does, he would call me and share about things that matter to him. But I also know that if I do visit him at work too often, we won’t be able to fulfil what we had set out for in the first place: job independence. The ultimate goal the job coaches have is that our Enabling Academy graduates are able to say their goodbyes!
But of course, it’s never really a goodbye. The graduates’ parents would always ask ‘how long would you be supporting my child and I’d jokingly respond ‘for a lifetime!’ I mean, this is a relationship. It’s not going to end just like that. If they leave our Partner Companies and manage to secure another employment opportunity on their own, professionally they would have no direct attachment with Enabling Academy. However, personally, the relationship between job coaches and graduates will still be there for personal support.
Jonathan and Laxman are some of the highlights of your career. Throughout your journey, there are some great days and some difficult ones. Could you share some of the difficulties you’ve experienced as a job coach?
Like many other graduates that do go through the programme, they have a lot of potential. There is a particular graduate who had some working experience prior to joining Enabling Academy as a programmer. Prior to Chinese New Year break, we managed to secure a job placement for the graduate.
But after the festive break, the graduate stopped coming back. I tried contacting the graduate as often as I could, just trying to find out what had happened. I even apologised to the graduate if I had said or done anything that might have caused some misunderstandings. When the graduate finally got back to me, I found out that the graduate was having personal issues and was on the verge of giving up.
That doesn’t sound easy at all. Did you ever get a chance to meet with the graduate face-to-face after that?
Yes. After about a week, we sat down and talked for hours and I tried my best to reassure the graduate with encouragement and optimism. Often as job coaches, we are also managing the emotional wellness of our graduates too, whilst guiding them in their career and skills development.
The fact that you formed a close bond with all graduates, it must’ve been heart-breaking for you, when they are facing issues on both personal and professional levels.
When things like this happen, you know that there must be something that you can do but the entire situation just leaves you feeling completely helpless at that point. And it does affect my self-confidence. As a job coach, like I’ve said earlier, my goal is for them to achieve independence. In order to get where even Laxman and Jonathan are at at the moment, they’re dealing with a lot of other factors. Not everyone is going to come from the same support system from home, and not everyone shares the same experiences. Not everyone out there can sustain a job. But again while there is a relationship between myself and my graduates, as a job coach, the ultimate goal is for them to be independent.
A job coach certainly requires a lot of emotional resilience from what I see. You work with a fine group of people in the academy. How does your team come into play when dealing with these challenges?
We have a work culture that’s open and supportive. We act as each other’s sounding board and it’s good to have people to share opinions and views with. At the end of the day, facing and solving challenges are part of our duty, as job coaches.
And how do you do that on your own?
Even in the beginning of my career, I started to see a counsellor on my own. I was a new job coach and a new parent too. We’re all humans and we all have issues we need to deal with. With this job, I have other people’s lives that I’m taking care of too. In order to have strength to do that, I think it’s important to take care of yourself too. It’s important to share and then, let go so that you are able to take on more. Every now and then, I would take leave from work. And on this day, I will do whatever I want without thinking of my work. That’s one thing I do for myself. Also with experience, I have grown to be emotionally mature.
Catherine, thank you very much for sharing all of that. I can see that you put a lot of heart in what you do. Especially in regards to your role, what is it about this job that gives you a sense of accomplishment?
Whenever we get job placement in our Partner Companies for our graduates, it always feels like a big win. What’s icing on the cake is when our Partner Companies come back to us with feedback about how much they’ve enjoyed having one of our trainees become part of their team. It feels like I’ve done something right. It also feels good to know that people out there see all the potential that I’ve seen in my graduates. Without Enabling Academy, both Partner Companies and graduates will not have found each other. All of the Enabling Academy’s job coaches are proud of that.
There are going to be many people out there who may want to explore the possibility of being a job coach. To those people, what would you like to say?
I’m going to say exactly what my graduate Jonathan says: Persevere. This job isn’t easy like a lot of other jobs too. However, the thing about being a job coach is that it’s not something you can learn from a textbook per say. Every job coach has a different story to tell because every person on the autism spectrum is different and you are in for a ride!
Inspired by Catherine’s story? Meet the whole team at Enabling Academy here.