Research indicates that employment and/or involvement in a meaningful activity is good for both our physical and mental health, however sometimes finding the right type of employment or activity and a supportive, flexible working environment can take careful consideration.
This can be relevant for anyone no matter their age, health issues or life circumstances; it can also be an ongoing process that requires the occasional review. Perhaps for people with CF, planning a career that will be supportive of fluctuating health is even more important.
- Career Planning (Jobs & Skills WA)
Your Rights at Work
Managing a sometimes burdensome health regime and employment can at times be difficult. It’s important to understand where your strengths and limitations are and put your health first. It’s also your employer’s legal responsibility to treat you fairly under the Occupational Health and Safety Law.
Federal and Western Australian Law protects you as an employee against discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender, disability, religion, race, colour, age or marital status. You can’t be denied employment based on your health unless it directly impacts on your ability to do the job. Sometimes it’s very difficult to ascertain if you are being unfairly discriminated against however for further information:
- A Quick Guide to Australian Discrimiation Laws (Australian Human Rights Commission)
- Australia’s Anti-discrimination Laws
- Employment Law Centre of WA
Telling Your Employer About Having CF
This can make a lot of people feel anxious about what sort of reaction they might get. Legally employers have a right to know that you have a health condition, mainly for safety reasons and the provision of extra supports if required. You are also entitled to privacy and can choose who else in the workplace you would like to tell. An employer can ask for a “Fit to Work” letter from your clinic which outlines your general health and if there should be any work restrictions. Generally, colleagues are more supportive if they know you have CF and why you may require special conditions e.g. a private space to do IV’s or time off to go to clinic.
CFWA are also able to provide workplace education or information brochures to help people understand CF.
When Should You Tell Them?
Generally it’s advised to try and be honest and tell your employer during the interview or before, however many people choose to discuss this when offered the job. If it doesn’t directly affect your employment e.g. with part time or casual work some people may choose not to mention this at all. It‘s also a good idea to discuss working conditions; including salary and health in the interview to ensure that you are both mutually comfortable with the working arrangement.
Things to Consider in Getting the Right Job
- Recognise your skills and abilities. This includes both formal qualifications and personality traits such as friendly, hard working and quick to learn.
- Type of conditions. Do you require flexible, part time, full time, inside, distance from toxic fumes e.g. hair spray or spray paint, office work or something more active.
- Be open to new possibilities. Try something new! Your skills may be transferable into a new area you may not have considered before. Talk to people and ask how they got into their career path.
- Research. Take the time to make sure you know what the position involves, find out as much information as you can about your desired job and the agency.
- Get organised and prepared. Update your resume and have your educational history (certificates, degree) in a presentation folder ready to show prospective employers. Prepare yourself for any questions prospective employers may ask you and prepare your own questions to ask the employer.
- Stay determined and positive. Being informed and confident are qualities employers look for in prospective employees, being prepared also makes you feel more confident and able to answer questions appropriately. If you feel you might be really nervous, ask a friend to interview you and practice how you might answer questions. Try not to lose sight of what you are aiming for in your career goals. If you are struggling to stay positive or focused, seek career assistance through a job centre.
Writing a good Curriculum Vitae (CV) or Resume
You can get assistance with this or you could go on some of the job sites to see how other people have put together their CVs, however remember that a good CV is often the best way to an interview. Important points for the CV:
1. Personal details: Full name, contact numbers and email. Some people also add a photo, however this is discretionary.
2. Medical Condition: This is not mandatory, however again some people choose to state that they have CF and offer a small description on how they manage this. It can demonstrate that you are up front and resilient.
3. Education & Training: All certificates and qualifications, including any leavers certificate from school if recent.
4. Personal traits: This is very important if you don’t have many qualifications or if your first job. Think about what is it about you that would suit this kind of work e.g. hard working, good with people etc.
5. Volunteering and work experience: This should also be included as it demonstrates initiative and a work ethic.
6. Employment history: Previous employment, roles, how long you worked there and what your jobs included.
7. Interest and hobbies: Add something that gives your potential employer some insight as to what sort of person you are.
8. Referees: If you have previous employment use a supervisor or manager, however if it’s your first job you could use a family friend, teacher or someone who will speak well of you.
Extra support can be given for job preparation, finding and securing a job,getting support on the job, vocational education and training, apprenticeships and traineeships. Try these sites for extra assistance.
Once You Have Gained Employment
Once you have settled in to your new job, it might be a good idea to establish a contingency plan about how any future absences will be managed. Is it possible for you to “bank” your time to allow for any absences?
Planning ahead allows you to give your employer notice as to when you need time off so that they can also make plans for adequate cover while you are away. In some cases, if you need to be admitted to hospital, you may be able to make arrangements to continue working via a laptop, or even go to work during the day and return to the hospital at night.
Keeping Your Job
Before reducing the hours that you work due to health reasons, consider whether adjustments could be made to working arrangements instead: would a different job within the organisation make life easier? Could you establish a contingency plan about how any absences will be managed?
If you have just finished high school or further study, and are finding it difficult to gain employment, a great way to build your experience and resumé is to volunteer for an organisation. Find a company or organisation that you are really interested in e.g. RSPCA , Surf Club, Salvation Army, university radio station, the local school or a retail outlet.
Some companies and businesses offer students short-term, hands-on training in exchange for a willingness to learn and work hard. A few internships even pay, although the point of internships is usually to get work experience, not earn money. If you’re willing to work for free, you may be able to create your own position at a family member or friend’s company. Alternatively, check out the websites of companies in your area to see if they offer internships.
Further Study and CF
As there is such a wide variation between people with CF, you may not consider yourself to have a disability; however, if you find that you need hospitalisation or your illness impacts on your ability to study, it is worth considering how your chosen university or college will cater for your needs.
It is also worth considering that your chosen course may take three or more years to complete. You will need to think long-term about your health and how it may impact on your studies. Consider if the qualification will lead you to a job where you are likely to have a supportive employer during times of illness?
All Higher Education Institutions are required to submit a disability statement. Universities and TAFE must ensure that students with a disability receive non-discriminatory treatment. This is a requirement of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). For information about the Disability Discrimination Act see the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Website.
Choosing the Right Course and Subjects
In order to ensure you match your interests and skills to the right course, it can be well worth the effort and time to speak to people who are currently employed in your area of interest. How flexible will the actual career be if you need to take time off for hospital admissions? Can the job be done full-time or part-time?
It is also well worth attending Open Days, speaking to career advisers, finding out about prerequisites for particular courses and whether the course requires you to go on practical work experience. How will that impact on you if you also have to work?
You may also need to consider things like parking, access to public transport and accommodation offered by the university or TAFE.
Studying Full-time or Part-time
Consider whether studying part time or full time will suit you. Although it takes longer to complete a course when studying part-time, you have more flexibility to take care of your health, work and adjust to life after high school. You may decide to alter whether you study full-time or part-time as you go. How flexible is your chosen course in allowing such adjustments?
Special Entry/Equity Schemes
Some universities and TAFEs offer special entry or equity schemes which can provide further opportunity for students to access study. They take into consideration factors such as illness, financial hardship or other issues that may impact on a person’s ability to compete with other applicants.
Disclosure: To tell or not to tell?
Students may choose to disclose to an education institution prior to enrolment that they have an illness to:
- Find out information about available support and services.
- Find out how to access services once they are enrolled.
- Discuss course requirements to ensure that the appropriate course is chosen.
- Assist in the transition from secondary study to TAFE or university study.
Reasons not to disclose your medical condition:
- You may not require any additional support or services.
- You may wish to wait until you are certain about which institution you are attending.
- You may be uncertain about who will have access to your personal information.
It is not always essential to disclose specific medical or personal information about a disability prior to enrolment. What is most important and helpful is to provide information about how your disability impacts on your capacity to study and what support is needed to assist in providing the optimum environment for study to occur.
Once You Have Gained a Place
Plan a course of study that is not crammed full of classes, labs and tutorials all day, every day. Plan for time to rest and to look after your health. Better to choose fewer classes and get great marks than more classes with mediocre results (and your health also doesn’t suffer).
It may be useful to discuss your individual experiences as a person with CF with a course lecturer or a disabilities service officer.
Points to discuss and consider:
- You may need to discuss the course requirements and negotiate how you will cope with the workload.
- You may need to point out that your quality of work could fluctuate according to your health.
- There may be times in the term when you are unable to work effectively and attendance at lectures may be erratic.
- It is also helpful to discuss how you personally react to feeling tired or ill.
- You will need to work out a plan of how you will be able to get information that you have missed e.g. organise a study buddy who can send you any information, handouts etc.
- What are the procedures with exams if you are unable to attend?
- Do you require special considerations e.g. rest breaks, a separate room to sit?
- You will also need to find out if there is flexibility to alter the work schedule, deadlines for work and deadlines for return of library books?
Taking Control of your Studies
Some of the suggestions that the Career Tips website offers in relation to taking control of your studies are:
- Be flexible about the options that may provide you with appropriate individualised support, i.e. treat your own and everyone else’s suggestions as a possible option. The more options you have to choose from, the more likely you will find the best choice.
- Be persistent and committed.
- Celebrate your successes with lecturers, classmates, friends and family.
According to the Career Development Centre other things to consider when studying are:
- Identify your support network e.g. family, friends, doctors, lecturers.
- Manage stress by setting priorities such as eating well, doing regular exercise and getting enough rest (your health should come first!)
- Give yourself time to adjust to the changes that await you once you finish high school.
- Remember, it is YOUR decision – be confident in your ability to choose what is right for you.
Also consider that it is useful to review how you are going halfway through each term and speak to the Disabilities Officer or course coordinator if you find you need to reassess how you are coping.
Article from RED Magazine, Spring 2014.