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Empowerment Through Employment: Creating Job Opportunities for UAS students

No matter what day of the week it is, Mike Tracy can often be found setting out on another expedition across the Chicagoland area. After hitting several targeted places across Chicago's west, north or south side, it can feel like a big task – but he's always resolute. What's his mission? To find a potential employer for someone's first job.  


Although Mike Tracy, the co-founder of Urban Autism Solutions, has an extensive background in the financial industry, it was the brief time he spent at a recruiting firm placing high-level professionals that gave him the experience he needed to help UAS students find jobs. “I learned more in that year-and-a-half than the rest of my life combined about life and psychology.”

What makes the biggest difference in his job placement process? Feet to the ground – quite literally.

“It’s all about shoe leather. You have to get out and call on people. For me, phone calls go to voicemail and emails go to spam folders. I learned in the staffing business that face-to-face contact speeds up the transaction dramatically.”

your first job helps lead to that next job

Mike and the UAS team are all hands-on when it comes to providing the best vocational training students need to succeed in the workforce. From building resumes and preparing for interviews to filling out applications and following up with prospective employers. Mike even accompanies students on the interview to make sure they’re at their best – and follows up after they start the job.

But Mike’s main tenet when it comes to finding work is this: Get that first job. It’s a starting point, but it doesn't have to be your last stop.

“You want people to be happy. I get that and I’m a big believer in following your passion.” But Mike realized this might not be the best place to start when he came back empty-handed after scouting out several stores that students had a deep interest in working at.

However, the tide soon changed when Mike realized he was targeting the wrong type of employer. He discovered that grocery stores were more receptive to hiring people with intellectual and developmental (IDD) disabilities. In fact, these stores noted that individuals with IDD can display a much stronger work ethic when compared to their other workers even preferring to hold on to them during a time they had to lay off employees.

Mike was grateful to find this flexible and consistent employment opportunity. A great first job for UAS students.


What is that first job for? building skills that bring about more opportunities.

Bagging groceries, stocking shelves or wrangling shopping carts might not sound like a dream job. But to Mike, it’s all about perspective. After all, when these students hit age 22, they age out of public school services that assist them as they transition into adulthood – which includes providing support to find work.

“We want you to get your first job. It’s about building resumes. It’s about getting you on the first rung of the ladder and getting you placed before you age out. Because once you age out, supports are more limited.”

Aside from that first job helping students gain essential work experience, responsibility, and critical communication skills, Mike believes there is something just as valuable that is acquired: paid, competitive employment on their record.

“Hopefully six months or a year or two years, you get a nice little entry on your resume. And then let’s say you walk into an interview for that next job – your dream job – and the first question they're going to ask you is, ‘Do you have any experience?’ Now they have a response. ‘Yes, I’ve been at Jewel for two years. I got great reviews. Raises. I’m a good employee.’ They passed that first question and now they can get on to the next question.”

Mike’s work with over 90% of the young adults he helps involves primarily one thing: getting them on the first rung of that employment ladder. After all, one of his first jobs included washing dishes.

“The point is, we all have to start out somewhere.” And that’s the impetus Mike needs to get back out on the streets across Chicago visiting both existing and prospective employers to get another UAS student on that very first rung.


UAS student success story

Ahmad recently started his first job and sat down with us to share about his experiences: how he likes it, how Mike Tracy helped him get it and the aspirational goal that this first job will help him accomplish in the future.

Partner with us and support crucial vocational programs that help young adults with autism and related challenges find employment and gain independence.

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