Finding a Job, Keeping the Job, and Loving Your Work
A personal assistant (sometimes called a personal care attendant or PCA) makes it possible for people who have disabilities, or people who have lost ability because of aging, to live in the community.
For many years, personal assistants have helped people with activities like:
using the bathroom;
transferring between bed and wheelchair;
cleaning the home;
running errands; and
Today, personal assistance is defined as any support a person needs to be more independent. This can include:
caring for the employers children;
writing checks for the employer under supervision; and
translating difficult speech.
People with different disabilities may need different kinds of support. People with intellectual disabilities who can walk and dress themselves may not need physical assistance. Instead, people may need someone to:
coach them through daily activities: or
remind them of what needs to be done.
The list of possible tasks you may perform as a personal assistant keeps growing as more people with disabilities go to work. A personal assistant may:
come into the workplace for a short time to assist with lunch and using the restroom:
be with the employer all day, drive him or her to meetings, help with paperwork, note taking, and phone calls, along with personal needs.
A personal assistant usually works directly for the person with a disability.
In Connecticut, people with disabilities who pay their assistants with Medicaid money use an agency to issue checks and keep track of the taxes. That agency is not the employer of the personal assistants. The person with a disability is still the boss.
In rare cases, when a person with a disability goes to work, the company he or she works for may pay for personal assistance services. When this happens, the personal assistant works BOTH for the person with the disability AND that person's employer.
Personal assistants come in all shapes and sizes. They may be young, middle-aged, or older; be from the city or the suburbs, and have anything from a grade school education to a master's degree.
But, successful personal assistants have certain qualities in common. They are:
Willing to learn;
Able to follow directions.
And it never hurts to have a good sense of humor!
Some post-secondary schools offer Personal Care Attendant (PCA) Certification, but there is no license or certification required by the State of Connecticut at this time.
In most cases, your employer (the person who needs your assistance) will train you. Sometimes a family member or an experienced personal assistant will help to train you.
Regardless of who does the training, the key is to listen carefully and follow all directions. Ask as many questions as you need to.
While you may have suggestions about how something might be done, the employer has the final decision about how you complete your tasks.
Remember: when you get off work you can go home and think about other things, but your working relationship will touch your employer's life even when you aren't there.
The pay for personal assistants varies. The typical salary is $10.00 to $14.00 an hour; $12.00 per hour is the average. Most assistants do not get paid vacation, holiday, or sick time; and few employers offer health insurance or retirement plans.
Why are people so eager to go into this field?
Personal assistance is a flexible and rewarding way of increasing your income.
Personal assistance work fits in nicely around school, family responsibilities, and other jobs.
The bond between a personal assistant and his or her employer may become strong. It is not unusual for this kind of work relationship to last for years.
This is a great objective. But in addition to the job benefits (listed above) that may not be available, there are other considerations:
The work is intense, and can be challenging at times. A good way of avoiding burnout is to do personal assistance work several days a week instead of every day.
Most people who hire personal assistants don't need someone there at all times. A typical shift may be two to four hours.
Some people get closer to full-time hours by working for several employers (people with disabilities or elders). To do this successfully, you may have to work some odd hours and split shifts. If you schedule people too closely together, you may get delayed at one employer that will cause you to be late for the next one. This is stressful for everyone.
If you are a good listener, reliable, trustworthy, and you can get along with people, you may have the skills that employers are seeking.
There are many sources for job openings in the personal assistance field:
Word-of-mouth Your neighbor's mother just might be looking for a personal assistant. Let people know you are available.
Bulletin boards - Some supermarkets and restaurants have community bulletin boards. Look for "PCA Needed" ads.
Get your name out there Many web sites invite you to put up a resume. Here are a few places where people specifically looking for work as a personal assistant can post their information:
The PCA Waiver Directory Ask for an application by calling Allied Community Resources at 1-877-722-8833 or download an application by selecting http://www.alliedcommunityresources.org/provider_applications.php
. Look for Personal Care Assistance (PCA) Medicaid Waiver Program and select Directory Application.
The Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Waiver Directory To be on the ABI directory, you must first take a free 3-hour course about brain injury. Ask for an application packet by calling Allied Community Resources at 1-877-722-8833 or download a packet and training schedule by selecting http://www.alliedcommunityresources.org/provider_applications.php
. Look for Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Medicaid Waiver Program and select Application Packet.
Rewardingwork This directory allows employers to sort applicants by city, experience, shift, and other options. To post your resume, select www.rewardingwork.org
Local newspapers People still advertise the old-fashioned way, especially in the small weekly papers.
Internet People put ads online, especially when filling odd times or looking for temporary support. Sometimes those temporary positions become permanent.
You may have safety concerns about answering ads or putting information online. It is wise to be cautious. Keep in mind that employers of personal assistants will also be cautious about connecting with you.
Remember that except for your family, everyone in your life from your best friend to your spouse was once a stranger. Given time, shared experiences, and growing trust, strangers can become employers, neighbors, and friends.
The web sites listed above try to protect the security of personal assistants and employers. For example, only participants on the PCA Waiver or the ABI Waiver are allowed to see these directories. Employers using Rewardingwork must subscribe before seeing applicant listings.
Take reasonable precautions when posting information online or scheduling an interview.
Here are some strategies adapted from Your Job Search Guide, published by the State of Connecticut Department of Labor. This workbook is full of great ideas that would be helpful to anyone in search of a job. To download a copy of the workbook, select http://www1.ctdol.state.ct.us/lmi/jsguide.asp
Proper use of the telephone during a job search greatly increases your opportunities for employment. An employer needs to know that he or she will be able to reach you if necessary, and that you will be able to conduct professional conversations over the phone.
Use your home or cell phone number. If you have no other choice than to use your work number, mention to the prospective employer that you are only comfortable taking personal calls during your break/lunch time. This will show that you respect your current employers workplace rules.
Make sure that if you answer a call from a prospective employer, you are prepared. For example, dont answer the call if you are driving your car and/or do not have access to a pen and paper. If you are not prepared, then do not answer the call and allow the employer to leave a message.
Consider your phone message system as a first impression. Remember, your personal phone message is the first impression you give to a prospective employer, so make sure your home/cell message is professional. An appropriate home phone message is: You have reached 555-1234, the June Smith residence (or June Smiths cell phone). Please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank You."
Follow phone etiquette. During your job search, make sure to identify yourself every time you answer the phone. When making phone calls, make sure there are no excessive background noises (e.g., TV, radio, children). Do not eat, drink or smoke while on the phone. Remember to smile while talking to a prospective employer. It may seem silly, but smiling helps you to maintain an upbeat tone of voice.
Inform others who may be answering your phone. Let everyone in your home know that a prospective employer may be calling you, and that they should answer the phone politely. Emphasize the importance of accurate messages being relayed to you in a timely manner.
Dressing professionally is necessary throughout your entire job search process. Here are some tips:
Cleanliness Make sure to bathe/shower, and have clean, neatly combed hair. Refrain from using cologne or perfume since many people are allergic and the fragrance can be distracting.
Clothing Your clothes should always be clean and neatly pressed. Never wear stained or torn clothing. If you are applying for a job that requires less formal attire business casual is most often appropriate. A general rule of thumb, however, is to dress for the position ABOVE the one for which you are applying.
Jewelry The one piece of jewelry everyone should wear during a job search is a watch since it helps you to be on time.
Manners Along with dressing professionally, you must back up your appearance with effective speech and body communication.
Always maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
Avoid nervous mannerisms (e.g, fidgeting with your clothes, tapping your pen, or touching your hair). The interviewer may interpret these actions as a sign of insecurity and lack of confidence.
Do not bring any food or drink to an interview, including gum and breath mints.
The relationship between a personal assistant and employer can be complex. You will get to know one another very well.
It's good if you like each other, but you can have problems if you forget that both of you are working. As the personal assistant, you are there to help with activities the employer would do alone if he or she did not have a disability. The employer will expect that the care you provide meets his or her needs.
Sometimes a personal assistant and employer do things that make their professional relationship confusing. Examples include:
discussing personal problems at length as if in a counseling session;
asking for or loaning each other money (even an advance on a paycheck);
allowing children or family members to come to work with the assistant;
playing games or watching movies together during the assistant's work time (unless the assistant's job description includes social activities or therapeutic recreation. These are allowed under some Medicaid programs, but not others); and
dating or double-dating.
Does this mean that an employer and a personal assistant can never become friends? No, and sometimes these are great relationships that last a lifetime. But both people need to be aware of the problems that can develop. For Example:
A personal assistant may start coming into work late. He or she may be thinking, "My employer will understand. After all, we're friends now." The employer may no longer feel able to correct the personal assistant because of their friendship.
An employer may sign the personal assistant out at 5:00 and then say, "Can you just do one more thing for me?" and that one thing takes another half an hour. The personal assistant may feel unable to say anything because they have become friends.
Communication is important. If the two of you decide to go to the movies as friends, it is good to say "We are not working today. We are going as friends." While this may seem awkward at first, you will be clear with one another and hurt feelings can be avoided.
Even if you feel comfortable doing activities as friends, violating boundaries can be tricky. Be aware of what you are doing and proceed cautiously.
If you feel you have been taken advantage of as a personal assistant, there are several questions that may help to clarify the problem:
Is this about conditions at work (schedule, pay, duties, other staff), or is it a clash of personalities?
Is the employer doing this on purpose?
Are the employer's expectations reasonable?
Is the personal assistant taking something too personally?
If you still think the employer is being unfair, it is important to speak with him or her as soon as possible. Open and honest dialogue is very important. It is uncomfortable to bring up a difficult issue, but it is the only way to get it resolved. The longer problems exist, the worse they get.
If problems are not fixed by talking them out, there may be a bad fit between employer and personal assistant. Sometimes two people just cannot get along. It doesn't mean either person is bad or wrong. In that case, it is often better to part company and look for a better situation.
Learn to say "no" to requests that are outside of your job requirements. You are not a bad person if you say no to requests for which you will not be paid.
If your employer is always shorthanded, ask him or her if you can help recruit more personal assistants.
Do not stress yourself by working too many hours.
Do not stress yourself by scheduling employers too closely together.
Combine personal assistance work with other work. Personal assistance work can be intense, and variety is good.
Keep yourself healthy. Eat right and exercise. If you are sick, give yourself a rest.
Have a good personal support system so you are nurtured. Otherwise, you may start feeling as if you are just giving all the time.
Have a hobby outside of work, such as bicycling, scrapbooking, playing with your pet, or finding old friends on Facebook.