The population of Catoosa County has been increasing steadily over the years along with extreme business growth. But, with this growth in business, according to the 2017 census, the poverty rate in Catoosa County was almost 11%. The unemployment rate for young people ages 16-19 was 16.4% and ages 25-29 was 8.3%.

Young people need jobs. Young people with disabilities need soft skills to obtain and retain these jobs. Ninety percent of those with disabilities lose their jobs due to lack of soft skills. Those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) have the intellectual capacity to make substantial contributions to the workplace, but struggle with anxiety, depression and social skills.

Graduation rates in Catoosa County have continued to rise, but can we prepare all of our students, including those with disabilities, for a lifetime of work, careers and a lifetime of confidence and success? The answer is yes. Learning beyond the classroom is essential. Businesses that hire and support employees with autism can access qualified people with attributes they seek such as attention to detail, loyalty, and consistency.

How can we begin to stop this unemployment trend at a local level? How can we as teachers, administrators and community members help train this ever increasing group of knowledgeable individuals? Vocational Rehabilitation services cannot effectively train all of our students with disabilities for jobs and careers. Local intervention and resources are an immediate need. We as a community need to pitch in to formalize a training program specific to soft skills in the job arena. We are supporting local business, now let’s support local talent in the workplace.

Cheryl Peters,

concerned teacher and mother, Ringgold

Cheryl Peters, concerned teacher and mother, Ringgold

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