Employment Tips and Strategies for Young Adults with Arthritis

How young people living with arthritis can prepare for the future of work

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted employment in many ways. Many employees have experienced lay offs or reduced hours, while essential service workers may be working longer, more frequent shifts. Working remotely has become more common for those in sectors or positions where this is possible, though many continue to fear for their health and safety in precarious contract or gig-based work. At a time when good jobs can be difficult to come by, what can young adults with arthritis do to increase their employability? Below is a list of some suggestions and strategies you may want to consider to develop your skills and network whether you are currently employed, underemployed, or unemployed.

Strategies to develop your skills and network

  • Seek out a mentor

    Mentors can be very helpful in providing professional guidance and can also help you grow your network. Identify a person in a position you would like to achieve one day and learn more about them and their role. It could be someone living with arthritis who has achieved professional success, or someone in a field of interest. Send a message requesting a short virtual meeting (under 1 hour) and prepare some questions about their career path. Don’t ask them to be your mentor right away but see how the meeting goes. Follow up with a thank you message and if you felt a good connection, you could ask if they might be willing to chat again in the future.

  • Seek feedback

    Asking your supervisor or colleagues for feedback on your performance and receiving it with gratitude and an open mind can help you learn how to grow within your role and demonstrate that you are committed to self-improvement.  Sometimes it can be difficult to receive performance critiques, but approach these as opportunities for learning and growth.

  • Pursue volunteer opportunities

    If you have the time and capacity, volunteering can often help build new skills and connections while increasing your level of experience. You may also have the opportunity to take on tasks or contribute to projects that in a paid position would otherwise go to a more senior role. A number of organizations provide virtual volunteer opportunities in a variety of fields that you can do from the comfort of home. For example, CUSO International and the United Nations have e-volunteering opportunities in the areas of Business Development, Communications, Design, Education and IT Support.

  • Pursue work experience opportunities

    If you are currently in school or will be attending school, consider opportunities such as co-op programs, practicum placements, or other work-study arrangements. These programs can help you gain important professional skills while building your experience and your professional network. Many organizations are now offering virtual work placements that can be completed from home. Some skilled trades also offer apprenticeship programs, which provide an opportunity to learn a trade while getting paid for your work. If you are comfortable disclosing your arthritis, it can be helpful to connect with your school’s work placement coordinator to ensure that your placement organization has adequate accessibility policies, training, and practices in place. It is prohibited for organizations to discriminate against an employee because of a disability, so let your work placement coordinator know if you experience any issues.

  • Continue learning

    As business and technology continue to evolve, employees are often expected to have a wide range of knowledge and skills, such as web design, data analysis, marketing and communications, etc. Fortunately, there are a number of free courses online that can help you brush up on skills that might be valuable to employers. Services like EdX and Coursera offer free programs delivered by leading universities and organizations on a variety of topics. These courses generally offer flexibility to study at your own pace and from the comfort of home, making it easier to keep up if you experience an arthritis flare.

  • Seek solutions

    If you are hoping to advance within your career, it’s important to remain solution-oriented. Creativity and problem-solving are key skills that are in demand with employers. While it’s often easier to point out problems or come up with reasons why something won’t work, staying solution-focused and putting effort into creative and innovative problem-solving will give you an advantage over your peers.

  • Identify and build on your existing strengths

    A 2018 report by Deloitte identifies eight work “archetypes” of the future: the Protector, Innovator, Influencer, Integrator, Scorekeeper, Performer, Builder and Curator. These archetypes build on different strengths and capabilities of individuals, such as empathy, judgment, idea-generation, leadership, the ability to connect others, creativity, organization, building physical and virtual assets, and designing customer-focused experiences. While some of these archetypes may shift following the COVID pandemic, by gaining a better understanding of your own strengths and working to develop these, you can get a clearer sense of how you might fit into the workforce of the future.

  • Build your network

    According to Business Insider, between 70-85% of all job openings are not posted publicly but are filled through networking. Creating a strong social and professional network can be a big advantage when looking for your next job. If you can, take the time to participate in free virtual networking events in your community related to your field of interest. Websites like Eventbrite.ca or Meetup.com offer a number of free events related to a wide range of topics. Make an effort to talk to other participants. You can think up questions in advance if it helps, such as “What interested you in this event?”, “What field of work/study are you in?”, “How do you enjoy that field of work/study?”. If you have an online professional networking account such as LinkedIn, ask if you can add them as a contact, then send a follow up message saying it was nice to meet them.

  • Learn how to create a great cover letter and résumé

    You might have lots of great experience, skills and knowledge, but if you’re unable to demonstrate this to others, your opportunities will be limited. While it might be tempting to create one résumé template and send it out to a number of job postings online, creating a résumé and cover letter tailored to each specific posting can really help you stand out. It’s important to demonstrate how you meet the specific qualifications of a particular job. For example, if organizational skills are a requirement and you have experience working in a fast food restaurant, you might say something like, “I demonstrated my organizational skills by successfully tracking and accurately filling over 100 customer orders per day in a fast-paced work environment with little room for error.” You can describe your skills in the format “I demonstrated [skill] by doing [action] with the result of [impact].” There might be community services in your area that offer free résumé writing help, or you can look for tips online. Indeed’s 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job or the Government of Ontario’s guide Writing a Cover Letter and Resume: Tips Tools and Resources are very helpful as well. If you have limited work experience, you can add volunteer experience or relevant skills you’ve developed through training or school.

  • Connect with employment services for persons with disabilities:

    If your arthritis makes it more difficult for you to work at times, you might want to consider connecting with an employment service for people with disabilities. There are a number of local and national services that can help connect people with disabilities to employment opportunities. For example, the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work has information about employment services across the country or you can visit 211.ca online or call them at 2-1-1 to find out more about employment services for persons with disabilities in your community.

Duty to accommodate during COVID-19

If you are working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers still have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities, even if you are not working from your place of employment. For further details, visit the Government of Canada’s Guidance for managers on the Duty to Accommodate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arthritis and Work

For more information on your rights in the workplace and requesting accommodations, visit the Employee Portal on the Arthritis Society’s Arthritis and Work webpage.

Working with Rheumatic Disease

You can also check out this great interactive tool for youth and young adults on Working with a Rheumatic Disease, collaboratively created by the Institute for Work and Health, the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy, and Cassie & Friends.

This resource was last reviewed in December 2020 with input from:

Arif Jetha, PhD
Scientist, Institute for Work & Health
Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

Joy Phillips