January 3, 2020
A Guide to Work-based Learning Options for a Smooth Transition
Many people may recall looking for our first job as a teenager or young adult and the angst it may have caused. Visiting neighborhood businesses to ask if they were hiring could be intimidating. Interviews brought stress, and even once a job was secured, there was apprehension for the first day on the job. “Would I do well?” “How would my coworkers treat me?” “What would my boss be like?” How many 17 or 18-year-olds truly know, or are ready to plan for, what they will do for what seems like the rest of their life?
The transition into the working world presents a challenge for all young people. Looking for a first job, and not really knowing how to navigate the job process, can be even more overwhelming for young people with disabilities. Add the nature of today’s dynamic work environments, tough competition for jobs at all levels, and the fact that people with disabilities continue to be employed at much lower rates than people with no disabilities, and it is clear that employment preparation and engagement for our younger generation is more important than ever. However, with adequate support and planning by family, school staff and even the involvement of community service providers and resources, the transition can be a springboard to independent living and integration into the community.
Home is almost always where discussion of employment and a child’s aspirations begins. While schools and community-based organizations play an important role in helping students with disabilities find employment opportunities, parents can and in many cases should take an active role in helping their child prepare for employment. Parents can often identify their children’s talents and skills, and their knowledge and guidance can help students to make educated and thoughtful decisions as they relate to postsecondary education, transitional services, and work. Parents themselves, or their network of friends, coworkers, neighbors and relatives, may be able to provide students with opportunities for volunteering, career exposure or an onsite work experience. These connections and “first-steps” often allow students with disabilities a better understanding of the world of work and its relevancy to education. Ultimately, parents of students with disabilities have the most context and can provide their children the fullest picture of the options in front of them as they prepare to graduate.
Schools are often a conduit to helping students with disabilities get ready to make the leap from school to work. For example, students can be guided into specific courses that match their interest and academic aptitude. School districts often partner with local community-based organizations with expertise in transition to develop work experience opportunities that enhance a student’s employment outcome. Providing work-based learning during the school year, or over the summer, generally leads to better postschool employment outcomes. Gaining employment exposure and discovering interest areas while in high school are not only helpful to the student, but to the entire IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team in further ensuring success in school and beyond. In addition to money management skills that may be acquired through earning a regular paycheck, a part-time job opens the door for improving social skills, cultivating relationships with peers that may lead to friendships, bolstering self-confidence and building a resume that can enable youths with disabilities to successfully compete for jobs and secure full-time employment.
As students with disabilities continue to make inroads through mainstreaming and improved or new school-based services, parents need to also consider what additional resources exist for their children to leverage to improve education and employment outcomes. The options for community-based programs focused on serving youth with disabilities continue to expand, and many families are not aware of or do not take advantage of them. While the traditional service model of evaluation, vocational training and employment placement/supported employment is still very popular and effective, many students with disabilities are turning to more comprehensive Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), offered through schools and community-based organizations around the country. Ultimately, the most important thing that adolescents and young adults with disabilities can do to improve their employment opportunities and outcomes is to identify and understand all the options available to them for continued education, transition services and work-readiness training, so that they are as prepared as possible for the world of work.
TIPS TO HELP YOUR CHILD PREPARE FOR AND SECURE EMPLOYMENT
- Promote lofty aspirations from early on, even before the teen years. Encourage your child to read books that describe careers, often written for all age levels.
- Find out your child’s learning style, if you haven’t already, since not only will it determine how they learn and retain information best in school, but on the job. It may also assist in determining what careers may be a good match.
- Make sure your child understands his or her disability, including personal strengths and limitations. Lifting heavy boxes in a stockroom will likely not be a good fit for someone with limited motor skills but operations or logistics might be.
- Put them to work at home. Assigning daily and weekly chores encourages them to manage their time and have their performance critiqued. Praise them for a job well done and don’t be afraid to explain where they can improve their performance.
- Encourage volunteerism as it can often build confidence, fit with a hobby or interest, help build a resume and possibly lead to employment.
- Get them to speak up for themselves. Have them order at a restaurant, place a take-out order over the phone for pizza, purchase their movie ticket or speak directly to a doctor.
- Encourage self-advocacy. While you may regard yourself as their leading advocate, and will continue to play an active role, they need to speak up for themselves and communicate what accommodations they may need to perform best.
- Don’t overlook developing independent living skills. Planning and preparing a meal, making their bed, or doing the laundry teaches them to follow steps and be more responsible.
- Enroll them in programs that are open to high school students at community colleges, universities, and technical schools to broaden their knowledge and life experiences.
- Look to community-based organizations in your area that have established school to work transitional programs that help foster independent living and workplace skills for guidance and assistance.
- Vocational evaluations can be valuable in identifying possible career paths as they explore skills and interests. Situational assessments in a controlled or semi-controlled work environment give youths the opportunity to “try out” specific job tasks to identify what they did and did not enjoy doing.
- Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) can provide an early start to career exploration and work-readiness competencies with the goal of preparing students for gainful employment and independence following graduation from high school.
- Vocational Training Programs can teach transferrable work and life skills that can be either general or specific to an industry or career path like culinary arts.
- Use the dinner table or other time together to talk about your career. Discuss your day to day responsibilities to paint an accurate picture of a typical workday.
- Conduct a practice interview that includes some commonly asked interview questions. Encourage them to make eye contact and speak at a volume level that can be heard.
- Set up job shadowing opportunities with family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers since this is a good way to expose them to possible career choices. Participate in a “take your child to work” day.
- Apply for a summer internship at a local company or explore the Emerging Leaders Program for College Students with Disabilities. This highly competitive program places undergraduate and graduate college students with disabilities in fulfilling summer internships throughout the U.S. and provides them with leadership development opportunities.
- Don’t get discouraged if it takes some time for them to find a job. The competition is tough, given the state of the economy and the current unemployment rate. Stay positive and cheer them on!
SIGNALS THAT YOUR CHILD IS READY FOR EMPLOYMENT
- They ask to work or show an interest in earning or having money of their own
- They demonstrate the ability to independently and successfully perform multiple tasks
- They control their behavior and can hold meaningful conversations with adults and peers
- They take responsibility for and can complete daily living activities on their own
- They have the transportation skills and resources to get to and from a job
Associate Vice President, Youth Transition Services