Transitioning into that first job takes time and planning. While the questions to be answered are similar for the individual who has graduated and for those in High School, the preparations are different. Questions include: Is the pursuit going to be part time or with a career-path? What does he or she want to do? What are his or her strengths? Preparations for someone in High School include Transition planning, planning the class schedule towards the job’s entry –level requirements, and really taking time to review what the student might be interested in. Preparations for a graduate focus on employability and include: determining potential career goals, and focused volunteer work.
Where to start?
Has the individual graduated high school? Or do they attend High School? There will be a different path depending on the answer.
For those that have graduated from High School:
If the individual has graduated high school first determine the type of employment sought; part time or career path. This decision is something best reviewed with the individual and the family. There are also professionals that can provide transitions or skills assessments. Don’t let the standard definition of career be misleading there are many surprising job’s that can become careers. A career is derived from a goal or series of goals a person is dedicated to reaching within a job. So the only differences between a career path and seeking part time work are the goals associated with the employment; remember an individual can work part time towards a career.
If part time work is the choice, review the individual’s strengths, activities and what they enjoy doing. Sometimes these skills can directly translate into a job. For example, if the individual has a green thumb, they are good with plants. There are many landscaping, grounds keeping and nursery jobs available. Many larger stores have nursery departments and there are many smaller local nurseries. If their interests do not directly translate into a part time job, be creative. Do they like history? Perhaps there is something available at the local museum.
If the individual is looking for a career path, again start with his or her interests and abilities. What is their ultimate goal? Do they want to be a Camp Counselor or work with children? Do they want to design alternative fashions? While most career paths will require some college and potentially a degree, depending on the individual’s interests, the career choice may not. It is important to carefully review the industry of choice to get a better understanding of the entry-level requirements. Your local public library can help find the information specific to the industry of choice.
The next step is moving towards that goal. Have they ever been in the position of Camp Counselor? Have they ever been to camp? If not, look for opportunities close by to volunteer as a camp counselor or some related position. Don’t just volunteer once and think this is great. Make sure to spend time volunteering or working at different camps to really get a feel for the work flow and expectations.
Once you have spent time exploring a possible career path, it is important to determine if additional schooling is needed. If so, find the program that will be best suited to your needs. If no additional education is needed, begin reviewing companies the individual may want to work for. This requires matching the mission and vision of the company with the individual. If the company is corporately owned and will ultimately demand the individual be available at any moment for work or demand the ability to travel, can the individual do this independently? If the company is politically charged, will the individual be able to handle the fallout associated with regular publicity?
Many times a person with disabilities can begin at a company in a part time or entry level position, and like those without disabilities, be presented with the opportunity to advance. But like those without disabilities, this comes with sacrifices. Does this person have a strong support system?
Another option is for the individual to begin their own company, become their own employer. Does this person have a skill that can be translated into self-employment? Is this person able to self-advocate; can he or she talk to others about themselves and their product? Do they have a support system in place that will allow them to develop their company? Does the self-employment require travel? If he or she is receiving state benefits, how will the self-employment impact this?
There are additional ways of finding employment that includes both graduates and high school students, these are discussed further on in the article.
For students in High School:
There is a little more time for exploration if the person is in high school; there is also more to do. The student must learn to self-advocate, determine and develop their strengths and ensure their academics and functional abilities are at the required level for the entry-level positions of the field.
The first step is Transitions testing. Transitions assessments are different than the educational testing your child has received so far. This type of assessment focuses on determining the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and what type of work would be a good fit. Generally the school will begin this process, but there are professionals that can assist with this testing as well.
Prior to developing the students transition goals families must review the potential industry for employment. What type of work is available in the job sector the student is going to pursue? What are the expected roads in? Remember most people have more than one career during their life time, so it is important to retain some flexibility while searching for potential employment possibilities.
Once you have an idea of what type of work your child might want to pursue, review the current IEP or 504.How close is the student to the academic and functional levels needed for entry-level employment? How much transition planning is going to be needed? Will the student be better prepared for the work place if he or she is in high school until they are 21?
Development of the transition goals is critical to the student’s preparedness. Included in this next step is the development of self-advocacy skills. This is the ability to clearly express skills and abilities to an interviewer and ultimately express needs to the employer.
The Transition goals should reflect where the student is now and where they need to be to graduate ready for employment. Many times the best way to accomplish this is by working backwards. Begin with the research you have just competed (skills, job types, job requirements) and then build the bridge back towards the student’s current levels. Remember, this takes time and is a multi-year process.
Preparing the resume and cover letter and developing interviewing skills
When building a cover letter and resume, one of the most important things that is often over looked, but absolutely necessary, is computer literacy skills. Most of us think that because our kids can use their technology with their hands tied behind their backs and their eyes closed, they are computer literate. There is a big difference between someone who can text and someone who can sit down at a computer, gather the necessary information and then create a quality product. Creating a resume can be difficult for many of us, how much more so if the individual has a learning disability.
There are many services designed to assist students and individuals with disabilities in preparing for and finding employment. Review of your area’s disability related services and networks. Getting a job through vocational rehab or another service can be very helpful. In some areas vocational rehabilitation (Voc Rehab) offices offer services such as resume building, interviewing skills and job shadowing. Keep in mind that working with a specialized office such as Voc Rehab can take time and in some cases individuals must meet certain eligibility criteria, so it is important to begin this process early.
Another way to develop the necessary skills is through appropriate volunteer activities. There are many groups that have opportunities specifically for individuals with disabilities. These volunteer activities can turn into opportunities through skill development, networking, and possible job leads.
Many times once a student has graduated high school or is preparing to graduate, the student decides it’s time to take off the” label”; no one has to know about the disability. The foremost thought is “I have ADD or I have Autism, but no one has to know any longer.” However, many students with disabilities may be able to utilize specialized groups to secure placement in the work place.
Instead of trying distance themselves from the specialized disability-based contacts and Mentors they have come to know, they need to move closer to them and really begin to utilize those connections. Much like the contacts of another student without disabilities, specialized disability-based contacts can be helpful when trying to get into the job market. Everyone has a network, and it is generally through these contacts that jobs are found. So use your friends in the support groups, they are in the workplace too.
There are many ways to become employable and begin working. Aside from all of the preparations, the most important skills someone can have are the ability to remain flexible and the willingness to work hard. Flexibility and dedication are the foundation to successful employment and when these skills work in concert with proper planning and preparations, individuals with disabilities go on to lead productive lives and have successful careers.
Kelly McGuire is a mom of 4, the oldest with Autism. She is also the owner of AZ Transitions, a full service special education advocacy group for families and individuals with disabilities from pre-k through college and employment. Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.kellymcguireadvocate.com
Disability.gov Student Resources for College
National Association of School Psychologists Online “Preparing students with disabilities for School-to-work transition and post school life by Edward M Levinson and Eric J Palmer
Life after High School by Jessica Kingsly