Diamonds in the Rough: Preparing the Special Needs Student for Entry-Level Employment

Article excerpt

"You have the power to make a difference."

This quote is one of the first lessons taught during the first year of the hospitality class that I teach to learning disabled or developmentally handicapped high school students. The two-year lab is a satellite program through the Delaware Joint Vocational School (JVS), a career center in Delaware, Ohio. The school-to-work program, now in its eighth year, is housed at Grady Memorial Hospital and is comprised entirely of special needs students who are learning about the hospitality industry.

Hospitality, the service rendered to customers within businesses such as hotels, hospitals and nursing facilities, includes areas of curriculum such as housekeeping, linen services and banquet setup. The students learn job tasks while they are learning about the hospitality industry and the skills it requires. Student tracking for five years after completion of the program finds a 77 percent employment ratio in hospitality-related jobs.

Learning on Site

The Delaware (JVS) hospitality program is designed to teach entry-level job skills and customer service to high school students, but the beauty of the program is that it is located within a business, or "on site." Students learn the skills and knowledge necessary to get and retain a job while working within an actual business--in our case, a hospital. Class time is included in the learning process in a separate classroom within the hospital.

During the first year, students rotate through three hospital volunteer sites. Job sites are selected based on the student's abilities, the needs of the hospital and department availability. Second-year students volunteer on one job station throughout the first semester and use acquired job skills during the second semester, as they are placed in paid employment within the school community.

Despite their disabilities, special needs students learn that they have the ability to make a difference in their own lives, as well as those of others, based on the actions and attitudes they project. The quote, "You have the power to make a difference," is referred to throughout the year, as the students learn about appropriate actions and responsibilities for a job. They experience firsthand that their attitude can set the climate, both within the classroom and on the job.

Special Talents Needed

In the last decade, the need for technical and service-oriented workers has increased, and employers are in need of entry-level employees. These employers want hard-working entry-level employees with qualities such as good attendance, problem-solving skills and good hygiene. An employee who will stay with the company after training and will work to please the customer is desired. These are the talents of the special needs student. Hard work is nothing new to them, but they have failed at many tasks throughout their lives. Each success is a true victory for them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) enabled the special needs employee to be more accepted in the workplace. Businesses are now required to provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of disabled individuals. Changes resulting from the ADA may include equipment modification, altered worksite layouts and restructured jobs. Employers are more willing to make accommodations and accept the special needs of these employees.

The Approach to Training

The training of the special needs students in a school-to-work career and technical program often requires a back-to-basics approach as well as modifications to the curriculum. Before the hospitality curriculum is introduced, the students are taught basic survival skills needed for success within the workplace and outside the classroom. …