Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Improving Work Performance for Adolescents with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Comparison of Two Work-Based Learning Interventions

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Improving Work Performance for Adolescents with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Comparison of Two Work-Based Learning Interventions

Article excerpt

The transition of students with disabilities to post-secondary employment is increasingly important in special education programs as well as agencies offering rehabilitation services. For students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), the focus is often on employability, specifically, making sure they have the social competence necessary for entering the workforce. High school students with EBD typically have problems in school due to poor interpersonal relationships with both peers and teachers. These adolescents have difficulty maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships after their high school years as well, especially in the workplace. In fact, students with EBD have the most difficulty obtaining and maintaining post-secondary employment when compared to other disability groups (Wagner & Cameto, 2004).

Many adolescents with EBD lack actual job experience while in high school and as a result experience high rates of unemployment or low-paying and unsatisfying jobs several years after exiting school (Wagner & Cameto, 2004). Research has shown that their interpersonal skills are antisocial and problematic on the job (Jolivette, Stichter, Nelson, Scott, & Liaupsin, 2000), and many are in fact terminated from employment because of their poor job-related social skills (Bullis & Cheney, 1999). Interpersonal difficulties include issues with behaving on the job, taking instruction from authority, completing tasks, accepting feedback and criticism, and acting in a professionally and socially appropriate manner.

According to Bullis & Cheney (1999), meaningful and rewarding work experiences define an individual's identity and are central to the adjustment of any young adult's life. Therefore, adolescents with EBD have a special need for training, counseling, and work-based learning interventions that can promote more successful vocational outcomes. The development of work-based learning programs to improve the work performance and social competence of these adolescents ideally should include interpersonal, experiential, and community integrated components that improve their ability to handle the demands of the work setting, build positive relationships with co-workers and supervisors, and successfully manage the common social problems that occur in the workplace.

The social and interpersonal skills are perhaps even more essential for adolescents with EBD than specific occupational skills, which are typically the focus of paid work experiences. Additionally, many EBD programs teach social skills within the classroom which raises questions about the generalization of these skills to the workplace (Gresham, 1998; Scott & Nelson, 1998). Given these concerns, there is a great need for work-based learning programs that connect schools with the community and focus on improving overall work performance as it relates to job-related social skills (Bullis, 1990; Davis & Vander Stoep, 1997).

Work-based learning activities focus on the interaction between the school and the community as a means of promoting vocational development, career awareness, and employee readiness. Activities include job shadowing, apprenticeships, cooperative work experiences, school-based enterprises, service learning, and internships (National School-to-Work Office, 1996). Given the poor post-school outcomes for EBD adolescents, work-based learning experiences should be implemented during their high-school years.

According to Wehman (2006), adolescents with EBD are currently spending too much time in the classroom with pre-vocational training while spending too little time in the community work environment. Service learning and paid internships, the focus of this study, are two work-based learning interventions that can help adolescents with EBD improve their ability to maintain employment (Bullis & Cheney, 1999) while gaining social competence in the workplace (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1997). …

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