For most adults, employment is the means by which they obtain economic self-sufficiency, a route to social identification, and a source of personal networking. Thus, employment is a critical factor associated with independence and community integration. According to Kiernan (2000), competitive employment is a way in which individuals support their lifestyles, develop friendships, and identify themselves as individuals. Competitive jobs allow vocational rehabilitation (VR) consumers to acquire transferable skills as well as earn higher wages (Moore, 2001a). However, consumers with mental retardation have yet to fully realize those benefits.
For many years, sheltered workshops were viewed as an ideal work setting for persons with mental retardation (Moore, 2001b). Although these settings have advanced previous concepts of employment for persons with mental retardation, they may not afford such persons an opportunity to become economically self-sufficient (Whitehead & Marrone, 1986). Additionally, sheltered workshop environments do not allow persons with mental retardation the opportunity to develop peer networks involving persons other than those with disabilities (Kiernan, 2000). Therefore, a sheltered workshop is less satisfactory as an outcome than competitive employment.
Various mediating variables affect the interests and outcomes for competitive employment for persons with disabilities, particularly those with mental retardation. An individual's ability to obtain and maintain competitive employment is influenced by the individual, his or her significant others, as well as types of VR services provided (Moore & Schroedel, 2000). Each of these variables interacts to either limit or increase the quality of employment opportunities. Devieger and Trach (1999) found that personal and parental involvement in the vocational rehabilitation process most often resulted in employment outcomes associated with self-employment and continuing education for consumers with mental retardation.
Conversely, school and agency personnel are factors inversely associated with employment outcomes of persons with mental retardation. Specifically, the efforts of school and agency personnel may be less effective for successfully transitioning students with mental retardation from school to work. School and VR agency personnel may not utilize best practices for transitioning students with mental retardation from school to competitive work. For example, individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with mental retardation are required for such students who are 16 years of age. Lichtenstein and Michaelides (1993) found, in a case study on school to work transition, that many students with mental retardation do not participate in their own IEP meetings. Moreover, the researchers reported that many IEPs for students with mental retardation stated goals addressing vocational education, job training, and post-secondary outcome. However, no short term objectives or even timelines were associated with the goals. Findings in a study by Devieger and Trach (1999) revealed that school and agency efforts most often resulted in sheltered employment.
Studies (i.e., Schalock, Kiernan, & McGaughey, 1993; Wehman, Kregel, & Seyfarth, 1985) have investigated the rates at which consumers with mental retardation achieve competitive lobs versus sheltered workshop employment. Schalock et al. (1993) found that a majority of participants were employed within a sheltered workshop setting. More specifically, 45% of the sample was employed in a sheltered workshop, 41% in a day activity, 9% in supported employment, 3% in time-limited training, and only 2% in competitive jobs.
Researchers (i.e., Moore, 1998; Moore, Feist-Price, & Alston, in press; Moore, Flowers, & Taylor, 2000) have likewise examined the impact of several consumer and service variables on level of income (i.e., weekly earnings at closure) for persons with mild and moderate mental retardation. …