Work-Based Learning: Students with Disabilities Succeeding in Education and Employment. (Work & Education)

Article excerpt

High school students may think they have plenty of time to decide on their career paths and acquire the skills they will need to market themselves successfully. They may also believe that completing a college or job training program will guarantee them a job. This is not true in every situation.

As future employees, students with disabilities face unique challenges. Like other students, they need to find a way to meet the specific qualifications of the desired job. They also need to demonstrate transferable skills--in other words, skills acquired through education and previous work experiences that can transfer to a new employment situation. Transferable skills include communication, trouble-shooting, decision-making, leadership, and problem-solving. These are some of the skills that cross jobs, career, and industries.

WHAT CAN STUDENTS DO TO DEVELOP A SUCCESSFUL CAREER PLAN AND MAKE THEMSELVES ATTRACTIVE TO FUTURE EMPLOYERS?

Students with disabilities need to start exploring their career interests and developing their job skills now! Career planning and preparation should begin upon entering high school and occur throughout post-secondary studies. Students do not need to settle on one area to pursue right away; they can change directions. However, they need to prepare for the long run--for their lifelong career or multiple careers. In today's competitive job market it is essential that workers possess skills and relevant job experience that will set them apart from everyone else. One way to start narrowing career interests and developing job skills is through work-based learning experiences.

WHY SHOULD STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES PARTICIPATE IN WORK-BASED LEARNING?

Work-based learning experiences help all students choose careers, network with potential employers, select future courses of study, and develop job skills directly relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of study and work experience, students can enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation.

SPECIFICALLY, WORK-BASED LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES CAN HELP A STUDENT:

* clarify academic and career interests;

* fun education expenses;

* gain academic credit;

* apply practical theories from classroom work and develop human relations skills through interaction with co-workers;

* gain exposure to specialized facilities not available on campus;

* develop job-search skills, resumes, and cover letters;

* identify career assistance programs; and

* develop contacts for employment after graduation.

For students with disabilities, work-based learning offers additional benefits. Participating in a work experience can give them a chance to determine if they can perform the essential functions of a particular job with or without a reasonable accommodation. It also gives them a chance to practice disclosing their disability and requesting accommodations from an employer. In addition, they can test which accommodations work best for them. These experiences are critical in that they enable students with disabilities to develop the confidence and self-advocacy skills needed to successfully pursue higher education and challenging careers.

Many high schools and post-secondary institutions offer work-based learning activities to their students. Below are descriptions of typical activities and services they may offer for students.

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW

Informational interviews help students gain personal insight into their career interests from the people who do those jobs every day. These interviews let students meet with people working in their field of interest to ask questions about their particular occupations, qualification requirements, or companies.

JOB SHADOWING

Job shadowing provides students with a realistic view of one or more occupations. …

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