Preparing for life after high school can be an exciting time for some and a time of uncertainty for others. There are many options and opportunities for young adults after high school, and all of these options require career exploration and research. Helping students to reach their career aspirations requires careful, thoughtful, and early planning.
Unfortunately, planning for entering the workforce is simply not enough for many students. Compared to persons without disabilities, persons with disabilities are at a higher risk for unemployment as well as for underemployment, lost productivity in the workplace, and reduced quality of life. Many students with disabilities drop out of high school before graduating, leaving them even more unprepared for the world of work. In order to narrow the unemployment and underemployment gap for persons with disabilities, we need to support high academic achievement for all students, align courses of studies to include career readiness activities, employability skills and technical, job-specific skills, and provide quality employment activities and experiences to students while in high school.
“A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” –Colin Powell
How can we better prepare students to meet employer standards and exit school with the credentials to be competitive in today’s economy? To answer this question, we need to understand the concept of career readiness. The Association for Career and Technical Education states that career readiness involves three major skill areas: core academic skills, employability skills, and technical, job-specific skills related to a particular career pathway. When preparing students for the outcome of employment, we have to determine students’ academic strengths and needs and their ability to apply these skills to concrete situations. It is also important to identify the employability skills necessary for getting, keeping, and being successful in a job. Lastly, career readiness preparation should allow students the opportunity to explore career interests and preferences in order to select a career pathway based on their career cluster choice. All students, no matter what their support needs are, should have a systematic plan to build upon their career readiness skills, career interests, and job skills to meet the requirements of today’s job market.
So how do we know what skills are needed to be prepared for today’s workforce? Virginia has created a comprehensive list of 21 skills, called Virginia’s Workplace Readiness Skills, which is based on employers’ input on needed skills in the workplace. The standards and resources are available to educators to ensure that students are provided with the tools to be successful in any specific career area. Every CTE course in Virginia introduces, instructs, and assesses these standards to provide relevant and rigorous content for career readiness. Questions you should ask yourself when monitoring student progress towards career readiness include: Are you aware of your students’ performance in their CTE classes? Does each student's course of study include a career readiness curriculum? Are students accessing the relevant workplace readiness skills? Are their work-based learning experiences incorporating these skills?
Transition Planning to Improve Employment Outcomes
We can assist with improving the employment outcomes for our students by developing a solid transition Individualized Education Program (IEP). It is well understood that preparation for the transition from high school to postsecondary education, employment, and independent living must begin early. By age 14, we must engage in discussions regarding the types of course work, learning activities, and experiences that students will need to develop basic work skills. For whatever postsecondary environment a student wishes to pursue, we must assess their skills annually to guide them in developing interests and preferences and we must assist them in understanding their support needs in a work environment. Plotting and planning for each step along the way is critical. Remember, participation in career and technical education classes, experiences that offer occupationally-specific instruction, and/or work-based experiences in the community may be required for certain diploma options.
Don’t forget that identifying students’ support needs and linking their families to the appropriate agencies is another critical component of the transition IEP. These needs must be met through coordinated planning among students, parents, special educators, general educators, and community service agencies. If we maintain high expectations for all students and provide the supports to help them meet their individual postsecondary goals, then we are on the right path to increasing positive outcomes.