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Preparing Youth for Employment Success

Connecting Youth to Careers

This video follows Jessica from 9th grade through her senior year as she explores her strengths and interests, gains work experience and finds her career pathway. It covers self-awareness, career research and career planning activities. It also answers questions about what parents can do to help launch their teen on a successful career path.

What Parents Can Do Now

Getting a first job and working towards a career is an exciting time of life for youth and their parents. When the young person has a disability, there will likely be challenges to overcome as well. Follow the tips in this guide to provide the support your teen or young adult needs to launch into the world of work. 

1. Communicate your high expectations for employment

Research shows that youth with disabilities whose parents expected them to find a job and be self-supporting in the future were employed at significantly greater rates as adults than youth whose parents did not. Values and attitudes are more likely to be “caught than taught,” so be intentional about how you talk at home about work and its importance. Look for natural opportunities to help your youth recognize their strengths and interests and point out connections to careers paths. Ask the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor about work exploration and mentorship opportunities. Help your teen discover possibilities for meaningful employment by sharing success stories of individuals who have disabilities.

2. Teach and reinforce foundational work skills

Parents can take the lead in the development of many of the “soft skills” employers highly value. These skills include initiative; self-management and problem-solving skills; organizational and technology skills; and communication, interpersonal and teamwork skills. Starting at a young age, give your child responsibilities at home and help them to view going to school as their “job.” The skills required to be successful at school such as showing up on time each day, following a schedule, completing assignments within timelines, interacting well with classmates, and taking direction from those in charge are all essential skills that will transfer to the workplace.

3. Promote paid work experiences during high school

Many teenagers work part-time after school, on weekends, or during the summer to earn money and in the process gain valuable work and life skills. Parents often have a great deal of influence over whether or not their youth with a disability pursues employment, and at what age. It’s important to know that studies show that students with disabilities who had paid work experiences while in high school were almost three times more likely to find a job after high school than youth who never worked. Young teens can start by asking neighbors or family friends if they need help with small jobs, such as washing cars or walking dogs. Local small businesses your family frequents may welcome part-time or seasonal help. Internships, job shadowing, and structured volunteer work can also be valuable. Ask the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor and the IEP team about Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). Real world work opportunities enable youth to make informed choices about their career plans, expand their social networks, and gain the confidence they need to pursue their goals for the future.

4. Learn about important “equal opportunity” laws and rights

The protections and services a student receives under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will come to an end when they receive their high school diploma. It is important for you and your young person to understand the laws that will provide the protections, rights, and supports they may need as adults living, learning, and working in the community. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the major law affecting employment. If an individual has an impairment that “substantially limits a major life activity” and is qualified to do a job, the ADA protects them from job discrimination on the basis of their disability. It will be important for youth to understand the impact of their disability and to understand their individual rights and responsibilities. For more information about the ADA and other laws click on the link below.

5. Discuss disability disclosure and requests for accommodations

Parents can prepare youth to be effective self-advocates by helping them become more comfortable talking about their disability and what they need to be successful. Not all individuals with disabilities will require or be eligible for accommodations in the workplace. If their disability is not obvious to others, they will need to choose whether or not to disclose the disability and when and how to do so. Some individuals will need accommodations from the employer in order to apply and interview for a job, while others may not need them until after they are hired. Youth need to carefully consider the accommodations they will require to successfully carry out the job responsibilities and be prepared to make a request to the employer. Examples of accommodations include:

Use the practical tips about disability disclosure and specific examples of workplace accommodations in the resources below to generate family discussions.

6. Explore assistive technology (AT) for productivity and independence

Technology makes it possible for those who have disabilities to have higher levels of independence and jobs once thought impossible. Technology skills are also seen as a highly valued asset by employers. Depending on your youth’s strengths, abilities and the specific task, it is likely that there are assistive technology tools to increase autonomy and proficiency. Screen readers, speech-to-text software, alarms or timers, active seating and positioning, audio-recorded instructions, checklists and note-taking apps are commonly used in the workplace. Smartphones and other personal devices make technology portable and almost instantly accessible not only for job tasks, but for accessing transportation and navigating new environments. Explore the resources below to learn ways to tap into technology during the transition to adulthood.


7. Focus on more than academics

Encourage your young person to have a well-rounded educational experience by incorporating a variety of activities into their schedule. Research has shown that physical recreation, including sports and other extracurricular and leisure activities, builds confidence and is important in the formation of skills that are needed to navigate unfamiliar environments and to engage in teamwork on the job. Extracurricular activities are also a favorable factor in the college acceptance process and on resumes for employment. In spite of concerns about safety you may have, try to be open to the possibilities. Learn about the extensive accommodations and supports that are incorporated into adaptive sports and recreation activities. Before making a decision about participation, try to observe first-hand and talk to other families about their experiences. Check out the resources below and ask the IEP team about opportunities in your local community.

8. Encourage social and community connections

Employment experts say that 70% or more of people found their current position as a result of networking. Parents can use their personal and family networks and encourage youth in exploring their own networks of friends, acquaintances, teachers, coaches, and others to make job connections. Once employed, the work setting can be a great place for a young adult to meet new people. Encourage your young person to get to know their coworkers. Positive connections in the workplace can increase work happiness, sustain motivation, and provide the natural supports needed to succeed on the job. In addition, the work location may provide new opportunities to explore the surrounding area during lunch or before or after work, enlarging your youth’s social network.

9. Offer your ongoing support

While your parental role changes when your child reaches adolescence, it does not end. As you shift from lead decision-maker to that of an advisor, coach, and mentor, continue to be involved in IEP meetings. Model advocacy skills, encourage self-determination, and facilitate informed decision-making. Perhaps the most important way parents help youth during their years of emerging independence is by providing emotional support and a “safe place to land.” Youth often just need someone to listen to them and validate their feelings, and parents can be a sympathetic sounding board. Rather than immediately intervening when youth encounter challenges, take a step back and encourage them to practice using their problem-solving skills.  A reminder such as, “This is hard, but you can do hard things,” conveys your confidence in their ability to rise to the challenge. Take time to share about your own early work experiences and communicate the inevitability of making mistakes as a natural and valuable part of the learning and growing process.

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