Work Experience

Transition planning can significantly increase the chances of post-school success for students with disabilities. Specifically, research has repeatedly underscored the importance of vocational exploration and competitive employment before leaving high school.


Test et al. (2009) looked at 22 studies to identify predictors of improved post-school outcomes in education, employment, or independent living. Among the four items showing the strongest correlation to improved employment outcomes were work experience/paid employment, vocational education, and work study. Along with other factors, Carter, Austin, and Trainor’s (2011) analysis of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 found that holding a community-based job in high school and higher parent expectations related to future work were associated with increased odds of employment after school for young adults with severe disabilities. Among SSI recipients, Hemmeter et al. (2009) found that early work experience appears to correlate with post-age-18 employment outcomes. High earners at age 19 were most likely to have had high earnings pre- age 18 and those not employed were least likely to have high pre-age-18 earnings. Fraker ‘s (2011) review of preliminary results from the Social Security Administration's youth transition demonstration pilot project in the Bronx also found that more intensive employment services, including direct placement in paid summer jobs, had a significant positive impact on employment of 9 percentage points.


The expectation and value of work was corroborated by 22 former California SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries in individual interviews or focus groups (Compton, 2012). Work experience in any form taught participants valuable hard and soft skills, and developed a sense of confidence in their ability to succeed on the job. It also provided numerous benefits in addition to gains in self-confidence. Through work experience, these former beneficiaries were able to engage in job exploration, asking themselves if the work they were doing was the kind they would be happy to do for the rest of their careers. They were able to utilize and experiment with assistive technology and identify any reasonable accommodations they would need when transitioning to full-time employment. Internships helped build their work stamina, so that full-time employment could become a reality for them at some point. Work experiences also gave them a taste of purchasing power and this taste often blossomed into a full-blown craving for independence and self-sufficiency. In addition, the participants expressed that their work history was an important motivator and influence and that once they tasted the satisfaction and fulfillment that came from work, they would not be satisfied with less.


As the responses of the focus group participants makes clear, students want to learn to work and be independent. The more public and private entities can work together to provide opportunities for them to do so, the more likely students are to succeed.



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Idea No. 401