Special education is designed to prepare students for life beyond the classroom setting. The teaching of vocational skills is intended to set up the student for success after secondary education. Through vocational skills training, students will learn how to prepare for a job, find a job, apply for a job and excel at a job.
Pre-Vocational Skills for Students with Disabilities
From as early as elementary school, a special needs student is preparing for future employment by learning pre-vocational skills. These job-readiness skills help students to focus on the tasks at hand, use their time to their benefit, interact with fellow students and faculty and follow directions.
Pre-vocational skills for students with disabilities include:
- Time management
- Problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Personal hygiene and appearance
- Responsibility and integrity
- Attitude and demeanor
Vocational Skills for Students
By the time the student has reached his final years of high school, he should have established a good set of vocational skills. Vocational skills examples include:
- Work readiness
- Interview and job search skills
- Social and communication skills
- Task analysis
- Career choice
Beyond Vocational Skills
Once a person with special needs or disabilities is hired, she will be trained for the position, or she will train in a vocational school to excel in a chosen career field. Before someone slips the application into the mail or across the desk or counter, she should have been working on the personal skills that will make her an ideal candidate for the job she hopes to snag.
Vocational skills for special needs students can vary depending on what industry they hope to enter. Any position that requires the employee to interact with the public or clients will expect the employee to dress accordingly and present herself in a helpful, pleasant and informative manner. The more a special needs student can practice personal skills, such as greeting strangers appropriately and maintaining eye contact, the greater her chances of being hired.
Industries to Consider
Students with disabilities can offer a valued set of skills in a wide variety of industries, from retail to clerical. After students with special needs graduate from high school or reach the age to legally work, they should consider which industry they would prefer. If they have a penchant for fashion and folding, a retail job may be a perfect fit. Someone who is adept at arranging and sorting may find a clerical position to be highly rewarding.
Retail Skills for Employment
Retail industry jobs may require the employee to button shirts, fold towels or large items, match and sort bundles of clothing and arrange them by size. A vocational skill a special needs student can hone before applying is to learn the jargon of the industry and to practice basic requirements of the position, such as buttoning, hanging and arranging clothing.
Clerical Position Readiness
Vocational skills for clerical positions include stuffing and sealing envelopes, stapling and sorting packets of papers, folding paper neatly into halves and thirds, filing by a numerical and alphabetical system, labeling envelopes and preparing them for the mail.
Food Service Fundamentals
The food service industry requires its employees to sort, fold and bag napkins and utensils, be able to count out change, set a table or tray and arrange boxing or bagging materials among other food service tasks.
Jobs in the Grocery Industry
Students set on working in the grocery retail industry should be prepared to sort hard and soft items into different bags, separate cold and hot products, stock the shelves, open and tear down boxes and clean up wet and dry spills. This can be a physically challenging job involving a lot of lifting and standing.
- U.S. Department of Education: Assistance to States for the Education of Children With Disabilities
- National Association of School Psychologists: NASP Resources
- Paula Bliss's Special Education Resources: School To Work – Resources to Teach Workplace Readiness Skills
- Paula Bliss's Special Education Resources: Work Behavior Training Strategies
- Therapro: I Can Work! A Work Skills Curriculum for Special Needs Programs
- DonorsChoose.org: Pre-Vocational Skills for Students with Disabilities
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.