Sunday, May 27, 2012

Faciltating work experiences for youth in transiton

The Way to Work: How to Facilitate Work Experienced for Youth in Transition by Richard Luecking

This book is packed with lots of information for the transition service provider. It is likely to a) overwhelm parents or b) frustrate them. It is very information dense, and thus may present challenges for those without a good foundation in the field. It may frustrate them because, as a professional, I have never seen the type of quality services described. Trained transition practitioners are not thick upon the field and school to work programs are not facilitated by the high academic demands and focus of a typical high school education.

For those of you who say that the five paragraph essay is a thing of the past, I give you this book. While each chapter is longer than five paragraphs, the author clearly follows the approach of: introduction with a thesis at the end that explains the big points of the chapter, body paragraphs with clear topic sentences and description, conclusion that restates the information of each point. It is straightforward, well-organized and clear enabling a reader to identify the key features even if interrupted mid-read.

The chapters give a learning lab opportunity at the end to do research and develop skills in the areas discussed. Clear charts and graphics emphasize and summarize information. Vignettes highlight programs that were and were not successful for students with disabilities, why they worked or didn't and suggestions for programing others. Forms to help engage in the various activities are found thorough out the book. These features are well developed and useful.

"Work is good." That is the theme of the text. Youth need jobs. Even individuals with significant physical or emotional disabilities can hold jobs. It is up to the transition professional to identify, develop skills, and support experiences that will lead the youth from school to work. Of critical importance is partnering with families. Families know their children, provide support and resources that make work experience possible, and have great impact on their children.

I thought the chapter on planning for work experiences which detailed developing a Positive Personal Profile (PPP) for each individual was particularly useful. This is critical because it helps identify strengths, skills, weaknesses, and interests that are used to match a job experience to an individual. Using "standard" or established work experiences is likely to fail with many people because it does not take into consideration the elements identified in the PPP. Although this means that transition professionals need to continue to develop relationships with new employers, to teach a variety skills and to work at diverse work sites, the goal of building successful relationships that the student can learn from and potentially achieve employment with requires this extra step.

The other critical reading step was the discussion on revealing the disability or not. The author strongly argues that this is a decision for the individual not the professional. Students need to be informed of the pros and cons of disclosure. They need to be in agreement about what elements are disclosed. They need to be on board with when disclosure occurs. While a wheelchair or blindness will likely be self-evident, it remains the student's choice regarding what to disclose. For "hidden" disabilities such as learning disabilities, autism or emotional disabilities, the choice may be more difficult. Students need to understand their disabilities, PPP and what supports they need to be successful. Lack of a willingness to disclose, does not mean a transition professional should not be involved. It does mean the involvement is more delicate to negotiate.

Transition professionals need to understand the difference between work and school. School is required to teach and work with everyone. Employers are not. There are significant legal limitations on what volunteers can be allowed to do. Katherine McCary, vice president of SunTrust Bank, is quoted as saying, "I am surprised to keep hearing that employers need to step up to the plate and do their part. It seems to me that people who say this do not understand business" (p. 207). School personnel need to understand the different objectives they have from employers and need to appreciate the employer point of view when they interact. Businesses are not philanthropic organizations; they operate to make money. If transition specialists want to be successful, they need to appreciate this and operate from a business viewpoint, not an educational viewpoint. This should be reflected in the expectations, dress and language the transition professional uses.

Early and often students need exposure to a variety of workplace environments to better understand both expectations and opportunities. Work experiences can motivate youth in school and provide a platform for teaching curriculum. Creative teaching and scheduling will need to be engaged in to meet the needs of students. As teachers, we need to embrace the world outside our classrooms and help our students learn the skills they need to be successful.

Educational professionals working with students at the secondary level will benefit from this book. Seeing some of the best practices can help them advocate for better practices for their students. It cannot be left just for students with significant needs- the high rate of unemployment among all individuals with disabilities demonstrates the folly of that approach. Nor can it only be the realm of the transition or outside agency. Teachers need to embrace this challenge to help our students become successful and independent adults.

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