Understanding the New Vision for Career Development: The Role of Family

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InfoBrief
NATIONAL COLLABORATIVE ON WORKFORCE AND DISABILITY FOR YOUTH
ISSUE 39 • MARCH 2014
The world of work has changed. A high school diploma alone no longer guarantees a decent living wage. A typical career path today does not necessarily follow the traditional course of high school, college, and long-term employment. Rather, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, with the workforce’s youngest employees staying less than 3 years. That means that they will have 15 to 20 jobs over their working lives. One reality of today’s workforce, however, that has remained the same is that youth need to develop skills to be employed. To be able to acquire these skills and effectively change jobs, and plan and manage multiple careers over one’s life time, career development skills are important. The process by which youth get to know their strengths and interests, learn how different jobs connect with those interests, and build these career planning and management skills is called career development.
By helping to support youth in making important informed decisions about their future, parents and other caring adults can contribute a great deal to their children’s post-high school success. For youth with disabilities in particular, families often play the very important roles of setting high expectations for youth’s future employment, and of advocating for opportunities for them to identify their strengths and interests and to explore career options. Families who learn about and begin the career development process with their youth early will be better prepared to support them in choosing and building a bright future. “Family” here is defined broadly as adults and children related biologically, emotionally, or legally, including single parents, blended families, unrelated individuals living cooperatively, and partnered couples who live with biological, adopted, and foster children.
It is important that families begin the discussion with the youth about choosing a career long before high school graduation. To facilitate this conversation and make it more productive, this brief provides information for families about the three phases of career development: self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management.
Understanding the New Vision for Career Development: The Role of Family
This Info Brief introduces families, including families of youth with disabilities, to a new way of looking at career development for youth. This brief discusses the three phases of career development, highlights Individualized Learning Plans as a tool for facilitating the career development process, and offers strategies on how families can be involved.
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Understanding the New Vision for Career Development: The Role of Family ISSUE 39 • MARCH 2014
Understanding “Career
Development”
Just as the world of work is constantly changing,
so is the process of work preparation. In the past,
people assumed that when youth graduated
from high school, they would have all the basic
skills necessary to move on to postsecondary
education or work. Some students were passive
participants in this process, and families generally
assumed that the secondary education system
was adequately preparing youth for college or to
go directly into employment.
For youth with disabilities at that time, career
development opportunities were bleak. Many
were limited by society’s low expectations of
them and the general belief that people with
disabilities did not have the capability or skills
to work towards a challenging career in a field
of their choice. Instead of basing the career
development process on the students’ interests
and skills, for youth with disabilities, as with many
other minority youth, career development was
likely to have been focused around stereotypical
assumptions of what the individual could and
could not do with an emphasis on mediating
against perceived deficits, rather than building
on the student’s strengths. Career development
for many youth with disabilities may have been
limited to transitioning to adult services or to
employment at a sheltered workshop, which
paid below-minimum wages. Neither of these
outcomes maximized independence or included
opportunities for personal and professional
growth.
Today, career development can empower all
youth, including those with disabilities, to take
an active role in shaping their futures, especially
with the support of their families throughout this
process. By engaging in a three-phased set
of personalized career development activities,
driven through an Individualized Learning Plan
(ILP), youth can identify and align their interests,
skills, and values with educational and skillbuilding
opportunities to ultimately become
career-ready.
Phase 1: Self-exploration
“Who am I?” This basic question can serve as
the first building block to youth finding a career
path. Before youth can identify their own career
goals, they need to find out about their interests,
strengths, and values. This self-awareness can
help guide youth throughout their lifetime of
exploring options and being successful on the
job.
Structured experiences outside of school can be
powerful for a student embarking on the selfexploration
phase. Consider Jermaine’s story:
Jermaine is a young man with a significant
learning disability. Jermaine’s parents have
always made sure Jermaine had a broad range
Self-
Exploration
Career
Exploration
Career
Planning &
Management
Career Development Phases
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Understanding the New Vision for Career Development: The Role of Family ISSUE 39 • MARCH 2014
of life experiences. They visited museums and
other important places in the community and
encouraged him to volunteer with them at the
local food bank. In 9th grade, Jermaine began
to take career interest and self-assessment
tests and learned that helping others is very
important to him. He discovered his strengths
in organization and logistics and his passion for
travel. As a result of his experiences with his
family and his early awareness of his strengths,
Jermaine identified working with food relief
programs as a career goal. He now focuses
many of his high school course choices on
information technology, social studies, and math.
Jermaine is excited about high school because
he is working toward an attainable goal that he
chose.
Self-exploration is crucial because it allows
students to discover who they are, what they
like to do, and what they need to do to reach
their goals. Many young people have frustrating
experiences in high school because they don’t
see how the coursework relates to their goals.
If students have opportunities to explore and
identify their specific interests, strengths, and
values, they are better prepared to construct
meaningful life goals. Having meaningful goals
in place promotes student engagement in their
education, and high school coursework takes on
new meaning and importance for them.
Families have a significant role to play in
providing students with quality self-exploration
opportunities. They can provide a variety of
activities outside of school, as Jermaine’s parents
did, that help youth shape an understanding
of who they are and what they are passionate
about. Families can also encourage youth
to take advantage of personal and career
interest activities while in school and help
them understand the value of being involved
in extracurricular activities and special interest
clubs. Establishing this interest base will help
youth channel their passion towards a goal,
realize their goal is attainable, and motivate
themselves to work hard towards it. If a youth
has a disability, families can help advocate
for enhanced self-exploration opportunities
and make sure those are reflected in the
Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Self-exploration activities can include
●● taking career interest assessments;
●● taking personal interest assessments;
●● identifying the student’s learning style;
●● identifying the student’s communication
style;
●● exploring how others see the student;
●● learning about the goal-setting process;
●● identifying strengths; and
●● visiting museums, theatres, or community
landmarks.
For more information on self-exploration
activities, see “Promoting Quality Individualized
Learning Plans: A “How-to Guide” referenced in
the Resources section of this brief.
“The evidence indicates that
students who become more
competent in self-exploration,
career exploration, and career
planning and management are
more motivated to attend school,
become confident learners,
actively set goals, and record
better grades.”
Promoting Quality Individualized Learning
Plans: A “How-to Guide” (2012)
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Phase 2: Career Exploration
Youth often have limited exposure to the kinds
of jobs that are available. They may observe
what their parents, relatives, and people in their
immediate social circle do and choose a similar
path, but this method usually offers a narrow
view of all possible options.
Through career exploration,
youth can learn more about
the full range of jobs that
may match their interests,
strengths, and values.
Career exploration gives
youth the opportunity to
identify personal career and
life goals that align with who
they are as individuals. If
self-exploration answers the
question, “Who am I?”, then
career exploration helps
answer, “Based on who I
am, what are some good
career options to explore?”
Career exploration is an
essential piece of the career
development process.
Often, youth may be able
to list careers they are
interested in, but can rarely
identify what education or
skills they would need to
work in that field. That’s why career exploration
activities should involve experiences in the school
and community that help young people to
1. identify how their interests, strengths, and
values relate to careers of interest;
2. describe the skills and activities associated
with those careers; and
3. identify the training and educational requirements
needed to successfully pursue
those careers.
Consider Mai’s story:
Mai is a high school junior who is on the autism
spectrum.Through the self-exploration process,
she became interested in pursuing a career in
the hospitality industry,
specifically event planning.
She soon realized that
she had little idea of what
an event planner does or
what type of education
and experience is needed
to become one. After
researching the job during
her career readiness class
at school, Mai can now
describe what skills and
education are necessary to
pursue her choice of career.
Her family recognized the
need for Mai to experience
the job firsthand, so they
helped arrange for her to
“shadow” a hotel event
planner. Her family also
requested an activity where
she planned her own mock
corporate event as part of a
school project. After these
experiences, Mai found a
local community college that offers a degree in
hospitality, and she plans to enroll there after she
graduates from high school.
Some common career exploration activities
include
●● informational interviews with employers;
●● career-related guest speakers;
●● workplace visits and tours;
These youth in Peckham’s careerfocused
Ready to Achieve Mentoring
Program are interested in health care
careers. They are learning about
opportunities in the field through a
career exploration scavenger hunt.
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●● job shadowing;
●● career fairs and career days;
●● career camps;
●● hands-on career projects; and
●● career-focused mentoring.
As with self-exploration, families have an
important role to play in advocating and
supporting quality career exploration for their
youth. Families can support career exploration in
several ways:
●● Communicate the expectation that their
youth will become employed. Youth are
more likely to be motivated to explore
possible careers if their families have high
expectations that they will be successful.
●● Learn about career preparation activities
offered in school, how student progress
is evaluated, and how this information is
shared with the family.
●● Help support their son or daughter in exploring
a wide range of career options by
visiting businesses in the community, job
shadowing, speaking to family and friends,
or bringing him or her to visit their own
place of employment.
●● Investigate quality websites that offer a
range of tools that help youth learn about
jobs.
●● Encourage youth to not only explore interesting
careers, including those they may
not have previously considered, but also to
learn about the education and skills required
for those careers.
●● Use connections from social and professional
networks to help identify real world
opportunities for youth to explore careers.
●● For youth receiving special education services,
make sure the IEP contains meaningful,
measurable activities around career
exploration. Help youth create a long-term
transition goal that reflects their intent to be
employed in a particular field or to pursue
postsecondary education related to their
chosen career.
●● Look for opportunities to introduce youth
to adults with jobs that are in their field of
interest or in the range of their own experience.
For example, a youth with a disability
may be motivated by observing an adult
with a disability in the workplace.
For more information, see the “Career
Exploration in Action” brief referenced in the
Resources section of this brief.
Phase 3: Career Planning and
Management
Career planning and management involves
developing employability and decision-making
skills and increasing the youth’s capacity to
navigate within the world of work, not just in
the short term but also throughout their lives.
Youth often struggle in employment because
they do not have the skills to easily manage the
basic day-to-day expectations of employers,
or the awareness that in a rapidly changing
job market, people need to adapt quickly to be
successful. Career planning and management
involves developing the skills needed to maintain
employability throughout the lifespan.
When a youth has found a career or careers he
or she is interested in pursuing, career planning
and management helps answer the question,
“What do I need to do now to make my goal a
reality?”
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Career planning and management activities
support students by helping them
1. acquire job search skills;
2. build career readiness skills; and
3. develop traits, work habits, and behaviors
that allow them to be effective in the work
place, and to continually seek new work
opportunities, therefore maximizing employability.
Activities for helping youth develop career
planning and management skills can be
organized into five areas. Families can use
this list to determine if their son or daughter is
receiving quality opportunities to build skills in
these key areas:
1. Job search skills: Obtaining employment
often requires youth to plan, practice, and
follow the standard job seeking process.
These skills include writing resumes and
cover letters, searching for job openings,
and developing interview techniques. Using
social, academic, and professional networks
are additional ways youth can find
opportunities and research companies of
interest. Youth with disabilities also need
to understand how and when to disclose
a disability to an employer. The services
available to youth with disabilities, such as
vocational rehabilitation, or to youth generally,
such as the Department of Labor’s
youth programs, can be a particular asset
in the job search process. Youth with disabilities
use the services to practice interviewing,
learning about professional dress,
and getting connected to other resources
they need to get a job.
2. Youth development and leadership:
Youth development, the process of growing
up and developing one’s skills, happens no
matter what we do. The challenge for families
and other caring adults is to promote
positive youth development and plan quality
experiences with young people. Positive
youth development engages youth within
their communities, schools, organizations,
peer groups, and families in a way that
recognizes, uses, and improves youths’
strengths. Such experiences ultimately lead
to purposeful, confident goal setting that
prepares the youth to meet the challenges
of adulthood, which can often include making
difficult decisions about one’s career.
Positive youth development experiences
lay the groundwork for positive long-term
outcomes for young people by providing
opportunities, building relationships, and
furnishing the support needed to build on
their leadership skills. Youth leadership can
take place through formal programs, informal
participation in school clubs and activities,
or community involvement. With these
activities, youth with disabilities may have
the opportunity to practice self-advocacy
skills that can be critical to their success
in the workplace in activities such as requesting
accommodations, determining job
tasks, and negotiating promotions.
3. Soft Skills: Success in the workplace
often entails being able to adhere to certain
social and interpersonal rules. Most
employees navigate these workplace rules
by using soft skills – communication, team
work, problem solving, networking, enthusiasm,
and professionalism. Youth who
lack soft skills may struggle with getting
along with co-workers, taking direction
from others, showing up to work on time,
or maintaining an appropriate appearance.
Youth need to understand the important
role of soft skills and be given opportunities
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to build skills in communication, teamwork,
and problem-solving.
4. Work-based learning: Interest in employment
or in specific careers needs to
be cultivated by exposing youth to actual
work experiences. These opportunities may
include career awareness activities or field
trips in elementary or middle school. In high
school, work-based learning experiences
should become more in-depth, offering
youth opportunities for internships or
school-based entrepreneurial projects. Paid
work experiences are particularly important
as research shows that the strongest
indicator of future adult employment is paid
work experience in high school. Youth with
disabilities can also use this time to explore
vocational rehabilitation as a possible
work-related support or supported employment.
They also need to consider what, if
any, job accommodations they may need.
Students who engage in work-based learning
have a deeper understanding about
careers and are able to set goals based on
their interests and real world experiences.
5. Financial Literacy: Students should
determine how much money they need to
earn to be self-sufficient and also learn how
to develop their financial goals. Financial
literacy skills can also set the stage for a
lifetime of responsible money management.
The graphic on Page 8 illustrates the types of
work-based learning experiences youth can
participate in.
Career planning and management skills greatly
helped Perry:
Perry is a high school senior who experienced a
traumatic brain injury as a child. Perry does not
require special education services, but he has
a 504 Plan that provides him with reasonable
accommodations during tests. Perry has long
been focused on pursuing a career in teaching.
He has good grades but his family is concerned
that he lacks the work habits and soft skills
needed for a career. Perry took a job skills class
as an elective. His family helped him access a
job search support group and acquire a summer
internship through the local American Job Center
(www.jobcenter.usa.gov). He also explored
possible job accommodations by visiting the Job
Benefits of Family
Involvement in Career
Development
Parents play an important role in their youth’s
career development, and the impact of that
involvement can be significant. According to
research commissioned by the U.S. Department
of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment
Policy, students whose parents are
involved in their career exploration and planning
are more actively engaged in school,
more open to change, and resilient when
facing challenges (Solberg & Gresham, forthcoming).
The research also suggests that family
involvement in career planning results in
higher
●● career search confidence and
advocacy;
●● academic confidence and advocacy;
●● connection with peers;
●● management of academic stress;
●● management of distress;
●● academic motivation; and
●● interpersonal connection with teachers.
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Accommodation Network website
(www.askjan.org). These experiences helped
Perry realize that it was his responsibility to work
hard and understand what was expected of him
as an employee. He learned the steps to take
for a successful job search, and he understands
the importance of keeping his skills up to date.
He has even begun to create a plan for future
education and training that will help him move up
the career ladder. Today, Perry feels confident
that he is ready to be successful in his first job.
Families can help youth make the connection
between identifying career interests and
preparing for a career in that area of interest.
By thinking back and recalling key experiences
and influences in their own career development,
motivation, and preparation, families may spark
ideas for a young person who is facing a similar
situation. To assist youth in the career planning
and management phase families can do the
following:
●● Investigate community programs and
school activities that provide youth with opportunities
to obtain hands-on work experience
and practice soft skills.
●● Find out if their son or daughter’s school
offers access to a career information system
and whether the youth is engaged in
Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) activities.
Work-Based Learning Experiences
Tours Students take part in employer-led tours of sites which provides students
with information on requirements of different jobs.
Job Shadowing Students make brief worksite visits to spend time with individual workers
to learn what their jobs entail.
Rotations Students work in a number of different departments or for different
employers to explore different occupations within an industry cluster.
Mentoring Students are paired with “adult peers” from the workplace who provide
guidance and encouragement on career-related, interdisciplinary projects.
Entrepreneurship Students create an alternate work program, are their own boss, earn
money, create a project, run their business, and earn high school credit.
Service Learning Students participate in unpaid work, geared to the public good, integrated
with school learning through projects or similar mechanisms.
Internships/
Co-Op
Students participate in paid work experience with employer, school
coordinator and student agreeing to follow training plan. Students take
vocational and work related classes at school.
Youth
Apprenticeship
The integration of academic instruction and work-based learning. The
student commits to one or two years of paid work experience in a specific
trade and is registered as a youth apprentice.
Graphic used with permission from the Minnesota Department of Education.
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These systems contain an electronic portfolio
for documenting youth career readiness
activities, skills, and accomplishments.
Alternatively, online resume and portfolio
systems, such as LinkedIn, can also allow
users to document their skills, accomplishments,
and certifications/credentials.
●● Use common activities in the home, like
making dinner, grocery shopping, or doing
chores to build work skills and soft skills
(see Resources section for NCWD/Youth
Info Briefs for tips).
●● Have discussions with their son or daughter
about work ethic and on-the-job expectations.
Reinforce these conversations by
holding high expectations for school work
and behavior at home.
●● Assist their youth with a disability in exploring
employment supports. These options
may include Vocational Rehabilitation,
community providers of supported employment
and independent living, and the local
American Jobs Center
●● Help youth with disabilities understand the
impact of employment opportunities on
their benefits, such as Social Security and
Medicaid benefits.
●● Help their youth draft a resume listing job
skills, paid and unpaid work experiences,
and a strong rationale for wanting to work
in a certain industry.
●● For youth with disabilities, participate in the
development of the Summary of Performance
(SOP) within their son or daughter’s
IEP. Make sure the school has documented
career and work-based learning experiences,
as well as recommendations for support
needs beyond high school.
Individualized Learning
Plans: Lending Structure to
the Process
Career development for youth often takes place
in informal ways. Career development activities
are not often documented and tracked consistently
like a youth’s academic activities are
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through course selection and report cards. Youth
in general education may have built skills to meet
certain career requirements, but they may not
have known if their efforts matched real world expectations.
For youth in special education, career
development may have appeared as “activities” in
their IEP, but their IEP may not have emphasized
developing the connection to the workplace or
specific careers, or emphasized the development
of skills needed for lifelong career opportunities.
Fortunately, Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs)
now provide students with a new way to direct
and track their career
development.
ILPs accomplish three
things. First, they help
youth identify career
and life goals. Second,
they help youth identify
the courses they need
to complete in high
school as well as the
out-of-school and workbased
learning opportunities
they need to pursue
their goals. Third,
they help youth carefully
evaluate and decide on
postsecondary training or education programs
they may wish to pursue in order to successfully
reach their career and life goals.
To date, 37 states and the District of Columbia
use some form of an Individualized Learning Plan
for students, although they may not use the term
ILP. For example, Connecticut has a “Student
Success Plan,” Oregon has an “Education Plan
and Profile,” and Missouri uses a “Personal Plan
of Study.” Parents are strongly encouraged to ask
their school if ILPs are currently being used and
how the plan information is shared with families.
ILPs can begin as early as middle school along
with appropriate career and self-exploration activities.
Students in special education who have an IEP
will benefit tremendously by engaging in ILPs.
One of the challenges to supporting youth with
disabilities is helping them and their family to
feel confident enough to advocate for the types
of learning opportunities and accommodations
needed to prepare them for post-school transitions.
The ILP helps youth and their family identify
career and life goals, which prepares them
to more effectively guide the transition planning
session during the IEP
meeting to focus on
the youth’s interests
and goals. States that
mandate ILPs are often
adding clarifying language
to ensure that
youth with disabilities
are included in ILP
activities and that the
information from the ILP
shapes transition planning
during the IEP.
Olivia is using her ILP
to help prepare for a
career:
Olivia is a high school junior with a moderate
intellectual disability and other health concerns.
She receives special education services in
school. Aside from her IEP, Olivia also has a
“Graduation Plan” or ILP like the other students in
her grade. Olivia’s parents have been talking to
her about her employment goals since she was
young, and she thinks a job working with medical
records would be interesting. Stating this goal on
her ILP has allowed Olivia to be thoughtful about
choosing which classes to take in high school
and has helped her identify the skills she needs
to work in that field. Olivia has documented her
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school experiences such as choir and student
council on her ILP along with relevant career
exploration activities. Her IEP includes goals and
activities that will help her build specific skills,
strengthen her academic performance, and identify
potential supports that would be helpful in the
community. Olivia is excited that her senior year
will be filled with activities such as job shadowing
and classes that will allow her to enroll in a postsecondary
program for medical record-keeping.
Olivia now understands the link between her education
and her long-term goals, and she appreciates
having an ILP to serve as her road map.
For more information on how ILPs can help students,
and a list of states currently using ILPs,
please visit www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp.
Conclusion
Today’s youth face a challenge in preparing for
an ever-changing world of work. For youth to find
a career path that interests and motivates them,
they should first engage in the three phases of
career development: self-exploration, career
exploration, and career planning and management.
Families who make career development a
high priority will help ensure their son or daughter
is adequately prepared to pursue his or her
postsecondary and employment goal immediately
after high school graduation and continuing
throughout adulthood. Families should also find
out if their school is using Individualized Learning
Plans, which can assist all youth in career development
starting as early as middle school. Because
ILPs identify career and life goals, they can
help youth with disabilities and their families in
developing their IEP transition plans. In addition,
they can help ensure that high school coursework
and activities are truly meeting their intended
purpose of preparing all youth to be college and
career ready.
Resources
PACER Center
www.pacer.org
Promoting Quality Individualized Learning
Plans: A “How-to Guide” Focused on the High
School Years
www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp/how-to-guide
Using Career Interest Inventories to Inform
Career Planning
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/using-career-interest-inventoriesto-
inform-career-planning
Career Exploration in Action
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/career-exploration-in-action
Engaging Youth in Work Experiences
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/engaging-youth-in-workexperiences
Helping Youth Build Work Skills for Job Success:
Tips for Parents and Families
www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief-34
Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job
Success: Tips for Parents and Families
www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief-28
Families who make career
development a high priority will
help ensure their son or daughter
is adequately prepared to pursue
his or her postsecondary and
employment goal immediately
after high school graduation and
continuing throughout adulthood.
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References
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2012). Career exploration in
action. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational
Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ncwdyouth.
info/innovative-strategies/practice-briefs/
career-exploration-in-action.
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2011). Engaging youth in
work experiences. Washington, DC: Institute for
Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/engaging-youth-in-workexperiences.
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2011). Using career
interest inventories to inform career planning.
Washington, DC: Institute for Educational
Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ncwdyouth.
info/innovative-strategies/practice-briefs/
using-career-interest-inventories-to-informcareer-
planning.
Solberg, V. S. (2010). Let us dream a dream
together. The Education and Career Guidance
Portal Launch. Presentation conducted in
Singapore.
Solberg, V. S., & Gresham, S. (Forthcoming).
Supporting transition readiness skills for students
with disabilities: Identifying what quality learning
experiences promote which self-determination
indicators.
Solberg, V. S., Wills, J., & Osman, D. (2012)
Promoting quality individualized learning plans:
A “how to guide” focused on the high school
years. Washington, DC: National Collaborative
on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute
for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://
www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp/how-to-guide.
The National Collaborative on
Workforce and Disability for Youth
(NCWD/Youth) is composed of
partners with expertise in disability,
education, employment,
and workforce development
issues. NCWD/Youth is housed
at the Institute for Educational
Leadership in Washington, DC.
NCWD/Youth is charged with assisting
state and local workforce
development systems to integrate
youth with
disabilities into
their service
strategies. This
Policy Brief
was written by
the PACER
Center. To obtain this publication
in an alternate format please contact
the Collaborative at 877-871-
0744 toll free or email contact@
ncwd-youth.info. This Policy Brief
is part of a series of publications
and newsletters prepared by the
NCWD/Youth. All publications will
be posted on the NCWD/Youth
website at www.ncwd-youth.info.
Please visit our site to sign up to
be notified of future publications.
This document was developed
by the National Collaborative
on Workforce and Disability for
Youth, funded by a grant/contract/
cooperative agreement from the
U.S. Department of Labor, Office
of Disability Employment Policy
(Number #OD-23804-12-75-
4-11). The opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect
the position or policy of the U.S.
Department of Labor. Nor does
mention of trade names, commercial
products, or organizations
imply the endorsement by
the U.S. Department of Labor.
Individuals may produce any part
of this document. Please credit
the source and support of federal
funds.
NCWD/Youth
1-877-871-0744 (toll-free)
contact@ncwd-youth.info
www.ncwd-youth.info
The world of work has changed. A high school diploma alone no longer guarantees a decent living wage. A typical career path today does not necessarily follow the traditional course of high school, college, and long-term employment. Rather, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, with the workforce’s youngest employees staying less than 3 years. That means that they will have 15 to 20 jobs over their working lives. One reality of today’s workforce, however, that has remained the same is that youth need to develop skills to be employed. To be able to acquire these skills and effectively change jobs, and plan and manage multiple careers over one’s life time, career development skills are important. The process by which youth get to know their strengths and interests, learn how different jobs connect with those interests, and build these career planning and management skills is called career development.
 
By helping to support youth in making important informed decisions about their future, parents and other caring adults can contribute a great deal to their children’s post-high school success. For youth with disabilities in particular, families often play the very important roles of setting high expectations for youth’s future employment, and of advocating for opportunities for them to identify their strengths and interests and to explore career options. Families who learn about and begin the career development process with their youth early will be better prepared to support them in choosing and building a bright future. “Family” here is defined broadly as adults and children related biologically, emotionally, or legally, including single parents, blended families, unrelated individuals living cooperatively, and partnered couples who live with biological, adopted, and foster children.
 
It is important that families begin the discussion with the youth about choosing a career long before high school graduation. To facilitate this conversation and make it more productive, this brief provides information for families about the three phases of career development: self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management.
 
 
 

Understanding “Career Development"

Just as the world of work is constantly changing, so is the process of work preparation. In the past, people assumed that when youth graduated from high school, they would have all the basic skills necessary to move on to postsecondary education or work. Some students were passive participants in this process, and families generally assumed that the secondary education system was adequately preparing youth for college or to go directly into employment.
 
For youth with disabilities at that time, career development opportunities were bleak. Many were limited by society’s low expectations of them and the general belief that people with disabilities did not have the capability or skills to work towards a challenging career in a field of their choice. Instead of basing the career development process on the students’ interests and skills, for youth with disabilities, as with many other minority youth, career development was likely to have been focused around stereotypical assumptions of what the individual could and could not do with an emphasis on mediating against perceived deficits, rather than building on the student’s strengths. Career development for many youth with disabilities may have been limited to transitioning to adult services or to employment at a sheltered workshop, which paid below-minimum wages. Neither of these outcomes maximized independence or included opportunities for personal and professional growth.
 
Today, career development can empower all youth, including those with disabilities, to take an active role in shaping their futures, especially with the support of their families throughout this process. By engaging in a three-phased set of personalized career development activities, driven through an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP), youth can identify and align their interests, skills, and values with educational and skillbuilding opportunities to ultimately become career-ready.
 

Phase 1: Self-exploration

“Who am I?” This basic question can serve as the first building block to youth finding a career path. Before youth can identify their own career goals, they need to find out about their interests, strengths, and values. This self-awareness can help guide youth throughout their lifetime of exploring options and being successful on the job.
 
Structured experiences outside of school can be powerful for a student embarking on the self-exploration phase. Consider Jermaine’s story:
 
Jermaine is a young man with a significant learning disability. Jermaine’s parents have always made sure Jermaine had a broad range of life experiences. They visited museums and other important places in the community and encouraged him to volunteer with them at the local food bank. In 9th grade, Jermaine began to take career interest and self-assessment tests and learned that helping others is very important to him. He discovered his strengths in organization and logistics and his passion for travel. As a result of his experiences with his family and his early awareness of his strengths, Jermaine identified working with food relief programs as a career goal. He now focuses many of his high school course choices on information technology, social studies, and math. Jermaine is excited about high school because he is working toward an attainable goal that he chose.
 
Self-exploration is crucial because it allows students to discover who they are, what they like to do, and what they need to do to reach their goals. Many young people have frustrating experiences in high school because they don’t see how the coursework relates to their goals. If students have opportunities to explore and identify their specific interests, strengths, and values, they are better prepared to construct meaningful life goals. Having meaningful goals in place promotes student engagement in their education, and high school coursework takes on new meaning and importance for them.
 
Families have a significant role to play in providing students with quality self-exploration opportunities. They can provide a variety of activities outside of school, as Jermaine’s parents did, that help youth shape an understanding of who they are and what they are passionate about. Families can also encourage youth to take advantage of personal and career interest activities while in school and help them understand the value of being involved in extracurricular activities and special interest clubs. Establishing this interest base will help youth channel their passion towards a goal, realize their goal is attainable, and motivate themselves to work hard towards it. If a youth has a disability, families can help advocate for enhanced self-exploration opportunities and make sure those are reflected in the Individualized Education Program (IEP).
 
Self-exploration activities can include
  • taking career interest assessments;
  • taking personal interest assessments;
  • identifying the student’s learning style;
  • identifying the student’s communication style;
  • exploring how others see the student;
  • learning about the goal-setting process;
  • identifying strengths; and
  • visiting museums, theatres, or community landmarks.
For more information on self-exploration activities, see “Promoting Quality Individualized Learning Plans: A “How-to Guide” referenced in the Resources section of this brief.
 

Phase 2: Career Exploration

Youth often have limited exposure to the kinds of jobs that are available. They may observe what their parents, relatives, and people in their immediate social circle do and choose a similar path, but this method usually offers a narrow view of all possible options. Through career exploration, youth can learn more about the full range of jobs that may match their interests, strengths, and values.
 
Career exploration gives youth the opportunity to identify personal career and life goals that align with who they are as individuals. If self-exploration answers the question, “Who am I?”, then career exploration helps answer, “Based on who I am, what are some good career options to explore?”
 
Career exploration is an essential piece of the career development process. Often, youth may be able to list careers they are interested in, but can rarely identify what education or skills they would need to work in that field. That’s why career exploration activities should involve experiences in the school and community that help young people to
  1. identify how their interests, strengths, and values relate to careers of interest;
  2. describe the skills and activities associated with those careers; and
  3. identify the training and educational requirements needed to successfully pursue those careers.
Consider Mai’s story:
 
Mai is a high school junior who is on the autism spectrum.Through the self-exploration process, she became interested in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry, specifically event planning. She soon realized that she had little idea of what an event planner does or what type of education and experience is needed to become one. After researching the job during her career readiness class at school, Mai can now describe what skills and education are necessary to pursue her choice of career. Her family recognized the need for Mai to experience the job firsthand, so they helped arrange for her to “shadow” a hotel event planner. Her family also requested an activity where she planned her own mock corporate event as part of a school project. After these experiences, Mai found a local community college that offers a degree in hospitality, and she plans to enroll there after she graduates from high school.
 
Some common career exploration activities include
  • informational interviews with employers;
  • career-related guest speakers;
  • workplace visits and tours;
  • job shadowing;
  • career fairs and career days;
  • career camps;
  • hands-on career projects; and
  • career-focused mentoring.
As with self-exploration, families have an important role to play in advocating and supporting quality career exploration for their youth. Families can support career exploration in several ways:
  • Communicate the expectation that their youth will become employed. Youth are more likely to be motivated to explore possible careers if their families have high expectations that they will be successful.
  • Learn about career preparation activities offered in school, how student progress is evaluated, and how this information is shared with the family.
  • Help support their son or daughter in exploring a wide range of career options by visiting businesses in the community, job shadowing, speaking to family and friends, or bringing him or her to visit their own place of employment.
  • Investigate quality websites that offer a range of tools that help youth learn about jobs.
  • Encourage youth to not only explore interesting careers, including those they may not have previously considered, but also to learn about the education and skills required for those careers.
  • Use connections from social and professional networks to help identify real world opportunities for youth to explore careers.
  • For youth receiving special education services, make sure the IEP contains meaningful, measurable activities around career exploration. Help youth create a long-term transition goal that reflects their intent to be employed in a particular field or to pursue postsecondary education related to their chosen career.
  • Look for opportunities to introduce youth to adults with jobs that are in their field of interest or in the range of their own experience. For example, a youth with a disability may be motivated by observing an adult with a disability in the workplace.
For more information, see the “Career Exploration in Action” brief referenced in the Resources section of this brief.
 

Phase 3: Career Planning and Management

Career planning and management involves developing employability and decision-making skills and increasing the youth’s capacity to navigate within the world of work, not just in the short term but also throughout their lives. Youth often struggle in employment because they do not have the skills to easily manage the basic day-to-day expectations of employers, or the awareness that in a rapidly changing job market, people need to adapt quickly to be successful. Career planning and management involves developing the skills needed to maintain
employability throughout the lifespan.
 
When a youth has found a career or careers he or she is interested in pursuing, career planning and management helps answer the question, “What do I need to do now to make my goal a
reality?”
 
Career planning and management activities support students by helping them
  1. acquire job search skills;
  2. build career readiness skills; and
  3. develop traits, work habits, and behaviors that allow them to be effective in the workplace, and to continually seek new work opportunities, therefore maximizing employability.
Activities for helping youth develop career planning and management skills can be organized into five areas. Families can use this list to determine if their son or daughter is receiving quality opportunities to build skills in these key areas:
 
  1. Job search skills: Obtaining employment often requires youth to plan, practice, and follow the standard job seeking process. These skills include writing resumes andcover letters, searching for job openings, and developing interview techniques. Usingsocial, academic, and professional networks are additional ways youth can find opportunities and research companies of interest. Youth with disabilities also need to understand how and when to disclose a disability to an employer. The services available to youth with disabilities, such as vocational rehabilitation, or to youth generally,such as the Department of Labor’s youth programs, can be a particular asset in the job search process. Youth with disabilities use the services to practice interviewing, learning about professional dress,and getting connected to other resources they need to get a job.
  2. Youth development and leadership: Youth development, the process of growing up and developing one’s skills, happens no matter what we do. The challenge for families and other caring adults is to promote positive youth development and plan quality experiences with young people. Positive youth development engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a way that recognizes, uses, and improves youths’ strengths. Such experiences ultimately lead to purposeful, confident goal setting that prepares the youth to meet the challenges of adulthood, which can often include making difficult decisions about one’s career. Positive youth development experiences lay the groundwork for positive long-term outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, building relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership skills. Youth leadership can take place through formal programs, informal participation in school clubs and activities, or community involvement. With these activities, youth with disabilities may have the opportunity to practice self-advocacy skills that can be critical to their success in the workplace in activities such as requesting accommodations, determining jobtasks, and negotiating promotions.
  3. Soft Skills: Success in the workplace often entails being able to adhere to certain social and interpersonal rules. Most employees navigate these workplace rules by using soft skills – communication, team work, problem solving, networking, enthusiasm, and professionalism. Youth who lack soft skills may struggle with getting along with co-workers, taking direction from others, showing up to work on time, or maintaining an appropriate appearance. Youth need to understand the important role of soft skills and be given opportunitiesto build skills in communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.
  4. Work-based learning: Interest in employment or in specific careers needs to be cultivated by exposing youth to actual work experiences. These opportunities may include career awareness activities or field trips in elementary or middle school. In high school, work-based learning experiences should become more in-depth, offering youth opportunities for internships or school-based entrepreneurial projects. Paid work experiences are particularly important as research shows that the strongest indicator of future adult employment is paid work experience in high school. Youth with disabilities can also use this time to explore vocational rehabilitation as a possible work-related support or supported employment. They also need to consider what, if any, job accommodations they may need. Students who engage in work-based learning have a deeper understanding about careers and are able to set goals based on their interests and real world experiences.
  5. Financial Literacy: Students should determine how much money they need toearn to be self-sufficient and also learn how to develop their financial goals. Financial literacy skills can also set the stage for a lifetime of responsible money management.
Career planning and management skills greatly helped Perry:
 
Perry is a high school senior who experienced a traumatic brain injury as a child. Perry does not
require special education services, but he has a 504 Plan that provides him with reasonable accommodations during tests. Perry has long been focused on pursuing a career in teaching. He has good grades but his family is concerned that he lacks the work habits and soft skills needed for a career. Perry took a job skills class as an elective. His family helped him access a job search support group and acquire a summer internship through the local American Job Center (www.jobcenter.usa.gov). He also explored possible job accommodations by visiting the Job Accommodation Network website (www.askjan.org). These experiences helped Perry realize that it was his responsibility to work hard and understand what was expected of him as an employee. He learned the steps to take for a successful job search, and he understands the importance of keeping his skills up to date. He has even begun to create a plan for future education and training that will help him move up the career ladder. Today, Perry feels confident that he is ready to be successful in his first job.
 
Benefits of Family Involvement in Career Development
 
Parents play an important role in their youth’s career development, and the impact of that involvement can be significant. According to research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, students whose parents are involved in their career exploration and planning are more actively engaged in school, more open to change, and resilient when facing challenges (Solberg & Gresham, forthcoming).
 
The research also suggests that family involvement in career planning results in higher
  • career search confidence and advocacy;
  • academic confidence and advocacy;
  • connection with peers;
  • management of academic stress;
  • management of distress;
  • academic motivation; and
  • interpersonal connection with teachers.
Families can help youth make the connection between identifying career interests and preparing for a career in that area of interest. By thinking back and recalling key experiences and influences in their own career development, motivation, and preparation, families may spark ideas for a young person who is facing a similar situation. To assist youth in the career planning and management phase families can do the following:
  • Investigate community programs and school activities that provide youth with opportunities to obtain hands-on work experience and practice soft skills.
  • Find out if their son or daughter’s school offers access to a career information system and whether the youth is engaged in Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) activities. These systems contain an electronic portfolio for documenting youth career readiness activities, skills, and accomplishments. Alternatively, online resume and portfolio systems, such as LinkedIn, can also allow users to document their skills, accomplishments, and certifications/credentials.
  • Use common activities in the home, like making dinner, grocery shopping, or doing chores to build work skills and soft skills (see Resources section for NCWD/Youth Info Briefs for tips).
  • Have discussions with their son or daughter about work ethic and on-the-job expectations. Reinforce these conversations by holding high expectations for school work and behavior at home.
  • Assist their youth with a disability in exploring employment supports. These options may include Vocational Rehabilitation, community providers of supported employment and independent living, and the local American Jobs Center (http://jobcenter.usa.gov/).
  • Help youth with disabilities understand the impact of employment opportunities on their benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid benefits.
  • Help their youth draft a resume listing job skills, paid and unpaid work experiences, and a strong rationale for wanting to work in a certain industry.
  • For youth with disabilities, participate in the development of the Summary of Performance (SOP) within their son or daughter’s IEP. Make sure the school has documented career and work-based learning experiences, as well as recommendations for support needs beyond high school.

Work-Based Learning Experiences (used with permission from the Minnesota Department of Education.)

  • Tours Students take part in employer-led tours of sites which provides students with information on requirements of different jobs.
  • Job Shadowing Students make brief worksite visits to spend time with individual workers to learn what their jobs entail.
  • Rotations Students work in a number of different departments or for different employers to explore different occupations within an industry cluster. 
  • Mentoring Students are paired with “adult peers” from the workplace who provide guidance and encouragement on career-related, interdisciplinary projects.
  • Entrepreneurship Students create an alternate work program, are their own boss, earn money, create a project, run their business, and earn high school credit.
  • Service Learning Students participate in unpaid work, geared to the public good, integrated with school learning through projects or similar mechanisms.
  • Internships/Co-Op Students participate in paid work experience with employer, school coordinator and student agreeing to follow training plan. Students take vocational and work related classes at school.
  • Youth Apprenticeship The integration of academic instruction and work-based learning. The student commits to one or two years of paid work experience in a specific trade and is registered as a youth apprentice.

Individualized Learning Plans: Lending Structure to the Process

Career development for youth often takes place in informal ways. Career development activitiesare not often documented and tracked consistently like a youth’s academic activities are through course selection and report cards. Youth in general education may have built skills to meet certain career requirements, but they may not have known if their efforts matched real world expectations. For youth in special education, career development may have appeared as “activities” in their IEP, but their IEP may not have emphasized developing the connection to the workplace or specific careers, or emphasized the development of skills needed for lifelong career opportunities. Fortunately, Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs) now provide students with a new way to direct and track their career development.
 
ILPs accomplish three things. First, they help youth identify career and life goals. Second, they help youth identify the courses they need to complete in high school as well as the out-of-school and workbased learning opportunities they need to pursue their goals. Third, they help youth carefully evaluate and decide on postsecondary training or education programs they may wish to pursue in order to successfully reach their career and life goals.
 
To date, 37 states and the District of Columbia use some form of an Individualized Learning Plan for students, although they may not use the term ILP. For example, Connecticut has a “Student Success Plan,” Oregon has an “Education Planand Profile,” and Missouri uses a “Personal Plan of Study.” Parents are strongly encouraged to ask their school if ILPs are currently being used and how the plan information is shared with families. ILPs can begin as early as middle school along with appropriate career and self-exploration activities.
 
Students in special education who have an IEP will benefit tremendously by engaging in ILPs. One of the challenges to supporting youth with disabilities is helping them and their family to feel confident enough to advocate for the types of learning opportunities and accommodations needed to prepare them for post-school transitions. The ILP helps youth and their family identify career and life goals, which prepares them to more effectively guide the transition planning session during the IEP meeting to focus on the youth’s interests and goals. States that mandate ILPs are often adding clarifying language to ensure that youth with disabilities are included in ILP activities and that the
information from the ILP shapes transition planning during the IEP.
 
Olivia is using her ILP to help prepare for a career:
 
Olivia is a high school junior with a moderate intellectual disability and other health concerns. She receives special education services in school. Aside from her IEP, Olivia also has a “Graduation Plan” or ILP like the other students in her grade. Olivia’s parents have been talking to her about her employment goals since she was young, and she thinks a job working with medical records would be interesting. Stating this goal on her ILP has allowed Olivia to be thoughtful about choosing which classes to take in high school and has helped her identify the skills she needs to work in that field. Olivia has documented her school experiences such as choir and student council on her ILP along with relevant career exploration activities. Her IEP includes goals and activities that will help her build specific skills, strengthen her academic performance, and identify potential supports that would be helpful in the
community. Olivia is excited that her senior year will be filled with activities such as job shadowing and classes that will allow her to enroll in a postsecondary program for medical record-keeping. Olivia now understands the link between her education and her long-term goals, and she appreciates having an ILP to serve as her road map.
 
For more information on how ILPs can help students, and a list of states currently using ILPs,
please visit www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp.
 

Conclusion

Today’s youth face a challenge in preparing for an ever-changing world of work. For youth to find a career path that interests and motivates them, they should first engage in the three phases of career development: self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management. Families who make career development a high priority will help ensure their son or daughter is adequately prepared to pursue his or her postsecondary and employment goal immediately after high school graduation and continuing throughout adulthood. Families should also find out if their school is using Individualized Learning Plans, which can assist all youth in career development starting as early as middle school. Because ILPs identify career and life goals, they can help youth with disabilities and their families in developing their IEP transition plans. In addition, they can help ensure that high school coursework and activities are truly meeting their intended purpose of preparing all youth to be college and career ready.
 

Resources

PACER Center
www.pacer.org
 
Promoting Quality Individualized Learning
Plans: A “How-to Guide” Focused on the High
School Years
www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp/how-to-guide
 
Using Career Interest Inventories to Inform
Career Planning
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/using-career-interest-inventoriesto-
inform-career-planning
 
Career Exploration in Action
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/career-exploration-in-action
 
Engaging Youth in Work Experiences
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/engaging-youth-in-workexperiences
 
Helping Youth Build Work Skills for Job Success:
Tips for Parents and Families
www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief-34
 
Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job
Success: Tips for Parents and Families
www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief-28

 

References 

 
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2012). Career exploration in
action. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational
Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ncwdyouth.
info/innovative-strategies/practice-briefs/
career-exploration-in-action.
 
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2011). Engaging youth in
work experiences. Washington, DC: Institute for
Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://
www.ncwd-youth.info/innovative-strategies/
practice-briefs/engaging-youth-in-workexperiences.
 
National Collaborative on Workforce and
Disability for Youth. (2011). Using career
interest inventories to inform career planning.
Washington, DC: Institute for Educational
Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ncwdyouth.
info/innovative-strategies/practice-briefs/
using-career-interest-inventories-to-informcareer-
planning.
 
Solberg, V. S. (2010). Let us dream a dream
together. The Education and Career Guidance
Portal Launch. Presentation conducted in
Singapore.
 
Solberg, V. S., & Gresham, S. (Forthcoming).
Supporting transition readiness skills for students
with disabilities: Identifying what quality learning
experiences promote which self-determination
indicators.
 
Solberg, V. S., Wills, J., & Osman, D. (2012)
Promoting quality individualized learning plans:
A “how to guide” focused on the high school
years. Washington, DC: National Collaborative
on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute
for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://
www.ncwd-youth.info/ilp/how-to-guide.
 
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) is composed of partners with expertise in disability, education, employment, and workforce development
issues. NCWD/Youth is housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, DC. NCWD/Youth is charged with assisting state and local workforce development systems to integrate youth with disabilities into their service
strategies. This Policy Brief was written by the PACER Center. To obtain this publication in an alternate format please contact the Collaborative at 877-871-0744 toll free or email contact@ncwd-youth.info. This Policy Brief is part of a series of publications and newsletters prepared by the NCWD/Youth. All publications will be posted on the NCWD/Youth website at www.ncwd-youth.info. Please visit our site to sign up to be notified of future publications. This document was developed by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, funded by a grant/contract/cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (Number #OD-23804-12-75-4-11). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organization simply the endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor. Individuals may produce any part of this document. Please credit the source and support of federal funds. NCWD/Youth 1-877-871-0744 (toll-free) contact@ncwd-youth.info www.ncwd-youth.info

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