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Transitioning Students with Special Needs into the Workplace

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Vocational Rehabilitation helps students discover their abilities, passions, and drive while leading them towards independence through gainful employment

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It is a question asked 1,000 times until students reach a stage in high school where they must develop plans to achieve those goals. But what if you have an IEP, 504 Plan, or a documented disability? Any student who falls under this category is eligible for free programs through the State of Florida. These programs can help to discover a viable career path and can build a foundation towards a successful transition from high school to college to work to adult life.

The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a Federal-State funded program under the Florida Department of Education. Its mission is to help people with disabilities find and maintain employment and enhance their independence. VR works with clients to establish an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE). This plan can include vocational training and certifications, college education, job coaching, job placement, and job accommodations, to name a few. Depending on the situation, continuing education (including college) may even be paid for by the State of Florida through VR services.

VR’s Transition Youth Services is a program to provide students ages 14-21 with the tools, training, and guidance necessary for the workplace. Services and support are administered by service providers in the area through career exploration, work readiness training programs, self-advocacy classes, and job training experiences within  the community. 

Career exploration is used to explore interests, job titles, and labor market information in order to help students make informed decisions regarding their long-term career goals.

A vocational evaluation is conducted to identify the student’s strengths, skills, and abilities, which may help them succeed in furthering their education after high school or in a work environment. The vocational evaluation may include interest inventories, academic and IQ assessments, and skills assessments. Evaluation results are used to develop recommendations for continued education, training, and/or potential job goals. 

Work readiness training programs, such as self-advocacy, prepare students to better identify and communicate their strengths, abilities, and needs. The focus is on self-exploration and awareness resulting in increased self-confidence and a greater sense of independence.

Pre-placement training classes are taught in-person or virtually. These classes teach students job-seeking skills including where to look for a job, how to complete applications, dressing for an interview, interview preparation, and more. Students learn various ways to look for employment, how to complete applications, appropriate follow-up, onboarding, and what to expect when beginning a new job. It’s an inspiring and engaging course that prepares students for the job search process.

At the conclusion of the program, students possess a better understanding of their strengths, skills, and abilities, and they know how to discuss their disability more confidently. Through this program, students also craft a résumé and are provided with information on community resources.

In addition, Work-Based Learning Experience (WBLE) or On-the-Job Training (OJT) provides students with the opportunity to gain real-world job experience at various businesses throughout the community. Students are paid a competitive wage, and the wages and workers’ compensation are covered by the State of Florida. Students complete onboarding, learn how to adhere to schedules and time clocks, follow directives by managers, and gain transferable skills. Training is provided by the employers, and additional job coaching support is conducted by qualified employment specialists, if needed.

The first step to take advantage of these programs is to enroll in VR by filling out a referral form. The form can be found at RehabWorks.org. A counselor will be assigned to help determine programs that meet the needs of the student. VR will then connect you with an approved service provider who will work with the student (at no cost to the family) to provide the training and support necessary to help them reach their goals.

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