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Wokability in California Help With Special Needs Students With Jobs

Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.

Eager to Work!

It's Friday and the party-supply store is busy. Luckily, there are plenty of hands behind the counter and throughout the store to help the owner of this small business handle the sudden surge of customers.

The students are eager, but there's something unique about them. It's not the looks; many look like your typical high school teen. Their work ethics vary, just like their peers. However, these students have disadvantages that would make them hard to employ.

These students have learning, behavioral, or developmental disorders. They may have mild to moderate conditions that make them capable at most jobs. Others have moderate to severe conditions that limit their employment options. In many cases, these students are the type that often struggle to find jobs.

So how did they get their jobs? It was done through the help of a work program coordinated by the local school district with the help of the California Department of Rehabilitation. The program is best known as Workability. However, this program is proving to be bridge between students with special needs and a success post-secondary career as member of the working force.

What is Workability?

Workability is a transitional program operating in California’s public school system. This particular program is an example of work-related education programs offered in other states. It is meant to help students with special needs find employment during their secondary school years, as well as preparing them for life after high school graduation.

According to the California Department of Education website, Workability (or its full name, Workability I) is described as a program in which “Students Learn to Earn.”

Its goal is to offer vocational training, job etiquette, and work experience to students.

The program got its start after a 1981 study by the California Department of Education. The study revealed that students with disabilities were not adequately prepared for the labor market after completing high school.

Later that same year, a pilot project was created to “test the concept of work experience for youth with disabilities.” (CDE, 2012). The project eventually paved the way for Workability.

Currently, Workability exists as a cooperation between several agencies. The public school district will work with the local department of rehabilitation to coordinate it. Several businesses – especially those eager to hire students with special needs – will take part in the program.

Its Intent

Contrary to popular belief among educators, the program is not designed to place students on a particular career path (there is another program for that). Its goal is to offer vocational training, job etiquette, and work experience to students. The training aspect services of this program are offered during their time in school.

Usually, these students will be assigned to:

  • clerical or service-oriented jobs;
  • work contracted hours per month; and
  • will be based on their grade level.

As an example of the latter, a freshman will be relegated to 50 hours per month. As he or she advances through the grades, his/her hours and pay (in some cases) will rise. By senior year – if he/she chooses to stay with the program, they may work close to part-time hours (again, this is based on the school district, state laws, and/or contract with local business).

Workability may not place a person in a career-type job, but it helps to steer them toward one through job training. Also, if possible, instructors and coordinator can place students in positions that will shadow a particular occupation.

This happens when the program coordinator places a student in business that matches his or her post-secondary career goals. Often, these goals are mentioned and recorded onto the students’ transition page of the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

One example of this is when a student states he/she wants to be a mechanic or mechanical engineer. The coordinator may be able to find a clerical or janitorial job at a firm or auto-shop where he or she can observe or job shadow a mechanic or engineer in action.

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Workability Around the Country

While this article focuses on California's system, Workability and other work programs do exist in other states. One such example is VESID in New York. Also, many of these programs are encouraged by the national law, Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA or its current incarnation IDEIA).

Usually, each state has a link to their special education and work programs through its state education website.

Usually, each state has a link to their special education and work programs through its state education website. These can be valuable tools in understanding the programs and knowing how to ensure students with disabilities can take part in this program.

Also, most, if not all school districts serving high school students will have information on it.

Eligibility

Eligibility for the program may vary from one district to another; however, there are some common features. Most notably, the students must be eligible for special education services.

In many cases, students:

  • Must have taken an inventory assessment. These assessments gauge a student’s job interest.Are in high school (in recent years, there has been a community college version put in place).
  • Have a minimum grade point average of 2.0 or passing most of their classes (not all districts do this, and doesn’t usually apply to students with intellectual or developmental disorders).
  • Have it listed as part of their transition goals in their IEP.

As mentioned, the pay scale is based on a contracted monthly basis. The checks are usually issued through the school district every month. A word of caution: this type of contract with businesses may vary throughout the state’s numerous school districts.

Additionally, in most programs, students with mild/moderate disabilities need to maintain 2.0 grade-point average (some districts have waived this).

Other Types of Work Programs

Workability I is one of many transition programs in the state. This includes Transition Partnership Program (TPP), which is usually intended for juniors and seniors who don’t plan to go to college or will not graduate (earn certificate or completion, instead) and plan to enter the job market after their final high school year.

Also, there is

  • Workability II (not be be confused with the one that exist in Australia's school system known as WORKability II), which is for college students with special needs – particularly community college students -- in California
  • Workability III -- similar to the previous Workability program, it is a partnership between the department of rehabilitation and California community colleges.
  • Workability IV -- a program offered by several California State universities and its office of student of disabilities (OSD).

Still, Workability I has been a pioneer and has been named one of the top-ten programs of its kind in the United States. Most importantly, the program is popular with students with disabilities who want to earn some money.

This can make or break a chance a student with special needs has for employment. Workability teaches students to understand and complete a job application. And that's just one job the coordinators of the program  perform.

This can make or break a chance a student with special needs has for employment. Workability teaches students to understand and complete a job application. And that's just one job the coordinators of the program perform.

Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor

Comments

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 12, 2014:

California is to be commended for implementing Workability and TTP Just how much better these students lives will be we may not even realize. In turn, society overall benefits. Thanks for reporting it to us.

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