Teaching and Reinforcing Pre-Employment Skills for Special Needs Students

By Jessica Searcy Kmetty

My 15-year-old son, Tyler started his first ever job at McDonald’s a couple of weeks ago. It’s been entertaining to hear his anecdotes about how each shift has gone when he comes home. Some of his stories have me thinking about all of the skills he’s been taught that have now become the cornerstone of job readiness for him.

Most of us take pre-employment skills for granted, but for students with disabilities, these skills are often not learned through osmosis, but rather, they have to be explicitly taught.

These skills might include basic hygiene, dressing and self-care, managing time and travel. Some of these skills can be trained and reinforced at home, while others might be able to fold into a child’s IEP.

While in school students can learn to dress for a job interview and how this might differ from more casual dress at home. My neurotypical 14-year-old daughter is learning about professional dress in her education professionals class in high school, so this may be a life skill that all teenagers should be taught.

Managing time is something that needs to be reinforced at school and at home.

Once a child learns the basics of telling time, they can learn time management. Parents can reinforce helping children set alarm clocks or smart phones and helping them to get themselves up in the morning. If a child has a particular activity they participate in (maybe a weekly music lesson or a monthly appointment), you can help them by teaching them how much time it takes to get ready, leave the house, and to drive to their activity. The more opportunities they have to master this skill, the more likely they will be to become proficient.

Travel training is also an essential pre-employment skill.

The key to making travel training useful for the child is not just a fixed routine (e.g., teaching them to get from location A to location B and back again) but how to manage contingencies. What happens if your ride doesn’t show up? Who do you call? Who do you inform? What are the next steps?

Aside from home and school, you may wish to utilize resources available through one-stop partners defined under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) that congress passed in 2014. These partners offer skills assessments, evaluation of employment barriers and appropriate employment goals, development of an employment plan, group counseling, individual counseling, career planning, short-term pre-vocational services, internships, and work experiences linked to careers, workforce preparation activities and financial literacy services. There’s really a lot of services offered!

Look for year-round or summer programs that offer opportunities for your child to gain soft employment skills like punctuality, grooming, travel training, etc. If your kids are anything like mine, they tend to enjoy learning things from others more than learning them from their parents, so tap into as many resources as you can.

Without a solid foundation, Tyler may never have even gotten an opportunity to land his new job. His interviewer openly indicated that he was impressed that Tyler (1) showed up on time, well dressed for an interview, (2) shook his hand, and (3) made eye contact. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference in getting the job offer and/or getting paid a little higher hourly rate.

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Published for the blog on December 16, 2021 by Searcy Financial Services, your Overland Park, Kansas Fee-Only Financial Planner and Investment Manager.