Transition specialists play a critical role in assisting youth with disabilities transition to paid integrated employment. These individuals are housed in schools, community rehabilitation organizations, vocational rehabilitation, and other state agencies. The Center on Transition to Employment (The Center) identified four personal attributes that were found in effective transition specialists. These traits are: 1) principled optimism, 2) cultural competence, 3) business oriented professionalism and 4) networking savvy (Tilson & Simonsen, 2012).
Transition specialists displaying these four attribute believe in the capabilities of the youth with whom they worked and empowered them to be their best. They didn’t look at what the youth could not do, but rather at the positive attributes, and identified the benefits they could bring to employers. The transition specialists took into account the uniqueness of each of the youth they supported, as well as the specific needs of the employers they worked with. By understanding the needs of both, the job seeker and the employer, they identified connections between the two, resulting in good job matches that satisfied employers and youth.
The Center found that transition specialists were not only passionate about the youth they were supporting, but also their jobs. They demonstrated a “whatever it takes” attitude to get the job done and viewed unexpected challenges as opportunities to act. Moreover, they had a strong sense of self-management and time-management skills. Of all the work tasks that transition specialists had to juggle, networking (e.g. developing relationships with employers, connecting individuals with other community resources) was prominent among them.Read less >
Despite years of research, legislation and implementation of new policies and programs, students with disabilities are still not achieving the same level of post school outcomes as their non-disabled peers. A 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Labor indicated that only 26% of job seekers with disabilities were employed after high school compared to almost 64% of job seekers without disabilities. Research also shows that one of the most consistent predictors of post-school employment success is a paid work experience while in high school, where the job seekers are integrated into authentic work places alongside co-workers without disabilities. Work experiences, particularly paid work, prior to exit from secondary school leads to improved transition experiences and post-school outcomes (Fabian, 2007; Luecking, 2009; Test et. al., 2009). These findings are consistent regardless of disability category, where one lives, or their socio-economic status (Gold, Fabian, & Luecking, 2013).
In most cases, transition specialists are the professionals who are required to assess the skills of students, create relationships with community employers, assist in matching students with work opportunities, and identify/arrange work place supports for the student, as needed. Based on the critical role that transition specialist’s play in the success of youth with disabilities becoming employed, understanding the personal attributes of effective transition specialists is important. Agencies or schools can design the best transition programs or services, but without effective staff to implement the services, the results of those programs may be limited.Read less >
The key to having competent employees is implementing an effective recruitment and training process. When managers understand the personal attributes of effective transition specialists, they can target their recruitment efforts towards individuals who possess these characteristics. Additionally, as staff are hired, professional development opportunities should focus on enhancing and building skills that are commonly found in employment specialists with these attributes.
Individuals interested in entering the field of transition need to have a clear understanding of the personal attributes that are required to be effective in their role. Effective transition specialists focus on securing employment for youth with disabilities and conducting outreach to employers. Regardless of an applicant’s specific work history, it is critical that hiring practices seek to find individuals who have the interest and are capable of acquiring the specific professional competencies that lead to successful employment outcomes for youth with disabilities.
Managers should also offer professional development opportunities to seasoned staff to sharpen their skills to be more effective in working with employers and youth with disabilities. If staff were hired under a case management model with their jobs focused on managing a case load and referring job seekers to different services, developing a dual customer approach may be a difficult shift without proper training and support. Providing training and mentoring opportunities for staff to become more comfortable in this role will be critical for their success. Additional traits of highly effective transition specialist include:
Part of the training offered to staff should include field-based experiences in order to establish clear expectations of staff roles and responsibilities. This approach allows staff to become more comfortable with the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively conduct discovery, assessment, job development, and job coaching. As part of the training, identify mentors – someone who has the expertise and time to provide initial support to the trainee. Field-based assignments can include completing community based discovery, assessments, and job development which can lead to summer work experiences and paid employment.
Equally important for staff is to have the resources and flexibility to continuously develop, maintain, and expand a network of employer contacts from which the youth can access job interviews, job tours, work experiences, and ultimately, obtain paid employment. Employment specialists need opportunities to get to know employers and learn about their hiring practices, job requirements, and special employment concerns. Employers want to work with an employment specialist who understands, responds to, and supports their needs (i.e., demand-side knowledge and competence) (Simonsen, Fabian, & Luecking, in press). Therefore, staff responsible for these tasks need to have flexibility to get out in the community to establish relationships with employers. Getting to know businesses in local communities can be accomplished in a number of way as long as staff have the flexibility in their schedules to meet with employers during the day, weekends, or evening.
A common understanding among partners of effective employer development strategies that engage local businesses is important. Below are some strategies that effective employment specialist, including transition specialists, use to build relationships with employers.
In general, transition specialists should be prepared to show how a job seeker will add value to the business’ bottom line, rather than how well the job seeker might fill an existing position. These findings also discredit the notion of using want ads and job opening postings as the primary way to develop employment opportunities for youth with disabilities. Rather, direct job developer contact and interaction with employers to learn of business operational needs are far more useful strategies.Read less >
Employment programs staffed with individuals from traditional social service backgrounds may spend more time on general case management duties that divert staff away from the challenging yet ultimately more productive activities of job development and job placement.
Lack of understanding of the skills needed to implement an employment focused model and the importance to align staff skills and interests with respect to job development activities.
Not recognizing the positive impact of on-going professional development and support to staff especially in the areas of job development and employer support.
Fabian, E. (2007). Urban youth with disabilities: Factors affecting transition employment. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 50, 130–138.
Gold, P.B., Fabian, E.S. &Luecking, R.G. (2013). Job acquisition by urban youth with disabilities transitioning from school to work. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 57, 31 –45.
Luecking, R. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
Simonsen, Fabian, Luecking. (in press). Center on transition to employment for Youth with Disabilities. Found in Briefs section of this page.
Test, D., Mazzotti, V.L., Mustian, A.L., & Fowler, C.H. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(3), 160–181.
Tilson, G. & Simonsen, M. (2012). The personnel factor: Exploring the personal attributes of highly successful employment specialists who work with transition-age youth. Brief found in Briefs section of this page.Read less >