Vocational and Transition Planning
A Handout for Parents and Teachers
by Gerald Hann and Edward M. Levinson, Ed.D.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
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Most parents and educators would generally agree that one of the primary
goals of school is to prepare students for their eventual independent
living in society. The school setting provides many opportunities for
students to develop the academic and interpersonal skills they will
someday need to function as productive citizens. Unfortunately many
students' experiences at school do not always prepare them adequately
for their eventual transition to a career. Often students find themselves
choosing a career in an unplanned and often haphazard way. A more preferred
method of preparing for a future career is a well planned transition
Transition is ultimately concerned with the movement of a student
from high school to post secondary training and from home to more independent
living. An Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
document refers to transition as "a bridge between the security
and structure offered by school and the opportunities and risks of adult
life." A 1997 revision to the Individuals with Disabilities Act
(IDEA) mandates that plans for a student's transition from school
to work and community living must be included in the student's
Individualized Education Program (IEP) by the time the student reaches
Although transition planning may have its roots in programs for students
with disabilities it is apparent that all students could benefit from
well defined programs of transition regardless of the existence of a
disability. As today's job market becomes more competitive and
unemployment rates continue to rise it makes good sense to plan for
transition for students of all ages, not just those with disabilities
or approaching graduation.
A clear plan for transition must also include vocational assessment
and given the clear relationship between vocational assessment and transition
planning, it makes little sense to discuss each separately. Successful
transition planning cannot occur without the information gathered from
a comprehensive vocational assessment. Conversely, information gleaned
during vocational assessment is worthless if it is not tied directly
to a well planned transition. The integration of vocational assessment
and transition planning is the key to success.
Although vocational assessment and transition may be focused upon
more closely in the latter school years, it is beneficial if the process
can begin as soon as students enter school and ideally the process should
incorporate a K-12 career development plan. This does not mean that
early elementary students should be subjected to in depth assessment
batteries. It is more plausible that vocational assessment and transition
in the early school years should encompass career exposure and educational
activities geared to a level which is developmentally appropriate to
younger students. For younger children it is important to emphasize
the development of self-awareness, occupational awareness and good decision
making skills. Early transition planning is also an excellent opportunity
for educators and parents to introduce non-traditional employment opportunities
and thereby dispel gender bias as it relates to children's understanding
of traditional and non-traditional employment roles. As students approach
the middle and secondary school level the need for a more formalized
vocational assessment occurs.
In implementing a transition service as part of a comprehensive assessment
and transition plan, several important principles should be followed.
Parents and teachers involved in facilitating the student's transition
should consider the developmental maturity of the student as well as
the skills that the student will need to adjust to community living
and employment. The skills that should be considered include such things
as daily living skills (e.g., managing money, preparing food), personal/social
skills (e.g., hygiene, social skills), and occupational/vocational skills
(e.g., job-seeking skills and appropriate work habits). The degree to
which the student already possesses these skills and the extent to which
these skills need to be developed can be determined in part by the vocational
assessment. Vocational assessment should be more formalized as the student
moves through grade levels and the assessment information gathered in
later years should be multi-level and include assessment at both the
junior and senior high levels.
It is crucial that the process of transition and vocational assessment
is developed in a systematic and logical fashion. A variety of transition
models exist, but most of these emphasize similar components including
personal consideration of the student (e.g., disability, developmental
maturity), the goal of integration into the community and a partnership
with a variety of agencies. On-going collaboration between parents and
teachers is also a key component of the process.
In developing a transition plan it is also important to determine
what support services and agencies are available to the student in the
community and how these agencies can become an integral component in
the transition process. It is desirable to identify such agencies early
in the transition process and to encourage interagency involvement on
an on-going basis throughout the transition process. When considering
liaisons with community partnerships it is advisable to investigate
what types of services are readily available in the community. It would
be unrealistic to develop a transition plan which hopes to utilize services
which are unavailable in the community. It is also a good idea to consider
local employment options as they relate to the student's needs
and to determine if competitive, sheltered or supportive employment
is most appropriate.
One final concern regarding vocational assessment and transition that
needs to be considered relates to the people who should be involved
in implementing the program. Ideally the process should be on-going
throughout the student's school career and include a partnership
of all who have a stake in helping the student succeed. This partnership
may include parents, regular and special education teachers, school
administrators, counselors and vocational specialists, community professionals
and the school psychologist.
Developing the Functional Curriculum
Once the level of skill possessed and needed by the student has been
identified in the initial portion of the transition program, it is appropriate
to address the identified skills in the school curriculum. This can
be described as the "development of a functional curriculum"
and it is during this phase that consideration should be focused on
developing skills to address the needs identified by the vocational
assessment. A functional curriculum can be best described as one which
meets the needs of students across their life span and in a variety
of settings. For example, an ADHD teenager may require support in developing
social skills as they relate to personal and vocational goals or a high
school student with an intellectual impairment might need assistance
in developing personal hygiene and community living skills.
Planning for a student's eventual transition into the work place
cannot be left to chance. Students nowadays require guidance and expertise
in helping to plan for their careers and eventual life as independent
members of our society. Indeed as the global market place grows and
job prerequisites continue to become more rigorous it is essential that
parents and educators assist students as much as possible in planning
for their future. Undoubtedly, a thorough understanding of vocational
assessment and transition planning is an essential component in assisting
students in reaching their potential.
Resources for Parents and Students
Kimbrell, G. & Vineyard, B.S. (1978). Entering the world of
work. Bloomington, IL: McKnight (text appropriate for use with junior
and senior high school students).
Otto, L.B. (1984). How to help your child choose a career.
New York: Evans (written for parents of high school age).
Rettig, J.L. (1986). Careers: Exploration and decision making.
Belmont, CA: David S. Lake (appropriate for use with high school students).
Technical Assistance Center for Special Populations Program (TASPP),
the National Center for Research in Vocational Education, Dept. of Vocational
and Technical Education, The University of Illinois, 345 Education Building,
1310 South Sixth St., Champaign, IL 61820. Dr. Carolyn Maddy-Berstein,
Director. (Resource center which provides materials on transition to
parents and professionals.)
Resources for Educators
Kapes, J.T., Mastie, M.M. & Whitfield, E.A. (1994). A counselor's
guide to career assessment instruments (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA:
National Career Development Association.
Levinson, E.M. (1993). Transdisciplinary vocational assessment:
Issues in school-based programs. Brandon, VT: Clinical Psychology.
Levinson, E.M. (1995). Best practices in transition services. In A.
Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology
III (pp. 905-915). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School
© 1998 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East
West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 301-657-0270.