It’s a busy Friday afternoon at a local party-supply store near the Lawndale-Hawthorne city border. Most of the employees are young and are busily helping customers with nearly every aspect of the store’s operation.
While some of these employees are typical high school students, there are at least three who are not. They have special needs; however, it’s not noticeable to anyone in the store. Only the boss – who used to watch them closely – knows about their conditions.
The students in question are part of a special education program known as Workability. It is a transitional program operating in California’s public school system meant to help students with special needs find employment during their secondary school years.
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.”
The program’s creation was the result of a 1981 study by the California Department of Education, which revealed that students with disabilities were not being adequately prepared for the labor market. Later that same year, a pilot project was created to “test the concept of work experience for youth with disabilities.” (CDE, 2012).
Since then, the program can be found on virtually every public high school campus throughout the United States. The program has proven to be so popular that other states have adopted similar transition programs.
Currently, Workability exists as a cooperative entity among several agencies and businesses. 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, as well.
Contrary to popular belief among educators, the program is not designed to place students on a particular career path. Its goal is to offer vocational training, job etiquette, and working experience to students. Students often end up in clerical or service-oriented jobs. Also, they will work contracted hours per month.
Still, the program does prepare students for a possible career choice. This happens when the program coordinator places a student in a business that matches his or her post-secondary career goals.
One example of this is when a student states he wants to be a mechanic after graduating from high school or wants to study to become an engineer. The coordinator may be able to find a clerical or janitorial job at a firm or auto-shop where he can observe a mechanic or engineer in action (In some cases, the student can be hired to merely observe or shadow the workers).
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 assessment gauge a student’s job interest.
•Are in high school. 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 or services in their Individual Education Plan (IEP).
As mentioned, the pay scale is based on a contracted monthly basis. The checks are usually issued through the school district every month. The amount paid to each student is based on their year in high school. Freshmen will work will work an allotted amount of time per month. As a sophomore, the student will be allowed to work more hours per month, thus gain more money. The hours allowed will increase again during the junior and senior years (a word of caution: this type of contract with businesses may vary throughout the state’s numerous school districts).
Workability I is one of many transition programs in the state. This includes Transition Partnership Program (TPP), which is usually intended for juniors and senior who don’t plan to go to college or will not graduate (earn certificate or completion, instead) and planning to enter the job market after their final high school year. Also, there is Workability II, which is for college students – particularly community college students – in California.
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.