Research to Practice: A Promising Practice in Work-Based Learning

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Students with disabilities have unique needs as they pursue work-based learning. DO-IT's AccessCAREERS projects utilize research findings to tailor services when providing work-based learning experiences to students with disabilities. Project staff regularly review academic journals to identify attributes of service delivery that improve outcomes for both high school and postsecondary students. By utilizing research findings, AccessCAREERS staff increase their ability to effectively serve students.

For example, AccessCAREERS staff apply research findings summarized in the publication Quality Work-Based Learning and Postschool Employment Success (Luecking, R., & Gramlich, M., 2003, Issue Brief 2(2) of the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition). The research reported the following characteristics of quality work-based learning programs, which are all incorporated into DO-IT practices:

  • clear program goals;
  • clear roles and responsibilities for supervisors, mentors, teachers, support personnel, and other partners;
  • training plans that specify learning goals tailored to individual students with specific outcomes connected to student learning;
  • convenient links between students, schools, and employers;
  • on-the-job learning;
  • completion of a range of work-based learning opportunities;
  • mentors at the work-site;
  • clear expectations and feedback to assess progress toward achieving goals;
  • assessment to identify skills, interests, and support needs at the work-site;
  • reinforcement of work-based learning outside of work; and
  • appropriate academic, social, and administrative support for students, employers, and all partners.

AccessCAREERS staff apply the results of their own research regarding work-based learning activities to further tailor services to meet the needs of its participants, who all have disabilities. Some of these findings are summarized in an article Research to Practice: A Model for Preparing Postsecondary Students with Disabilities for Employment (Burgstahler, S., Bellman, S., & Lopez, S., 2004, National Association of Colleges and Employers Journal, LXV(1)). Research findings suggests that programs do the following:

  • Develop disclosure strategies with the student early in the job search process. Students should be able to articulate their disclosure strategy before their first interview.
  • Develop relationships with employers that invite a wide range of work-based learning options. For employers with little or no experience working with students with disabilities, start off with job shadows, informational interviews, and mock interviews. This creates a comfortable environment for employers to gain knowledge and prepare for hiring students with disabilities.
  • Encourage employers to identify their employees with disabilities to act as role models for students. Help mentoring relationships form both on and off the worksites. Consider both in-person and online mentoring.
  • Develop clear, specific goals for the work-based learning experience. As students with disabilities may have a limited work history, facilitate goals that increase knowledge about job retention. Share these goals with the work-site supervisor. Meet regularly with the student and supervisor to assess progress toward meeting specific goals.
  • Seek out employer events which promote workplace diversity and/or employment programs targeting people with disabilities. Also encourage students to participate in non-disability specific activities such as career fairs, industry conferences, and other opportunities for networking and skill building.
  • For each work-based learning experience, work with the student to create an appropriate, updated resume. Carefully consider elements of the resume that may disclose a disability.
  • Discuss accommodation needs and when and how it is best to request accommodations from the employer. Following a work experience, provide an opportunity for students to evaluate the effectiveness of their accommodations and refine their accommodation plan.
  • Be prepared to offer resources to potential supervisors regarding disability issues such as interviewing, accommodations, and workplace culture. Ask the onsite supervisor for feedback on the experience once complete. Collect testimonials from supervisors who have a positive experience with students with disabilities for use in future employer recruitment.

For more information about research related to DO-IT practices consult the web page DO-IT: Research to Practice.

Applying research findings AccessCAREERS assures that DO-IT programs effectively serve students with disabilities in job shadows, internships, cooperative education, service learning, and employment. For more information about how you can design a work-based learning program, consult AccessCareers.

Last update or review: September 28, 2012