Transition Services: Helping Special Needs Students Successfully Transition into Adulthood
(From L to R) Bill, GameStop General Manager with Erik a transition services student in Maine.
Work Opportunities Unlimited’s transition services help students with special needs successfully transition from school into adult life. Work Opportunities Unlimited works with schools across multiple states – including Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts – to help better prepare these students for positive work experiences.
“Through our transition services, participating students are able to learn basic job skills, including how to conduct a job search, write a resume, participate in interviews and learn skills to retain employment,” explained Stephanie Esposito, a Director at Work Opportunities Unlimited in New Hampshire.
According to Stephanie, the program’s goal is to help these students gain confidence, experience, skills and independence at work and within the community.
“At first, the students need significant support to learn the basics of finding, securing and maintaining a job,” Stephanie explained. “But we’re striving to help them become naturally supported, meaning they can rely on their coworkers and supervisors for support, as all other employees do, rather than depending on their Work Opportunities Unlimited team.”
As part of Work Opportunities Unlimited’s robust roster of school services, they offer classes and training in job development, life skills, resume writing, interviewing and more.
One of their transition services offerings, an Employment Skills class, was provided to students at Oak Hill High School in Wales, ME, this year. This biweekly class aimed to engage, excite and inspire the students about work. The class covered a range of topics, including how and where to look for jobs, resume and cover letter preparation, completing applications, interview preparation, clothing and hygiene, and positive on-the-job behavior. Participating students were selected by their teachers, who determined that they’d benefit from this type of group interaction and instruction.
“As part of the Employment Skills class, the Oak Hill students attended the 2013 Job Fair at the Central Maine Community College. Each student spoke with real employers and received feedback about work environments, pay, and required training,” said Mike Murtha, Director, Work Opportunities Unlimited in their Maine office. “The experience was powerful and positive for all involved.”
(From L to R) Supercuts Store Manager Jessica and Katie, a transition services student in Maine.
Katie and Erik, transition services students in Maine, worked with Work Opportunities Unlimited to create career plans, complete job applications, write resumes, and conduct mock interviews. They were each able to visit an employer in their fields of interest, to take tours, ask questions, and “shadow” employees to get a better sense of their responsibilities.
Katie, who was interested in hairdressing, visited the local SuperCuts, where the manager gave her a tour of the salon and explained their services. Katie was then able to shadow a hairdresser and observe and ask questions.
Erik was interested in gaming, so Work Opportunities Unlimited arranged a visit at GameStop in Topsham, ME, so he could learn more about gaming careers. The store’s manager gave Erik a tour, explained about the video games and other products they sell, discussed employees’ responsibilities and answered Erik’s questions. Erik shadowed an employee who was stocking new games and learned how the process works. Erik was so excited about the possibilities at GameStop that – with the support of his Work Opportunities Unlimited Career Resource Specialist – he filled out an application for an entry-level job there.
“The transition services program provides students with a better sense of what’s necessary to work within the community, and they get to explore the industries and opportunities that interest them. We teach and mentor them through every step of the process – from basic communications skills to showing up on time and speaking politely to supervisors and colleagues,” Mike explained. “By helping these students learn job skills, we’re helping them land fulfilling jobs in their local communities. Given the right environment, supports, determination, attitude, and training, these students can become more independent in the workplace, thus transitioning more successfully into adulthood.”
Tim’s Success Story
Tim has worked 20 hours per week at Shaw’s Supermarket for the last five years. In March of 2009, Tim joined the Community Supports program at Work Opportunities Unlimited with the hopes of getting out of the house more often. Tim began volunteering at the YMCA daycare assisting the teachers with snack preparation, cleaning, and gathering supplies. It was immediately evident that Tim has a talent when it comes to working with kids. After only a couple weeks of volunteering Tim was asked to expand his duties and become a classroom helper. He began working one on one with kids, leading groups out to recess and lunch, lining the kids up for activities, and assisting teachers with all aspects of the classroom.
This experience has helped Tim decide that he would like to work in the daycare field. With the help of Work Opportunities Unlimited, Tim has completed 2 of the 6 classes he needs to test for the Day Care Professionals License. Community Supports has helped Tim identify a career path that he had never thought of before. He always thought he would work in retail, but now thinks he can be a great daycare teacher.
Steven’s Success Story
Steven is a young man with Autism. When you meet Steven, you see a young man in constant motion, rocking back and forth or pacing. When speaking with Steven, he frequently repeats what you say (echolalia) and uses short sentences to answer any questions you might ask.
Steven’s goal when starting to look for a job with his Career Resource Specialis was to work in a retail environment. Steven has been successful working in the receiving department at Home Goods where he is responsible for unpacking boxes of new merchandise and placing the merchandise on shelving units according to a code number. Steven works closely with manager, Scott, his CRS from Work Opportunities Unlimited, and assigned co-workers to meet the productivity expectations required for this position. Every month Steven, manager Scott and CRS meet to review Steven’s progress or problems on his retention plan which lists his goals to be successful in his position. Scott recently said that Steven has the highest productivity in the Home Goods processing department of all the employees. Steven’s job is to take home decorating items out of the boxes, tag them and put them carefully on a rolling cart for another associate to put on the sales floor. When Steven started this position he was very shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone, but with help from his CRS, Steven now communicates regularly with his coworkers.
Roland’s Success Story
When Roland first came to Work Opportunities Unlimited he wanted to work and be productive 4 hours per week. Roland has met his goal and has recently said, “I love my job.” His past work experience has been in a segregated environment and he had been paid sub-minimum wage. He now works at a local restaurant in a fully integrated environment, and he earns above minimum wage.
Robin’s Success Story
It was difficult at first for Robin to verbalize what she wanted to do for work. However, Work Opportunities Unlimited was able to secure a work assessment for Robin with Marshall’s Department Stores. Marshall’s is part of the TJX Corporation, with whom Work Opportunities Unlimited has a corporate relationship. Through the work assessment, Robin was able to determine that she liked the work involved, and she was able to show her ability to perform the work up to the expectations of the employer. Marshall’s subsequently hired Robin for their merchandising team three days per week, four hours per day.
Richard’s Success Story
Richard, a senior at Oak Hill High School, received school services from WOU, that included Customized Career Planning, resume, applications and interview preparation, job shadows, job assessment and job placement. When Richard’s Career Resource Specialist completed a Customized Career Plan with him, he told WOU that he wanted to be a “weather man”, he also said his number one interest is meteorology. When WOU staff met with his parents, they told us that Richard has been interested in weather since he was a little boy, and his dream has always been to meet a meteorologist and see how they do their job. Richard was also currently working on a senior project that had to be completed as part of his high school gradation requirements, and of course, the topic he chose to do his presentation on was meteorology. Another school service WOU provided Richard was to develop several job shadows so he may learn about different careers. WOU really wanted to help this young man achieve his dream of shadowing a meteorologist, so we researched this possibility. WOU contacted Channel 6 News in Portland, and they agreed to make this happen for him. During his job shadow, Richard met Kelly, one of their seasoned Meteorologists, and she took him behind the scenes, showing him all the equipment the weather team uses, and she also explained how the weather report is put together and presented. Kelly also provided Richard a lot of good information he could use for his senior project on meteorology, including an autographed picture. After the tour of the news station, Richard was a guest of the studio, where he got to watch Kelly deliver the weather report live on the air. After the news aired, Richard was allowed to sit at the weather desk and try his hand at delivering the weather, and then they showed Richard the television screen so he could see himself doing the weather. This job shadow was a great experience for Richard, and it not only helped him achieve his dream, WOU’s services increased his confidence in himself. Richard went on to do other job shadows, create a resume and learn interviewing skills, and was hired in his first ever paid job as a Front End Associate at Hannaford Supermarket.