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Vocational and Transition Planning – A Handout for Parents and Teachers

by Gerald Hann and Edward M. Levinson, Ed.D.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania


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 plan.

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 age 14.

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.

Vocational/Transition Assessment

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 Psychologists.

? 1998 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 — 301-657-0270.

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