Linking Learning to Careers in Vermont: A Model for Career Practitioners Nationwide
By Elizabeth King and Richard Tulikangas
Linking Learning to Careers (LLC) provides an exciting new opportunity to implement and evaluate an innovative model to improve career and college readiness outcomes for Vermont high school students with disabilities. LLC is the result of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration. The Disabilities Innovation Fund awarded the grant to five states in an effort to expand work-based learning opportunities and to improve post high school outcomes for transition aged youth with disabilities. Vermont's five-year statewide initiative builds on effective career exploration and employment services already provided to students and engages them in additional experiences that will help them to successfully transition from high school into adulthood. Key to this initiative is the role of the LLC Career Consultant.
Youth with Disabilities in Postsecondary Transition
Three distinct outcomes distinguish many youths with disabilities from their non-disabled peers as they transition into adulthood. (1) Youth with disabilities are less likely to see post-secondary education as a viable option which results in lower enrollments and, in turn, decreases their readiness to engage in competitive employment and career pathways (Wagner et al. 2005); (2) Youth with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed for much of their adult lives (Louis Harris and Associates, 2010) and (3) are more likely to need ongoing support to sustain the benefits of public education and to find success in employment as adults (Certo et al., 2009; Clark & Davis 2000). While some progress has been made in the past, LLC creates a new, powerful partnership between the Community College of Vermont (CCV), Vermont Association of Business and Industry Rehabilitation, high schools, career and technical education centers throughout the state, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services of Vermont, to further shift these outcomes in a positive direction.
Stakeholders and Beneficiaries
The primary focus of LLC is improving post high school employment and postsecondary transitions for youth with disabilities. The program also benefits Vermont high schools, employers, community partners and participating career professionals. The following are examples of benefits to stakeholders:
Students with disabilities - Students already benefit from access to nationally recognized, innovative transition and employment services through Vocational Rehabilitation Services Vermont. The enhanced services provided through LLC add to that solid foundation and may include:
- In-school career development work with their LLC Career Consultant, resulting in a personalized LLC Plan
- Work-based learning opportunities, such as job shadows and internships
- Paid employment experiences
- Additional dual enrollment opportunities for post-secondary education
- Access to assistive technology, including consultation, assessment, on-the-job evaluation, delivery of equipment and follow-up
- Mentoring with college students to model the potential to pursue postsecondary education
- Targeted funding for transportation for work-based learning and employment experiences
- Focused employer outreach directed by students’ individual goals and personal learning plans.
Vermont high schools – Vermont high schools are striving to build flexible pathways for students to better prepare for life after graduation, while meeting the needs of diverse populations. LLC services assist them by:
- Creating individualized and expanded learning opportunities for students
- Exposing students to state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and applications in the workplace
- Promoting and fostering connections with the local business community
- Increasing student retention rates by connecting learning to real world application
- Sharing current information on best practices in the field of career exploration and development for transitioning youth.
Employers and Community Partners – Employers want to secure high quality, well prepared local employees to meet their needs and to diversify their workforce. LLC supports collaboration and cooperation among schools, employers, and the community, and it contributes to building a more productive local economy. Employer benefits include:
- Provides the opportunity to motivate and train potential employees
- Prepares job ready individuals, which reduces training costs and improves employee retention
- Motivates current employees who serve as trainers and mentors.
Career professionals and other school professionals – Career counselors in high schools across the nation are a vital part of the school to work or college transition team. For LLC, Career Consultants are those individuals in each local VocRehab district office that have a primary responsibility for implementing LLC at the local level. They are also the face of LLC at the district level with students and families, with special educators and other school personnel, with Community College of Vermont and other post-secondary faculty and administrators, and with others in the community. They lead students with in-school career development work, helping to plan work-based learning opportunities, such as job shadows and internships and paid competitive work employment.
- LLC Career Consultants received a wide variety of career development training opportunities
- They were able to use their new unique skill sets to work intensively with students to guide them in the development an individualized LLP plan and to support them in achieving their identified career and post-secondary goals
- Because of their unique expertise and perspectives on career development issues, LLC Career Consultants can step forward to help provide the leadership in implementing the grant.
- LLC consists of a dynamic interdisciplinary team of professionals from VocRehab, VABIR, CCV and local high schools with the shared goal of supporting youth with disabilities as they progress along their career pathway.
- Each partner has an important role in helping to design and implement the grant.
Interim Project Outcomes
After implementing the model, LLC employed a randomized control design study to evaluate project outcomes. Approximately 800 high school students with disabilities who are eligible for VocRehab services were enrolled in LLC. Roughly, half were randomly assigned at enrollment into the core (or control) group, and half into the enhanced (or treatment) group. It is this second group of students (enhanced) that worked with the LLC Career Consultants.
Current data (based on 802 students enrolled; 413 assigned to enhanced group; 389 students assigned to control group) shows the following interim outcomes for students in the LLC enhanced services group vs control (core) group:
- 64.9% of enhanced group received at least one long term unpaid work based learning or paid employment; 25.4% for control (core) group
- 30.8% enhanced students with paid employment; 13.6% for core
- 25.8% enhanced students receiving assistive technology supports; 1.5% for core
- 50.3% enhanced students engaged in post-secondary exploration; 30.6% for core
Positive Shift in Career and Postsecondary Outcomes
LLC has provided Vermont with the unique opportunity to design, implement and evaluate an innovative program of support for high school aged youth with disabilities. The program, which includes LLC Career Consultants, a personalized LLC plan, career exploration, work-based learning experiences, assistive technologies and increased post-secondary opportunities and supports, could be replicated nationwide. With dedicated career professionals as key members of the youths' support team; interim data suggests that the LLC program is indeed beginning to shift career and postsecondary outcomes in a positive direction for transition-aged youth with disabilities.
Certo, N., Luecking, R., Murphy, S., Brown, L., Courey, S., and Belanger, D. (2009). Seamless transition and long term support for individuals with severe intellectual disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 33(5), 85-95.
Clark, H. B., Davis, M. (2000). Transition of youth and young adults with emotional or behavioral difficulties into adulthood: Handbook for practitioners, educators, parents, and administrators. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
Louis Harris and Associates. (2010). The N.O.D./Harris Survey of Employment of People with Disabilities. New York, NY: Author.
Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Garza, N., and Levine, P. (2005). After high school: A first look at the post school experiences of youth with disabilities: a report from the national longitudinal transition study 2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
Elizabeth King is the Director Student and Career Services for Community College of Vermont and is a member of both the LLC Design and LLC Implementation Teams. Ms. King can be reached at Elizabeth.King@ccv.edu
Richard Tulikangas is the Director of Linking Learning to Careers for Vocational Rehabilitation Services Vermont and is a member of both the LLC Design and LLC Implementation Teams. Mr. Tulikangas can be reached at Richard.Tulikangas@vermont.gov