Teaching Skills

/ March 8, 2021

What Skills are Important to the Success of Young People with Disabilities in the Workplace?

Certain work-related skills and attitudes are important for almost any job. In fact, there is already considerable agreement abut the range of social, vocational, and self-determination skills that can contribute to success in the workplace and predict future employment (Carter et al., 2009; Hughes & Carter, 2012). For example, most employers are looking for employees who are willing to accept feedback, show up on time, and have a strong work ethic. Other examples of important work-related skills and attitudes are listed below and shown in the box:

  • Decision-making skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Social and communication skills
  • Time management skills
  • Ability to respond to constructive feedback
  • Reliability

Unfortunately, many young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) leave high school without having the opportunity to learn, practice, and refine these skills within and beyond the classroom.

Why are These Skills so Important to Teach?

Teacher Standing in Front of ClassBusinesses are looking for employees who can make valued contributions within the workplace. When considering whether to hire a young person with a disability, they will want to know that the individual can either already do the job or can readily learn the skills needed to be successful. Of course, developing strong social- and work-related skills is key to keeping a job for the long term. The earlier young people begin learning and strengthening these skills, the better. Don’t wait until they get their first job to begin providing relevant instruction. While specific vocational training is required for most jobs, general work-related skills such as the ability to follow directions, accept and learn from feedback, and work well with others, are just as important and can be learned in a variety of contexts.

How Do I Teach Skills?

Teaching work-related skills and attitudes can go hand-in-hand with career exploration activities. During the early years of high school, have students role play scenarios they might experience in the workplace. Schools can also provide opportunities for job shadowing, workplace tours, or career days where young people can interact firsthand with employers in their community.

When young people are exposed to their first work experiences later in high school, supervisors, families, and educators should make sure the student is receiving consistent feedback and instruction on relevant work-related skills and attitudes. Keep in mind that none of us are perfect at all of these things all the time. For some people, working well with others comes easily. For others, it will take practice. Young people with disabilities have their own work preferences. However, it is important to keep in mind that the reality of the working world involves challenging ourselves and stepping outside of comfort zones.

Where Can I Learn More About Teaching Employment-Related Skills?

The following links include strategies and other resources related to teaching young people with disabilities the skills they will need to find success in the workplace:

What Research Supports Providing Strong Skill Instruction?

A large number of studies have identified a range of skills considered to be critical to success on the job. Other studies have highlighted effective strategies for teaching these skills. The following articles are just a sampling of studies providing research-based guidance on this topic:

Positive Work Behaviors

General Work Behaviors

  • Maintaining good personal hygiene
  • Requesting days off of work from your supervisor
  • Returning from break or lunch on time
  • Arriving to work on time
  • Taking responsibility for your actions at work
  • Calling in to work when you are sick or running late
  • Dressing appropriately for the job
  • Accepting unexpected schedule changes
  • Refraining from personal business while on the job
  • Showing enthusiasm for your work

Work Production-Related Behaviors

  • Working well under close supervision
  • Carrying out instructions that need immediate attention
  • Completing quality work
  • Carrying out instructions after time has passed
  • Working well without the close supervision of others
  • Solving routine work-related problems without help
  • Working well under pressure
  • Working at the speed expected by the supervisor
  • Working at a job continuously without getting distracted
  • Performing job responsibilities without having to be asked (e.g., taking initiative)

Task-Related Social Behaviors

  • Working together with others as a member of a team
  • Accepting help from co-workers
  • Asking a supervisor for assistance or help when needed
  • Speaking appropriately to a supervisor
  • Offering to help co-workers
  • Asking for explanation when instructions are unclear
  • Referring questions to others when you are unsure of the answer
  • Asking a co-worker for assistance or help when needed
  • Following directions given by a co-worker
  • Following directions given by a supervisor
  • Finding necessary information prior to starting a job task
  • Offering help to customers
  • Accepting constructive criticism from a supervisor without getting angry or upset
  • Talking about job frustrations with a supervisor
  • Accepting constructive criticism from a co-worker without getting angry or upset

Non Task-Related Social Behaviors

  • Respecting the privacy of others
  • Refraining from swearing or using objectionable language or gestures on the job
  • Making friends with co-workers
  • Listening to the other person when involved in a conversation
  • Responding to conversations started by others
  • Speaking in an appropriate tone of voice
  • Using polite language (e.g., thank you, please, excuse me)
  • Responding appropriately to joking or humor
  • Responding appropriately to teasing
  • Disagreeing with co-workers and supervisors without arguing or yelling
  • Refraining from interrupting others at inappropriate times
  • Avoiding complaining too much
  • Offering compliments to others
  • Discussing personal problems only in appropriate situations (e.g., during breaks, before and after work)
  • Starting conversations with co-workers about things that are not related to work

[The above skills were identified in Carter & Wehby (2003)]

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