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The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition identifies work experience as a strong predictor of post-school success in the area of employment for students with disabilities. Work experience is any activity that places a student in an authentic workplace. The skills gained, for students who participate in work experience, include career readiness skills and “soft skills” that all employers look for in any position. While participating in a work experience activity, a student learns specific occupational skills and workplace expectations. A work experience in high school helps a student establish a work history and a connection with an employer. A work experience also provides the opportunity for the student to explore different occupations in order to help with future career choices.

Central Rivers AEA (CRAEA) work experience coordinators provide direct service to students with disabilities who have an identified need for skill development in the area of employment. Based on a student’s strengths, interests, preferences and an assessment process, a work goal is created and tied to the Iowa Core 21st Employability Skills. Once the goal has been identified, the CRAEA work experience coordinator places the student at an appropriate site. Throughout the work experience placement, the coordinator maintains regular contact with the student, school staff and employers. This is done through worksite observations, student consultation, employer and teacher conversations, and performance evaluations. The work experience coordinator collaborates with worksite representatives to solve any problems related to the student placement and provides interventions and strategies for the student to maintain employment.

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Each work site placement provides students the opportunity to learn responsibility, how to follow directions and accept feedback appropriately. Students also learn the value of good attendance, promptness and positive employee behaviors while participating on the work site. Exploring different job sites and learning workplace demands strengthen the transition to post-secondary life for each student who participates in a work experience prior to high school graduation. Work experience provides social, personal and employability skills needed to live and work as a productive member of the community.

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