Ten years ago to the day (at the time of writing) I nervously walked into my first career-job. I was hired for the summer to plan and implement a summer program for students ages 14 to 22 with visual impairments. I knew “career preparation” was my number one goal for the group; with this in mind, I met each student, assessed knowledge of career skills, and asked each student and his/her family about personal interests, career interests, and career goals.
Several students had dreams of becoming lawyers; one desired to become a football coach; one a teacher; one a therapist; one a radio DJ; one a makeup artist, and the others were uncertain. And so began a hunt to find experiences in these industries as well as in a wide range of additional career fields. We needed to do more than talk about occupations, we needed to get hands-on with a variety of job environments and responsibilities; we needed to learn about a plethora of occupations from men and women working in the fields, and then we needed to locate and learn from mentors working in specific careers of interest who were also blind or visually impaired.
Getting Hands-On with Career Exploration
That’s just what we did. We participated in activities such as interviewing a lawyer and sitting through a court hearing (of which every student found excruciating; quite the learning opportunity), observing a radio DJ in action and interacting with him on and off air, receiving makeup application lessons and volunteering in a variety of work sites.
The students learned about the glamorous and not-so-glamorous aspects of their dream jobs; they learned about additional related jobs which we call career clusters, and they learned about assistive technology and job accommodations which allow them to work around vision loss.
We learned about transferable skills needed to excel in the workforce, no matter the chosen occupation. We learned about posture and personal space through ballroom dancing lessons; we learned about the give-and-take of relationships through group games and making meals as a team, and we learned about goal setting as we worked to raise money for an end of the summer theme park trip.
Needless to say, we explored and prepared for the career world, Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and we had a blast doing it. We learned and bonded, becoming what felt like a “transition program family.” These are lasting memories of mine, and I’m confident of my former students.
Equals Parts Fun and Learning
To be sure, the summer transition program was equal parts fun and learning.
But no career exploration or knowledge-building experience would be complete without actually engaging in work experiences. The students brushed up on what it takes to be successfully employed and began job searching. Each student who participated in the summer program was hired in the local community as a part-time volunteer or paid employee, some utilizing supported employment, each Friday.
With the convergence of real-world career experiences plus mentorship and part-time work experiences, the summer transition program was a success. At the completion of the program, the students continued meeting weekly throughout the school year, and I was hired as a permanent transition specialist. It was just the beginning of the transition program family!
To learn more about summer transition programs, which vary by state and agency, read Summer Transition Programs. To find out what programs your state offers, contact your Division of Blind Services and school for the blind; you can also search for a summer program using FamilyConnect’s directory of service providers.