WHO: Building a Dream Team

WHAT: A Collaborative Process

HOW: Implementation & Best Practices


Implementation and Best Practices

One Student at a Time - Individualizing Services

Each student’s transition experience will be unique to them. There is not a template or checklist to follow but as a team of multiple partners working together, you can provide a full pallet of experiences for the student to access. This will allow for the most opportunity for exploration based on a student’s individual interests and needs. Not every student may want or need to access every service, but we want to provide the options so that opportunity is available when it will serve the student. When considering transition plans, it really is important to think about one student at a time.

Braiding Resources

This story illustrates a combination of services from several agencies and organizations for one student's journey as they transitioned from school to employment:

Walter is a student who was identified by his post-high transition teachers as one who would greatly benefit from coordinated employment services and a customized approach to employment. He was connected to a local Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, who upon completion of intake and plan placement, authorized funding of Discovery to be completed by an adult service provider specializing in employment services. During the discovery process, it was recognized that Walter would benefit from a paid internship experience prior to job placement.

While Discovery was underway, Walter enrolled in WIOA Youth Program through the Department of Workforce Services. Once Discovery was completed, the employment specialist was able to work with a business and arranged for Walter to participate in a paid internship opportunity based on the employment themes that were identified from the Discovery process. The Department of Workforce Services was able to reimburse the business for the wages that Walter earned at the internship.

While WIOA was able to fund the wages of the internship, VR was able to fund the support Walter needed, including job coaching services while he completed his internship. After the six-week internship was completed, the business was so pleased with Walter’s work that a permanent position was offered. Starting out working 2 hours once a week, as Walter’s skills and range of responsibilities has grown, his work hours have increased to 6 hours a week and he is doing very well on the job.

Because team members were able to coordinate the employment services available within each of their agencies, Walter was able to have a wide range of supports and opportunities available to him as he pursued his goal of employment. The result of these employment experiences led Walter not only to a job that he is well suited for but opened up a path to a career that is meaningful to him, where he can continue to develop skills and grow in multiple areas of his adult life.

Identifying Students Who Need Coordinated Services

Educators and school personnel can identify students with disabilities who would benefit from coordinated services including those who may not have a clear path to employment or who have not been considered for employment in the past. Because having support from families increases the chance for successful outcomes of community employment, talk with the families of students to know if they have a desire and expectation for their student to work in the community. Also consider students who have 2-3 years before they exit school. This allows time for the student to be connected with services, participate in work based learning, complete discovery, and receive a paid internship opportunity before job placement.

The timeline of employment will look different for each student. It should be individualized to specific service needs and goals, including how much time is left in their post-high program and what employment supports they access through the agencies involved in your team. For example, a student may want to complete a WIOA paid internship over the summer so they do not have to work and attend school simultaneously, whereas another student may want to complete a WIOA paid internship throughout the school year. An example of a student timeline can be found on our Padlet© page.

Keep in mind that employment exploration and the coordination of services can start much earlier than the last 2-3 years of post high. The more time a student has to develop skills and try different employment settings the better for finding an ideal work setting and opportunity that is truly customized to their strengths and abilities.

Student Engagement

Meaningful student engagement is key for the success of finding employment. Who better than the student themself to share about their wishes, dreams, and aspirations around building a life and finding a career path that is important to them. Providing an opportunity for the student to express their wants and desires around employment will ensure the team is acting in the best interest of the student. This process will look different depending on the type of support the student may need to clearly express themself. It is the responsibility of the team to support the student to find creative ways to communicate their desires.

Positive Personal Profiles

A Positive Personal Profile (PPP) is a digital portfolio that highlights a job-seeker’s attributes, contributions, skills and abilities that will be relevant to their job search, employability, job match, retention and long-range career development. This portfolio can be done in PowerPoint or another digital platform. Profiles include photos or videos that capture the job-seeker’s tasks and abilities in action. Development of profiles should always be student driven with support of transition educators or family members.

Profiles can be a tool to introduce job seekers to a CRP who they are new to working with. Think of it as an adapted resume. PPPs can also be shared by students during the IEP meeting as a way for the student to start the meeting. Information can be added to the profile as experiences are gained and can eventually evolve into a virtual resume for the job-seeker. More information on Positive Personal Profiles can be found on our Padlet© page.

Preparing Students to be Great Job Candidates through Community Based Work Experiences

Post-high is a time to prepare students for life beyond school. The more access to and time spent in the community, the better prepared a student will be for an active life outside of the school building upon graduation.

Work-based learning experiences in the community are a fundamental part of a student gaining experience as well as growing expectations. All students, including students with most significant disabilities should have the opportunity to participate in community work-based learning experiences. As your transition program develops work-based learning sites, here are some key points to consider.

  • When establishing job sites, find places where students will be able to make use of skills they have as well as develop new skills.  
  • Make note of the conditions that each student is at their best in.  This is valuable information to be shared with an employment specialist. This information can be found through observations from educators and families or a transition assessment.
  • Communicate with Workforce and Vocational Rehabilitation about paid and unpaid work experiences, businesses they work with, and new and emerging resources and opportunities. 
  • Talk to your VR Counselor liaison about Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), including work-based learning experiences, that may be available for your students through Pre-ETS Instructors or VR’s Pre-ETS contracts. You can access information about the Pre-ETS contracts by visiting: 
  • Train your paraprofessionals to support students in community based work experiences building on independence and concrete learning steps while being safe, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and physically distancing.
  • Do not set up mock generic work stations in the transition classroom.  This goes against federal guidelines and is an ineffective way to learn to work.  A mock workstation might be set up in a room or part of a room and look like a sheltered or segregated work environment or work location in the community.  In a mock work environment students may be learning to do things which are not based on their individualized employment goal or a true and viable job in the community.  A mock workstation might involve time spent each day by all or most of the students to put nuts and bolts into bags or stuff envelopes.  The full extent of the students‘ transition work experiences should not be located in the classroom.

Considering Assistive Technology

Students are typically assessed for needed assistive technology early on during their schooling through recourse within the school or district.  As a student explores employment opportunities, new assessments should be done through the lens of the student’s employment interests.  It is beneficial to connect students with assistive technology resources that are independent from the school and can follow the student after they exit transition services. 

Utah Assistive Technology Teams (UATT) can support schools to evaluate, acquire and provide training on assistive technology for students.  UATT members coordinate with VR Counselors and educators to ensure that students have the technology that will support their independence and employment goals.

Utah Assistive Technology Center (UCAT) is another resource for assistive technology consultation.  UCAT is able to provide customized devices that are designed specifically for the needs of an individual.

Benefits Planning

As students explore employment, how benefits might be affected by employment it is a common concern for families.  It is important for students and families to receive accurate information on how employment might impact the benefits they are currently receiving. Utah Work Incentive Planning Services (UWIPS) provides information, education, and support to people who receive Social Security disability benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and want to know how work may affect these benefits and others such as Medicaid and Medicare.  They also provide information on work incentive programs and community resources. 

By accessing information through benefits plannings, students and families are able to have concerns addressed and understand that working in the community might change how benefits look but will always put them ahead financially.  

Work Incentive Planning is coordinated through a referral from the VR Counselor.  Additional information and resources can be found at:

Family Engagement: Building a Partnership with Parents

Support from families is key to the success of a student’s employment opportunities and outcomes. Buy-in and support from a family can make a significant impact on the success of the students transition outcomes. We know that some families may be hesitant or even have concerns around their student’s path to employment. It’s important to understand why a family makes decisions for their student and to understand this, it’s important to understand the impact of disability within the student’s family. There is also value in recognizing that families get bombarded with negative messages about what their son/daughter is or is not capable of. These negative messages can greatly influence the expectations families have for their students and even make it difficult for families to imagine what successful and meaningful employment could look like.

There is value in sharing a positive vision for what team members see for the student. Be vocal about skills and abilities seen in the school setting that can be transferred to an employment setting.

According to a Pre-ETS transition guide written by WINTAC, NTACT, and Transcen, building working relationships with families takes time, and should be rooted in three goals: 

  1. Clarifying expectations and the goal of preparing youth with success in competitive employment,
  2. Conveying to families that you understand the student’s unique talents, skills, and support needs, and make decisions based on a mutually agreed upon (including the student) vision for the future, and 
  3. Providing information and support to families so they can play a true partnership role in the process. 

Consider these strategies for building trusting relationships with families: 

  • Use a person-centered planning approach to get to know the student better and to involve families in setting a vision for the future; 
  • Connect with families prior to important meetings to make sure they understand what the plan for preparing for employment is and are comfortable with steps and partners; 
  • Share successes frequently, don’t let families equate hearing from you with getting bad or discouraging news;
  • Make it a habit to ask the simple questions: How are you doing? Are you comfortable with the way things are going? Is there anything you don’t understand?

 To find more information, please visit:

Effective Communication with Families

As stated previously, meaningful engagement with families includes establishing a communication system with students and families to not only keep them informed of a student’s progress but also allows families to participate, to be part of the process and have an active role in how services are delivered.

Each team member has a responsibility to meet with families and students, in-person if possible, at the beginning of the process to help them understand everyone’s respective role within the transition team. Allowing students and families to meet regularly with the team is valuable in garnering support and approval from families as services are coordinated.

Successfully communicating with families requires creativity and flexibility. Not all families are able to or want to receive information in the same way. There are multiple communication strategies that can be used; it’s important to find the one that works best for each family. Some families may be more accessible through telephone or texting, whereas others may prefer email or written notes.

  • Find which method of communication works best for each family. Some may respond better to notes home while others may need a text or an opportunity to visit in person. Because the process may take anywhere from months to years, depending on the student, regularly update and maintain family contact information. 
  • Provide families with copies of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) with the clear steps that are employment focused. 
  • Communicate successes more often than challenges. A quick text saying a student did well during a work experience or made progress on a goal can go a long way towards building enthusiasm about a positive employment future.
  • Using direct communication such as phone calls, texts, or visits may help when a timely response is important.  
  • Remember to remind families about the goal of preparing for and securing competitive employment in the community. Make sure that everyone is working towards the same thing. Frequent reminders also open the door for families to ask questions along the way.

Suggested questions for student and parent meetings

What does a good life look like for your student?

What worries you the most about transition?

What are your student's greatest skills?

Are there local businesses you think your student would be interested in?

Do you have contact at any local businesses?

Setting Expectations for Employment by Helping Families Envision a Positive Future

  • Use tools like the Positive Personal Profile to identify strengths and talents. Have the family and all related professionals contribute to populating the Positive Personal Profile and relate the findings back to the skills the student has that can lead to employment. 
  • Invite families to the work site so they can see firsthand how their youth does on the job. 
  • Record the student doing a job task the parents might be surprised they can do. 
  • Consider tools like Charting the LifeCourse that help families focus on the big question (What does a good life look like for your son or daughter?) and plan for activities that lead to that goal. 
  • Consider holding a parent workshop where other families and youth with disabilities who are employed tell their stories.

Other Communication that Should be Shared with Families

  • Share success stories of other students who are working in the community.
  • Break down the steps of employment or provide a flow chart of services.
  • Facilitate parent to parent groups.
  • Help parents gain an expectation and learn the value of employment in the community with information that employment will be customized to the individual in an environment where the student is at their best and will include support to help the student be successful. 
  • Develop a clear communication system that works best for parents.  This might be a weekly/monthly email that includes progress and activities from the employment provider and educator.  Another method might be texting with pictures.
  • Encourage families to support student’s work skills by initiating or expanding chores, and encouraging independence as much as possible.

A Success Story: Tate

Tate is a post-high student from Murray School District. Tate was able to have a team of supports from multiple agencies work together to coordinate employment services on his behalf. Team members included his paraeducators from the post-high program, his assigned local VR counselor, WIOA Youth Counselor, and an employment specialist provider, all who worked together to coordinate services for Tate to have a full range of support as community integrated employment was explored. Tate did not have a clear path to employment, he needed a lot of support to complete tasks and his family was having a difficult time envisioning what Tate’s post school future might look like. Through discussion with Tate, his family and educators who know Tate well, it was determined that a customized approach to employment could be used for best outcomes. Tate was referred by his VR Counselor to RISE Employment Services for discovery, a process part of the Customized Employment model.

Through discovery, it was learned that Tate has a strong theme for animal care. Once discovery was completed, his WIOA Youth Service Coordinator and employment specialist coordinated to set up an internship opportunity at a reptile shop called Mark’s Arc. The employer and supervisor at Mark’s Arc let Tate try different job tasks and soon identified the job task that needed to be done that closely matched Tate’s abilities and interests. Tate discovered that he really enjoyed caring for, cleaning and feeding the animals. Because caring for and handling the animals was meaningful to him, he was able to focus and complete his assigned tasks.

Tate did remarkably well with his job responsibilities during his 12-week internship. Soon he was able to complete his job responsibilities with less support and prompting from his job coach. The employer was so pleased with the care and good work he was doing that when the time came for the internship opportunity to end the employer wanted Tate to stay on as a permanent employee. The employment specialist assisted in the negotiations for permanent employment.

Tate is still working very successfully at Mark’s Arc. Some of his responsibilities include: handling the animals when they need to be removed from their cages for cleaning, cleaning the cages, feeding the animals, and assisting with snake molting. With this employment opportunity, he has also begun phasing out of his post-high program to spend more time working. He only participates in post-high when there are activities he is interested in and he is developing a full life beyond the school.

This is a success because the tasks that Tate is completing more and more independently are beyond the expectations that his family, educators and service providers initially had for Tate. He is in a job that is meaningful to him and his work is highly valued by the employer and his co-workers.