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Career Choice Preparation for Adolescents with a Disability or Impairment

Background and aims

In order to ease the school-to-work transition of adolescents with disabilities or impairments, systematic preparation for the transition is necessary. Career choice preparation in the school thus has an important role to play. The question arises as to how suitable conventional teaching materials are for these particular adolescents.

In the initial phase of this project (2011), the materials employed in Swiss schools for career choice lessons will undergo evaluation. The findings of this evaluation shall provide answers to the following questions (selection): What are the possible target groups of career choice lesson materials? What (different) requirements do various groups of adolescents in the career choice phase have, most particularly during career choice lessons? What teaching materials are already employed in career choice lessons with regard to various target groups? How are these materials perceived and rated by the various people involved (most particularly by teaching staff and adolescents)? What gaps exist in current teaching materials? For which target groups should further teaching materials be developed? How are these materials to be constructed with regard to structure, content and appearance? The second phase of the project (2012) will see the design and development of teaching materials based on the findings of the evaluation.


Concept: An explorative and qualitative procedure is planned for the first step, the aim of which is to gather the spectrum of opinions and experiences of those affected by the use of current materials in career choice lessons. The second step will involve a quantitative, broad-ranging survey of teaching staff. On the one hand side, the results of the interviews will provide a temporary yet profound planning of the development of new teaching materials. On the other hand side, the results will serve the development of a structured assessment instrument to be used for the questioning of a broad sample of teaching staff employed in various secondary school settings.

The results of the qualitative and quantitative parts shall be discussed (validated) by a project support group and be integrated into the development of these teaching materials.

Sample: 26 guided interviews with secondary school teaching staff in the German and French speaking parts of Switzerland had been carried out. The interview partner took into account the various academic settings within which career choice lessons are found, that means inclusive learning mainstream classes, special classes and various special schools (for physical/sensory disabilities, cognitive impairments and behavioural problems). Additionally, eight specialists who have a certain external view with regard to the target groups and/or a good overview of the situation in practice (e.g. Disability Insurance career advisors, INSOS, insieme etc.) underwent questioning. In order to take into account the perspective of those directly affected, namely the adolescents, classroom observations during the career choice lessons are planned in every school environment. The aim of this is to discover how the lesson is designed, what materials are used and how the adolescents react.

Ten focus group interviews took place and, in addition to this, four parents participated in a short telephone interview so that the career choice process could be examined from this equally important perspective. The written questionnaire has been given to 201 teaching staff (approx. 80 inclusive, 21 segregated and 100 various special schools), again including the French-speaking part of Switzerland in this second project phase.


The interview findings show that young people with disabilities or impairments go through similar stages in choosing a career to their colleagues without disabilities. They, too, dream of careers that often have little to do at first with their actual opportunities. Teachers faced with this situation must negotiate a difficult tightrope: "Sometimes I don't know if I should say 'that's a dream job' or wait till they realise for themselves. It calls for a delicate sense of how much they can take” (teacher, special needs school). Many teachers therefore stress the importance of gaining practical experience as early as possible.

A crucial difference between the various types of school is reflected in the institutional terms of reference: special needs schools have a broad network of people working together on the inside and outside. Working with parents is usually well established in the course of planning special needs education, and these close links continue during the period when career choices are being made. Disability insurance providers are usually "on board” too. One pupil at a special needs school describes the ambivalence of her situation: "We aren't left on our own. I always have someone who explains things well. But sometimes it is difficult, as they don't all say the same thing.”

In our written survey, many teachers indicate that they are essentially satisfied with framework conditions and with the remit, e.g. teaching methods that often cut across subject boundaries. At the same time, education reforms are leading to mixed classes with different needs in the career choice process, while the fluid landscape in vocational training makes it essential to stay "in the loop” and network with local employers. All this can generate insecurities. One indication is the wish, frequently expressed by the teachers we surveyed, for initial or further training in this field.

The common tools for career education (personal journal, guide to choosing a career) are used in the classroom by about 60% of teachers. Less use is made of them in special needs schools, where the language and content are largely seen as too difficult. There is a desire for working aids with lighter text enriched by accounts of experience, illustrations and more information relating to low-threshold training options. Two-thirds of the teachers would basically welcome the development of a new tool. The expert know-how, experience and commitment of special needs educators will be required again when compiling the documentation.



Project Management

Prof. Dr.  Schellenberg



Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe