Careers Through Occupational Courses

NTACT: the Collaborative
6 min readAug 26, 2020


Christina M. Gushanas, Ph.D., Tracy E. Sinclair, Ph.D., BCBA, and the NTACT Knowledge Development Team

Sam Houston State University, University of Connecticut, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The vast majority of students will transition from high school directly to work, with only a small number entering traditional college settings (i.e., 2- or 4-year programs; Stone, 2017). However, students with disabilities often struggle with obtaining and maintaining employment after high school (Goodman et al., 2020; Newman et al., 2011). The need for occupational courses to explore career interests and skills necessary for future success is important for students with disabilities transitioning into adulthood (Test et al., 2009). Occupational course participation is a research-based practice predictor identified by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Participating in occupational courses is associated with positive post-school employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

What are occupational courses?

Occupational courses are defined as “individual courses that support career

awareness, allow or enable students to explore various career pathways, develop occupational specific skills through instruction, and experiences focused on their desired employment goals” (Rowe et al., 2015).

What are the characteristics of occupational courses?

There are a number of characteristics associated with occupational courses, including

· Embedding career awareness activities (e.g., guest speakers), career planning (e.g., create career goals), and vocational assessments;

· Designing curriculum for each course to include technology, 21st century skills (e.g., information and media literacy), and employability skills related to specific career/career cluster content;

· Providing hands-on and community-based opportunities to learn occupational specific skills;

· Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, including cooperative education programs to provide access to students with disabilities;

· Providing course offerings throughout the school day so scheduling conflicts do not restrict student access (e.g., occupational course is offered three times within a day); and

· Providing content that represents a wide variety of occupational clusters and aligns with the preferences, interests, needs, and strengths of each student.

How can teachers and families support the implementation of occupational courses in their school districts?

Teachers can support occupational courses by

· Evaluating occupational courses to ensure the program characteristics are included;

· Reviewing descriptions of high school occupational courses and career clusters to become familiar with the skills, expertise, and knowledge being developed in each course;

· Sharing course descriptions with students and families to help students identify appropriate occupational courses based on their post-school goals, strengths, preferences, interests, and needs;

· Participating in curricula alignment activities at the school-, district-, and state-level to ensure skills, expertise, and knowledge relative to a single occupation or career cluster are explicitly stated and designed to include students with disabilities;

· Collaborating with occupational course teachers and guidance counselors to identify appropriate courses for individual students;

· Ensuring occupational coursework is included in students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP);

· Embedding occupational skills (i.e., skills needed for a specific job) into general education content;

· Coordinating an occupational exploration transition fair for students and families to attend; and

· Engaging families in culturally appropriate discussions about post-school options for their secondary-age children with disabilities.

Families can help their child by

· Talking with their child about their post-school goals and help them select courses that align with their interests and what they plan to do post-high school graduation;

· Asking how their child’s high school courses and IEP goals and objectives will support their plans after high school;

· Volunteering to serve on school and district committees to provide perspective and ensure all students are represented in the design and development of occupational courses; and

· Attending school-sponsored transition events focused on post-school career options.

State & Local Examples — South Carolina

South Carolina High School Credential

Course Introduction — YouTube video

The South Carolina High School Credential, in alignment with the State’s Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, assists students in acquiring the necessary skills to be successful after high school. The purpose of the South Carolina High School Credential is to provide job-readiness opportunities for students throughout the state, ensure they have evidence of employability skills, and honor the work they have undertaken in our public schools. To earn a South Carolina High School Credential, students are required to earn 24 units of credit that include coursework aligned with the South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Standards, obtain work readiness assessment results that demonstrate the student is ready for competitive employment, complete a career portfolio that includes a multi-media presentation, and complete at least 360 hours of work-based learning/training.

The course of study that leads to the South Carolina High School Credential includes: 4 English, 4 Math, 2 Science, 2 Social studies, 4 Employability Education, 1 PE / Health (or equivalent), 1 Technology, and 6 Electives. Detailed information regarding the coursework that comprises the requirements of the credential, including the course descriptions and competencies can be found on the credential website,

NTACT Resources

Career and Technical Education & Secondary Students with Disabilities — This NTACT Quick Guide covers CTE, the importance of developing programs of study with CTE courses embedded throughout, and resources for teachers, administrators, and vocational rehabilitation personnel.

Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition Fast Facts: Occupational Courses — This document provides an overview of occupational courses, additional resources, and how occupational courses apply to teachers, administrators, and families.

Employment Preparation and Work Based Learning Experiences in a Virtual World — This webinar details how to address work-based learning during a distance/remote learning environment.

Occupational Courses Correlated with Improved Education and Employment Outcomes — This NTACT document provides the level of evidence, an overview, and resources for occupational courses.

Transition Fair Toolkit — This NTACT document provides educators and administrators detailed guidance on how to develop, plan, and implement a successful transition fair at the secondary level. Practical tips and advice are included.


Goodman, D., Caldwell, A., Bodnar, D., & Stover, A. (2020). Employable: Transition program to improve employment outcomes for students with disabilities — Needs assessment & current constraints. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 13(2), 197–218.

Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A. M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school: A report from the national longitudinal transition study-2 (NLTS2). SRI International.

Rowe, D. A., Alverson, C. Y., Unruh, D. K., Fowler, C. H., Kellems, R., & Test, D. W. (2015). A Delphi study to operationalize evidence-based predictors in secondary transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38(2), 113–126.

Stone, J. R. (2017). Introduction to pathways to a productive adulthood: The role of CTE in the American high school. Peabody Journal of Education, 92(2), 155–165.

Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V. L., Mustian, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(3), 160–181.



NTACT: the Collaborative

NTACT:C is a Technical Assistance and Dissemination project, funded by the OSEP and the RSA, Cooperative Agreement Number H326E140004.