Special Education: From Career Development to Employment

By Edgar Hobbs, Jr

[Eds. Note: This article was originally published in June 2013. It is being included here in honor of disabilities month and the need to bring attention to special education.]

Historical Perspective: Remembering the Creator

In 1908, Frank Parsons, a Boston attorney and social reformer, set out several fundamental principles of vocational guidance or career counseling, as we call it today (Kuder Newsletter, 2013). These principles evolved through the work of Mr. Peter Smergut. He developed one of several Career Development Programs for special needs students in the post Parsons era. He was a founder and principal of the Manhattan Transition Center, a co-founder of the New York City Vocational Training Center, and also served as the principal of the Manhattan School for Career Development.

Manhattan School for Career Development Program

The Manhattan School for Career Development (MSCD) offers students an opportunity to develop academic and vocational skills. MSCD special need students' ages range from 13.9 to 21. The goal is to provide students with academic and vocational skills that lead to employment. Students entering MSCD are given academic and career assessments. We monitor their progress. We provide students with rigorous instruction and vocational training. We incorporate the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Career Development Occupational Studies (CDOS) to guide students along a path that lead to employment. CCLS and CDOS enable students to have an enriched high school experience.

MSCD courses are designed to improve students’ academic, socio-emotional, and vocational skills. Students are provided instruction in various subjects, such as Math, Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts, and Career Technology Education (CTE) courses. These subjects focus on functional and transferable skills. For example, students are taught math juxtapose to measurements, budgeting, and finances. Students receive counseling to discuss their career choices, social development, and career plans. Counselors monitor students’ academic progress and social development through assessment tools, goal tracking, and coursework. Students’ progress and social development are outlined in their Individual Educational Program (IEP). An IEP is created for every student annually and progress is assessed six times a year until they graduate or exit the school system.

Afterschool Vocational Program

In addition, MSCD has an afterschool Career Readiness Program to prepare students for employment. The Career Readiness Program meets twice a week for two-hours per day. Trained staff teach students a variety of skills needed to be successful at work. For example, students learn the value of getting along with others, showing initiative, time management, and other job-related duties and skills. Staff also provides students with practical tasks that foster collaboration with peers. Students are taught how to develop a cover letter and resume. We assess their progress through a rubric that focuses on their attendance, participation, collaboration, and completed assignments. We have individualized discussions with students to review their progress at the midpoint of the program. At the completion of the program, students are given a stipend based on their progress, individualized discussions, and outcomes.

Community Based Vocational Internships

MSCD also has Community Based Vocational Internships that provide students with practical training as interns. We have business partnerships throughout Manhattan and the Bronx, such as the Jewish Home and Hospital, ABC Daycare, New York University (NYU), 69th Armory, North Bronx Central Hospital, and many others. We provide internship positions in clerical, building maintenance, food services, elderly care, and childcare as well as other positions. Furthermore, students obtain practical experience and continue to receive academic coursework and career counseling.

Students receive instruction in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics that relates to their internship position. For example, students interested in the building maintenance field (i.e. 69th Armory) learn about measurements and purchase orders. They also learn how to conduct inventory. The experience and education they received may lead to a career in the building maintenance field. Students interested in food services learn about measurements, recipes, food preparation, and cooking. They apply their knowledge and hone their skills at a culinary arts worksite (i.e. NYU), which provides them opportunities to work in the food service industry.

Career Assessments

Upon enrollment, students are given various assessments, such as Level One Assessments, CareerZone, CareerScope (Level II Assessments), and Level III Assessments. Level One Assessments aid students with identifying a career interest as well as strengths and challenges. CareerZone is a web-based program developed by New York State Department of Labor that helps students develop a career related portfolio. CareerScope assesses students’ career-related skills and abilities. The Level III Assessment assesses their skills and abilities as an intern on a daily basis. These assessments prepare students for employment and Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR).

Post Secondary Training

As students approach 18 years old, we assess their academic and vocational skills based on the accomplishment of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals in order to determine if students are prepared to transition from school to post secondary training. Once students are prepared to transition, they are connected to an agency that will assist them in acquiring additional, in-depth training based on their career interest. Most students are connected to ACCES-VR. Students are scheduled for evaluations to determine which training program will be most appropriate. After students receive their results, they are enrolled in a training program and assisted in obtaining employment.

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Career Counselors Are Pivotal to Success

As MSCD continues to provide students with rigorous academic instruction as well as career guidance and counseling until they exit the program, they will need on-going support. Students are given the opportunity to gain practical experience through our Afterschool Vocational Program and Community Based Vocational Internships. Career counselors are a pivotal part of students’ progress and transition to employment. Career counselors working with special needs students will assess students’ career interest annually by using career assessment tools and track students’ progress weekly in order to address any concerns and make the necessary adjustments. This support will help students successfully transition from school to their chosen employment field.



Jones, L. K. (2013). The Career Key. Retrieved April 2, 2013 from www.careerkey.org

Smergut, P. (2013). Peter Smergut Bio. Retrieved April 2, 2013 from www.molloy.edu [Eds. Note: See a current link to his bio here: https://www.longislandpress.com/2020/04/08/peter-smergut-former-lifes-worc-leader-dies/ ]

Zytowski, D. (2008, February 21). 100 Years of Career Guidance - Honoring Frank Parsons. Retrieved May 5, 2013, from http://www.easybib.com/reference/guide/apa/website



Edgar HobbsDr. Edgar Hobbs Jr is a Counselor as well as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed School Building Leader, and Certified as a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Trainer and Career Development Facilitator for the NYC Dept of Education in District 75.  He has received several community service awards from elected officials in New York.  In 2011, he received a Guidance Counselor Recognition Award for his outstanding service to students and families.  He continues to counsel  special needs students as well as write grants, develop programs, organize events, review IEPs’, facilitate a Respect For All program, and teach Career Readiness classes. Dr. Hobbs can be reached at ehobbsjr2002@yahoo.com.


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Chrystal McArthur   on Sunday 06/02/2013 at 04:26 PM

We absolutely need more schools and programs of this nature. I have worked in Career Development with pre-college programs as well as in a community college and 4-year college. Some students are not ready for college following high school and should be provided a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the workforce.

Cheryl Brown   on Saturday 09/28/2013 at 05:41 PM

The district I live in Fort Worth, Texas has career programs, but it seems that students with special needs are not being assessed and put in these programs

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.