At a glance
More and more public schools are adding vocational programs.
There are many ways your teen can try out a trade.
Volunteering in high school can build skills.
If your high school junior or senior has learning and thinking differences, learning a trade can be a great way to explore their interests. They’ll gain experience and learn how to use their strengths. Your teen can also try out they may need in the real world. Here are nine ways to get to work.
1. High school vocational education
If your child is in public high school, your teen may be able to start exploring career options there. More and more schools are offering training for skilled jobs like carpentry. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), your child should be getting transition planning services starting at age 14. That can get you thinking about job training versus college early on.
2. Community college
High schools often team up with community colleges to train students in fields like computer programming. Students start taking courses while still in high school. At the end of the program, they can earn an associate’s degree or certificate. They may also be able to land a job quickly since the colleges often partner with local businesses.
If your child is interested in working with their hands, they can look into local trade unions. Many offer skilled trade classes at union halls. These classes could include masonry, electrical work, and plumbing.
4. Non-accredited technical training companies
Training companies offer classes in trades like automotive work and bookkeeping. Your child won’t be able to transfer these credits to a two-year or four-year college. But your teen will gain the skills needed to get a job.
5. Volunteer jobs
Student volunteers can learn a lot about different vocations — and themselves. They might volunteer with an agency that’s rehabbing houses, for instance, and learn that they love to drywall and paint. Encourage your child to explore a field that interests them. Fire departments and nursing home are examples of groups that train volunteers.
6. Paid jobs
Research shows that working for pay boosts the career potential for teens with learning and thinking differences. Whether it’s at a garden center or at a restaurant, a paying job can open up possibilities. Help your child with the application process. If your child submits a résumé by email, remind your teen to follow up with a phone call to ask for an interview.
Internships offer hands-on work experience and mentoring. They also give students a sense of what the work is like full-time — and the accommodations they’ll need. Internships usually last a few weeks to a year. If your child is in school, a summer or semester internship may work. After graduation, an internship with a large employer may allow your teen to rotate from one job to another every few months. That way, students can try different jobs and develop several skills.
These programs can be a good option for teens who want to learn a trade through hands-on experience. Apprentices are trained by workers in skilled trades such as cabinetry and plumbing. Most keep working for a period of time after their program ends.
9. Career and technical student organizations
CTSOs welcome high school graduates who are interested in particular fields. They help students network all over the country. Many offer scholarships and help with job placement. Here are some CTSOs:
- Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA): Marketing, management, and entrepreneurship
- National Future Farmers of America (NFFA) and National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization (PAS): Agricultural fields
- National Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA): Health services
- Technology Student Association (TSA, formerly AIASA): Technology
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (www.careeronestop.org) is another great source of job training and employment advice. You can help your teen explore different trades. Once they decide on one, your child will have many ways to pursue it.
A paid job during high school can be a confidence booster and a career booster.
An internship or apprenticeship is a good way to learn a trade without going to school.
National student network groups can help teens learn about trades and network.
Tell us what interests you
About the author
About the author
Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos is a writer and editor for many national publications.
Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.