Why Is A Pre-Vocational Programme Vital For Teenagers With Challenges?

Many children or teenagers with special needs generally grow into adults who still have challenges. We strongly believe that the introduction skills that our children learn and cultivate throughout their schooling years can positively impact them to have a more meaningful and fulfilling life when they enter adulthood.

Our Pre-vocational programme is designed with the assistance of Reina Ng (Head of Enterprise & Vocational Training at Rainbow Centre, Singapore). It is a 3 years pre-vocational module that will proceed to another 2 years of vocational training. Here’s a short interview conducted by BC and Reina to give an overview of what parents can expect from a Pre-vocational Programme.

BC: What’s The Difference Between Pre-vocational Skills And Vocational Skills?

Reina: Pre-vocational education focuses on introducing the concept of work and equipping the student with universal skills that would be useful in most workplaces. Many of these universal skills relate to work habits and soft skills such as workplace communication, time management and knowing the role of supervisor and staff. As for hard skills, pre-vocational education focuses on applied numeracy and literacy rather than actual technical skills that are more specific to the job.
Vocational education on the other hand builds upon the foundation set by pre-vocational education and focuses on the acquisition of technical skills (hard skills).

BC: When Is The Right Time To Enrol Our Kids To Pre-vocational Learning?

Reina: There is no specific age especially for children with special learning needs. Every child is different and physical age may not correlate with cognitive age. However, a general rule of thumb is to start them off as early as possible especially in soft skills and applied numeracy/literacy. Pre-vocational learning can be weaved into everyday activities and structured in a play-and-learn way. This is especially effective for neurodiverse children who are kinesthetic and visual learners.

BC: What Are Some Of The Essential Skills Our Students Need To Accomplish Along The Way?

Reina: I would qualify my answers with conventional employment in the open market as the final goal for the student.
Essential skills required for them in no particular order

  • Independent travelling skills.
  • Knowing how to communicate with strangers safely.
  • Troubleshooting skills such as if transportation schedules are disrupted.
  • Knowing how to use a smartphone.
  • Money concept.
  • Time management skills.
  • Social-emotional regulation.
  • Being able to accept criticisms and corrections.
  • Work stamina.
  • effective communication with neurotypicals.
  • knowing when and how to ask for help.

BC: What Are Some Of The Obstacles That Your Students Have To Overcome Before He Or She Is Ready To Enter The Workforce?

Reina: As with any person entering the workforce for the first time, the main obstacle is about getting used to the change. It is a very big change, especially for youths with special needs. The work environment is different from school; in school, many things are controlled, predictable and structured. The outside world is a very different place and students will need to learn how to interact with people who do not necessarily understand their disability.

The other huge obstacle is parents’ fear. Many caregivers worry about their children going out to work and they do so for good reasons. However, being too overprotective can be counterproductive. It also disempowers the child.

BC: In Your Opinion, What Is A Good Pre-vocational Program?

Reina: A good pre-vocational programme is one that finds the right balance between what is expected and relevant to employers versus the learning needs and interest of the child.

BC: How Important Is Vocational Training?

Reina: It is important only if the child wants to work and is motivated by it. I would say that it is more important to listen to what the child has to say and not to impose your thoughts on them. If the child is motivated to work and aspires to do so, give him/her encouragement and moral support.

Do not hinder them. Understandably, some caregivers become over protective and pass up on employment opportunities for their adult children. When this happens, not only can the child become disengaged and frustrated, they end up relying on their caregivers and people around them for everything, to the point that they are unable to lead independent lives once their caregivers pass on.

BC: What Are Some Of The Success Stories That You Came Across?

Reina: What I found interesting in the success stories was that more than 90% of the time, the child comes from a family that is supportive and enlightened. Such caregivers know how much to let go and to trust the job coach and their child. They also know that when things don’t go as planned, it is not productive to simply zero in on the job coach or the employer, but that it is more effective to focus on the child learning from the episode and moving on to something better. Even the most capable child with the most supportive family, is not shielded from external factors such as company restructuring or an economic downturn.

Caregivers need to know that pre-vocational and vocational education are not guarantees of successful employment. It is with such mindsets that I have seen families who are the most successful in terms of their resilience and achieving a happy life for themselves and the child.