Standard 5

Standard 5. WBL activities are coordinated as a continuum of career development.
  • A career development sequence includes activities related to career awareness, exploration and preparation.
INDICATOR: Schools identify a progression of career development at appropriate age levels.

Work-based learning is one element of the larger category of career and college readiness activities, all of which combine to create a lifelong process of career development stretching from preschool through adulthood. There are four broad overlapping stages that most people experience as they develop their careers—awareness, exploration, preparation, and application. WBL activities are designed to help students move through these stages and learn about the world of work and the career options they could pursue.

The Process of Progression in Career Development*
Career development is a process just like learning to walk and talk.  The stages of career development overlap and are ongoing throughout one's lifetime. The appropriate time for initiating each of the stages of career development for students with disabilities will depend more upon the developmental level vs. the student's grade level.  There are certain stages that should be addressed at elementary, at middle school, and high school and beyond. The  progression of career development:

  • Pre-School: Life of Work Fantasy
  • Grades K-3: Awareness of careers
  • Grades 4-6: Awareness of self (abilities and aptitudes)
  • Grades 7-8: Career exploration (background orientation and preparation for training)
  • Grades 9-10: Continued career exploration including community-based learning
  • Grades 11-12: Career training programs and work experiences designed to prepare students for employment and/or additional training
  • Post-Secondary: Training or retraining of persons for gainful employment
  • Adulthood: Continual development of transferable and occupational specific skills to result in a satisfying career life

Career awareness/orientation is the first stage of the process and should begin in the early elementary years.  This stage really never ends. It is important for this stage to begin early in children's lives so they can develop self-awareness and feelings of self worth/confidence. This will assist them in: (1) developing a work personality that helps them perceive themselves as workers; (2) becoming more aware of different jobs; (3) developing work values, attitudes and other attributes appropriate to their unique abilities and needs. 

Career exploration is the second stage of career development. This stage should be emphasized particularly during the middle school years; although it, too, never really ends.  During this stage teens should be given a chance to examine firsthand broad occupational groupings such as agricultural work, construction, information technology, public service jobs, business and finance, and manufacturing. They should be allowed to obtain various hands-on experiences, and be given the opportunity to examine their own particular set of abilities and needs, as related to vocational interests, leisure and recreational pursuits, and other roles related to their overall career development.

Career preparation represents a third stage of career development.  This stage occurs usually during the high school years and finds the student beginning to develop and clarify personal, social and occupational knowledge and skills.  Specific interests, aptitudes and competencies of the student should be more clearly delineated in this stage relative to the lifestyle the student desires. Courses should be selected on this basis so a variety of experiences in and out of the classroom can be provided.  A substantial experiential component should characterize this stage of development.

Career application and continuing education reflects the opportunity to experience first hand real work environments. This stage of development requires the direct involvement of employers and community-based organizations providing students with paid and unpaid opportunities in the community. c Supported guidance and counseling services will be required.  All people change at least somewhat in their interests and goals as they become older. 

The chart below from the original Vermont Work-Based Learning Manual, provides another a mechanism for linking specific WBL activities with the stages of career development at appropriate grade levels. The stages of career development overlap and are ongoing throughout one's lifetime.

Several states have developed a similar framework for a progression of career development from elementary school through high school completion and beyond.  Another great example is Colorado's Department of Education "The Stages of Career Development"which can be found in the Resources section.  The American School Counselors National Standards for career development also provide a framework for career development activities that enable students to make a successful transition from school to the world of work, and from job to job across the life span.  The three main standards under Career Development include:

1.  Students will acquire the skills to investigate the world of work in relation to knowledge of self and to make informed career decisions.
2. Students will employ strategies to achieve future career goals with success and satisfaction.
3. Students will understand the relationship between personal qualities, education, training and the world of work.
This model can also be found in the Resources section. 


Jay Ramsey at or (802) 479-1343

Page Last Updated on December 4, 2014