Pre-Employment Transition Services Guide

This Guide provides resources, practices, and considerations to support the provision of the five required pre-ETS categories with deaf clients: job exploration, counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on postsecondary opportunities, workplace readiness training, and instruction in self-advocacy.

Pre-Employment Transition Services

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies have made the transition from high school to vocational training, college and the workforce a priority for students with disabilities to ensure successful and enduring postsecondary outcomes under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The act requires that at least 15% of every state VR agency’s federal budget must be allocated to provide specific education and training to prepare students with disabilities for postsecondary settings known as Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) (and otherwise known as Student Services). VR agencies have created a new case type often known as Potentially Eligible (PE), (…) to expeditiously serve students with disabilities who meet the criteria for Pre-ETS. These VR agencies often partner with schools, colleges, community organizations and employers to provide transition services to prepare students with disabilities for life after high school. To leverage partnerships with VR agencies, it is necessary to frame programs and services to meet one or more Pre-Employment Transition Service categories:

  1. Job Exploration Counseling

  2. Work-Based Learning

  3. Counseling on Postsecondary Opportunities

  4. Workplace Readiness Training

  5. Instruction in Self-Advocacy


WIOA also ensures that federal investments in employment and training programs are evidence-based and data-driven. VR agencies must report six primary indicators of performance:

  • Employment Rate – 2nd and 4th Quarters After Exit

  • Title I Youth Education and Employment Rate

  • Median Earnings – 2nd Quarter After Exit

  • Credential Attainment

  • Measurable Skill Gains

  • Effectiveness in Serving Employers

As with any other service provided through a Community Rehabilitation Partner (CRP), Pre-Employment Transition Services must be monitored and evaluated to ensure expected outcomes are met. When planning for Pre-ETS, consider what timeframes and measurable objectives are necessary to meet expected outcomes. Work collaboratively with the student, family, VR agency and CRP to “demonstrate outcomes and corrective actions that will be required when outcomes are not met” (WINTAC). Review the CRP Pre-ETS Guidebook developed by the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center for more information and collaborative strategies to provide Pre-ETS.

For additional information related to deaf student outcomes, visit for research reports on postsecondary achievement, transition, testing and other topics related to deaf outcomes.


An applicant must apply for and meet all criteria in order to receive Pre-Employment Services from a VR agency. Criteria may vary from state-to-state. The following serves as a general guideline to proactively plan for the Pre-ETS application. In order to qualify for Pre-ETS through a VR agency, an applicant must:

  • Be between the ages of 16-22

  • Have a 504 Plan, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a documented disability

  • Be enrolled in an educational program (i.e. high school, homeschool, other non-traditional secondary educational program or postsecondary education program)

Once a student qualifies for services, VR agencies will collaborate with the student and/or families and teachers to determine appropriate goals and which Pre-ETS are needed based on the student’s unique strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice. Note that not all Pre-ETS categories may be provided. A plan including a timeline, types of transition services and activities and which parties will be providing the services will be agreed upon by the vocational rehabilitation counselor, student and guardians and established. The different types of activities will depend on the student’s and their family’s level of engagement and ability to participate (e.g. access to communication, school schedule, transportation, etc.). Consider the student’s current passions and aspirations and curiosities; and the current labor market when deciding on Pre-ETS activities. This is an opportunity for the student to learn about and explore: the world of work, their desired fields and industries not yet considered.

Deaf 101

For an introduction on working with deaf individuals, take NDC’s free online courses available for CRC clock hours. These courses may be counted under Pre-ETS funding as professional development known as additional authorized services:

  • Deaf 101: This course outlines basic knowledge and tools necessary to communicate effectively with deaf individuals, especially in professional settings.

  • Effective Communication Course Series: This course series provides an overview of key concepts in ensuring effective communication access for deaf individuals, particularly in postsecondary settings.

  • Test Equity Course Series: This course series describes essential information to improve test equity for deaf individuals.

  • Deaf-Centered Practice: This short course provides basic knowledge and tools necessary to understand the social implications in privileges, biases and marginalization, when working with deaf individuals and communities in professional settings.

Review Special Topics: Deaf 101 for additional resources, tipsheets and guides.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is crucial for deaf students to equally participate in educational and vocational opportunities. It ensures deaf students are not only able to understand instruction and interactions, but are also able to express and advocate their thoughts and needs. Effective communication access also helps conversations about how professionals may reciprocate to support the deaf person in these interactions.

The inclusion of signing staff, deaf role-models and deaf peers ensure deaf students have access to communication and potential interactions that take place in Pre-ETS activities.

WIOA, the Rehabilitation Act and the Code of Federal Regulations state that in specific situations, VR agencies can fund auxiliary aids and services to allow students to equally participate in WBL and other Pre-ETS (RSA, memo). Auxiliary aids and services include, but are not limited to: real-time interpretation, transcription, notetaking, video-based telecommunication products and screen reader software.Often, more than one auxiliary aid or service may be necessary.

The Interactive Process Tools may be able to assist you with determining appropriate accommodations based on hearing loss, communication needs or preferences, and past accommodation experiences. For additional information, review NDC’s Effective Communication tip sheet and take our free online Effective Communication Access course series.

Additional Expenditures

Additional expenses for the deaf student to participate in Pre-Employment Transition Services such as work clothing, tools and equipment may also be funded by VR agencies on a case-by-case basis (WINTAC, FAQ). Programs should anticipate these costs whenever possible and develop strategies to coordinate the funding and provision of items required to participate in Pre-ETS. However, some expenses like transportation are not often funded by VR for students exclusively involved in Pre-ETS. Some programs have built in travel training and transportation costs when offering fee-for-service Pre-ETS activities with VR agencies as a means to recruit and retain deaf students.

Alternatively, if there are unallowable expenses to participate in Pre-ETS, students can apply for general vocational rehabilitation services to receive appropriate assistive technology assessments and devices, financial assistance for training/education, job development, job coaching and/or transportation in addition to Pre-ETS. For more information, review these tipsheets:

Job Exploration Counseling

Job Exploration Counseling includes discussion on the student’s interests, abilities and capabilities in relation to careers and activities to increase career awareness and understanding of the labor market.


Job Exploration Counseling can entail discussions and information on vocational interest inventory results, the labor market, non-traditional employment options and suitable career pathways (WINTAC, Job Exploration Counseling). The Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET OnLine have information, resources and interactive career matching tools designed for career exploration. Other strategies for career exploration can include career panels, fairs, camps or field trips as opportunities for students to ask questions, learn about diverse industries and to identify long term goals.


Career interest inventories and related career assessments are the only allowable expenses in the context of providing Pre-Employment Transition Services. Assessments and evaluations used to document disability, job readiness or determine additional services outside Pre-ETS to determine eligibility for general vocational rehabilitation services are not permitted (WINTAC, Work-Based Learning).


Work-Based Learning

Work-Based Learning (WBL) provide immersive learning opportunities for students to understand the world of work to develop the knowledge and skills to participate in future careers.


WBL activities can only be financially supported by VR agencies if they meet the criterion as listed by WIOA and the Department of Labor (DOL). These activities must have direct community involvement in an integrated setting where wages (if provided) are no less than minimum wage (WINTAC, Work-Based Learning).

WBL activities may include the following (WINTACWork-Based Learning):

  • Job Shadowing

  • Career Mentorship

  • Career Related Competitions

  • Informational Interviews

  • Paid Internships

  • Non-paid Internships

  • Practicum

  • Service Learning

  • Student-led Enterprises

  • Simulated Workplace Experience

  • Paid Work Experience

  • Non-Paid Work Experience

  • Volunteering

  • Workplace Tours/Field Trips

For further guidance and examples from the field, take our Developing Accessible Work Based Learning Programs short course.


The Department of Labor places time limits on internships and work exploration activities. These limits are necessary to differentiate work-based learning from official employment (DOL, Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor: School-to-Work).

  • Career Exploration (limited to 5 hours/job) – a brief exposure to a variety of work settings and may include work site field trips or job shadowing to view the type of work being performed.

  • Career Assessment (limited to 90 hours/job) – an extended observation where the student undertakes work assignments for the purpose of assessing his/her interests, aptitudes, and support needs.

  • Work-Related Training (limited to 120 hours/job) – a period of work experience for the purpose of training job skills and job-related skills.


Counseling on Post-Secondary Opportunities

Counseling on Postsecondary Opportunities includes discussions on the student’s career pathway. This involves planning and understanding education and training requirements. Understanding these requirements include when, how and who to ask for academic accommodations and services. This is also an opportunity to discuss the selection and enrollment in appropriate training institutions (e.g. community college, university, vocational training or apprenticeships).


Postsecondary Counseling activities can include:

  • Identification and documentation of accommodations across educational and vocational settings

  • Development of self-advocacy and self-determination skills surrounding access to and perseverance through education and employment

  • Understanding the roles of campus disability support services and community advocacy organizations

  • Development of finance and budget planning skills including student aid



Workplace Readiness Training

  • Workplace Readiness Training involves the development of social and independent living skills that are required for any career. They are sometimes known as soft skills which are necessary to communicate, work collaboratively and demonstrate professionalism in the work setting.


    The Department of Labor developed a curriculum for youth in transition titled, “Skills to Pay the Bills — Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success (ODEP, Youth in Transition). The document identifies six key soft skill areas:

    • Communication or the manner in which information is professionally exchanged between the individual, coworkers and supervisors.

    • Attitude and Enthusiasm or positive behaviors and temperament exuded in job interviews and workplace.

    • Teamwork which involves understanding how one’s own workplace conduct affects others in a team.

    • Networking involves the knowledge and skills to create connections in relation to careers.

    • Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking involves dealing with criticism, praise, feedback and making ethical decisions in the workplace.

    • Professionalism is strategizing ways to combine and apply combination and application all of the aforementioned skills.


Instruction in Self-Advocacy

Instruction in Self-Advocacy are strategies to empower deaf students to be able to assert, pursue and take responsibility for their needs and goals necessary for life after high school. The concept of self-advocacy comes hand-in-hand with self-determination which is the sum of an individual’s attitudes, characteristics, skills, knowledge, beliefs and perspectives that leads them to define their own goals, act autonomously, and self-regulate (Self-Advocacy: The Basics). Self-determination among deaf high school students is linked to greater autonomy, living independently, positive self-beliefs and positive adult outcomes, including postsecondary enrollment, higher wages and career advancement (Self-Determination for Deaf Youth).


An early strategy to practice self-advocacy in the K-12 setting is to involve the deaf student in their IEP/504 planning meetings. Students with disabilities who lead their IEP meetings tend to know more about their disability rights and accommodations, have increased self-confidence, interact more positively with adults, independently assume more responsibility, are more aware of available resources and had more family involvement with planning (Hawbaker, 2007).

Provide opportunities to pair deaf students and their families with deaf role models. Role models can support and guide deaf individuals to develop skills in self-advocacy, social interaction, language and identity development. With families, role models can instill positive attitudes and raise academic and vocational expectations of deaf youth (Role Models as Facilitators of Social Capital for Deaf Individuals: A Research Synthesis).


A Toolkit for #DeafSuccess: Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals

Data shows there are gaps and barriers for deaf people when accessing vocational rehabilitation (VR) services:

For these reasons, VR professionals play an important role as gatekeepers to provide services and support for individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions to maximize postsecondary training, employment, independence, and community inclusion.

This includes deaf people seeking higher education and vocational training as well as deaf youth preparing to transition after high school. VR professionals should have a nuanced understanding of deaf people’s diverse sociocultural identities, values, goals, communication preferences and access needs to close gaps in education, employment and VR services.

Professionals should also be aware of the laws protecting and supporting individuals with disabilities in education, employment and community settings. Additional considerations are necessary to effectively provide deaf youth with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This toolkit is a combination of resources, guidance and tools to support VR professionals to effectively collaborate with deaf people and their career pathways.

For more information and resources on providing VR services, visit the VR Toolkit.


Need more support or guidance? Go to NDC | help team. You can get a personalized response to your question, or post your inquiry to a community of professionals on our listserv.

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