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Who I Want to Be When I Grow Up: Coming out of the Starting Blocks

By Elaine Gould, M.Ed.

November/December 2012


For a child with a disability, considerations for transition from school to postsecondary life should begin in elementary school and be grounded in the concept of career development (Repetto & Andrews, 2012). Career development can be defined as “a continuous lifelong process … through which people come to understand themselves as they relate to the world of work and their role in it” (Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, & Leconte, 2007, p. 12).

Although the world of work is a developmental stage that a child will reach much later in life, it is important for educators to lay the foundation of career development early by creating opportunities for students to explore career interests and to understand how they may fit into occupational roles (Garman, 2009). The Life Centered Career Education (LCCE) Model of career development identifies four phases in the career development process: (a) career awareness, (b) career exploration, (c) career preparation, and (d) career assimilation. Movement through these phases is developmental – beginning in elementary school and continuing throughout the student’s academic career into adulthood.

Career Awareness

The career awareness phase “starts in the elementary grades with students learning about careers, roles, and tasks (e.g., firefighters put out fires, architects build buildings, friends help each other)” (Repetto & Andrews, 2012, p. 161). After completing this phase of development, students should be able to identify, describe, and discuss types of jobs, jobs in which they may be interested, and the roles of adults who hold these jobs (Sitlington et al., 2007). If a student has not participated in activities at the awareness level, it may be challenging to move to activities in career exploration, the next phase in career development (Sitlington et al., 2007).

How Do I Help My Students to Assess and Develop Interests in the Career Awareness Phase?

Sitlington et al. (2007) created the Career Development Checklist to assess where a student is in the career development process and to guide the selection of transition assessments that support the student’s movement through the career development phases. Administering age-appropriate transition assessments can help determine how a student envisions himself in career-specific roles (Sitlington et al., p. 12). Ways in which educators can engage students in the assessment process and support career awareness include the following:

  • Promote career and self-awareness through field trips to local businesses and government agencies or inviting professionals to speak to students about their jobs.  
  • Engage students in fun and active learning that supports self-exploration (i.e., identifying strengths, interests, preferences, and needs) and career awareness. For example:
  • Use tools such as the One-Pager on the I’m Determined website ( to help assess students’ strengths, interests, preferences, and need
  • Click here to learn about more fun and simple ways to develop career awareness

When students engage in assessment and awareness activities, they begin to envision themselves in adult career roles. As such, these experiences provide a foundation from which students can begin to articulate goals for their future and create plans for how to attain them.  The next article in this series will highlight the career exploration phase in the career development process.

Check It Out!

Check out Assess for Success in the T/TAC Library free of charge. TTAC’s Learning Resource Center Librarian will mail the book to you and provide a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope for quick and easy return.


Garman, C. (2009). Helping students identify their true colors: Career colors that is. Retrieved from

Repetto, J., & Andrews, W. (2012). Career development and vocational instruction. In M. Wehmeyer & K. Webb (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent transition education for youth with disabilities (pp. 156-170).  New York, NY: Routledge.

Sitlington, P., Neubert, D., Begun, W., Lombard, R., & Leconte, P. (2007). Assess for success.  Thousand Oaks, CA: SageI