Soft Skills in the Employment Environment | Special Ed NJ

Soft Skills in the Employment Environment–Special Education Needs

One of the primary goals of Gateway and its’ sister schools is to prepare students for workplace success after graduation.

Young adults with disabling conditions who turn 21 have many options to purchase services once they are assigned individualized funding through the state Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services. One choice of our Gateway graduates’ transition is to attend the Primetime Center, where they receive career education, plus training in functional academics and community living skills. One ultimate outcome would be to ultimately find supported or independent employment. This will require demonstration of “soft skills”, such as accepting criticism, personal grooming, appropriately reading social cues, interacting with employees, and independently asking for help instead of waiting for further instruction.

Over the past several decades research in the field of transition of special needs students has targeted interpersonal and social skills as critical keys to successfully acquiring and maintaining competitive employment. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) developed a specific curriculum, entitled “Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” It focuses on preparing youth, including those with disabilities, for readiness in the workplace. The curriculum’s foundation is comprised of the intangibles of work, which prove to be elusive and more challenging to those with learning difficulties. These include communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem-solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. The best way to learn about the intangible is through using our words to make them tangible! Let’s dive right in.


Instructions are useless if they exist only in the giver’s head. A common human flaw is the assumption that others know what they are thinking. Without communication, employees cannot receive directions, let alone follow them. Communication experts are aware of just how many paths information can follow in any given situation. Whether it be between an employee and manager, employee and customer or any other possible configuration within a work environment, strong communication skills are how you optimize that environment. Even an employer aware of a worker with special needs will still need that employee to communicate to the best of their ability to enhance achievement on the job.

Enthusiasm & Attitude

These two words refer to one’s mindset. Perhaps it is because of the motivation caused by overcoming limitations over the years, but special needs students tend to take on enthusiasm and positive attitudes rather naturally. After all, mainstream education does not highlight limitations quite as such, leaving the mindset of many students unclear or even inaccurate regarding their actual ability. Being enthusiastic and displaying a positive attitude is the outlook that gets you the job, and helps you keep it.


Workplace dynamics is a fancy term for teamwork. Knowing your role on the team is how you contribute best to those dynamics. It is how you increase its success. A great many intangibles arise during teamwork. This skill is far more complex than can be described.


Those who excel at teamwork will likely begin to see the advantage of building a network of potential collaborators. This is important for all employees. Informational interviewing, using social networks or attending certain events are all aspects of career planning that our students will be exposed to.

Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

There won’t be a moment of any day where this won’t come into play. Fortunately, in some form or another, we have been teaching our students this lesson, for their day to day life, for many years. In the transition to adult life and employment, we only hope to build upon that foundation.


Be prepared. Finish tasks. Show up for work on time. Dress and conduct yourself well. Treat others with respect. Is there really a day in our students’ life where we haven’t laid the groundwork for professionalism? Everyone entering the workforce understands professionalism but our students live these principles on a deeper level than merely impressing the boss..

This is what we do at The Gateway School of Carteret, New Jersey

A good transition program concentrates on these work-related student behaviors in natural work environments to increase the chance for success in the adult world.

The Gateway School an private special education school in New Jersey

Our Mission at The Gateway School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.

We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.541.4400, or request a tour of The Gateway School located in Carteret New Jersey, just minutes off of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ

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