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Although social skills have long been recognized as essential in promoting employees’ employability (e.g., maintaining employment), there has been little research about work-related social skills for the last two decades. A systematic replication of Salzberg, Agran, and Lignugaris/Kraft’s investigation of critical social skills was conducted. Specifically, a national sample of secondary teachers was asked to rate the importance of social skills in employment settings and the extent to which instruction was provided to teach these skills. Among the skills rated as most important were seeking clarification for unclear instructions, arriving at work on time, refraining from inappropriate touching of others, carrying out instructions needing immediate attention, notifying a supervisor when assistance is needed, responding appropriately to critical feedback, and interacting well with customers/clients. Interestingly, the skills perceived to be the most important were not the skills that were most frequently taught. The implications of these findings are discussed.
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Career Development and Transition for
Exceptional Individuals
1 –10
© Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/2165143414546741
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Article
Employment of people with disabilities has remained
unconscionably low over time, despite national hiring ini-
tiatives (e.g., Executive Order 13548—Increasing Federal
Employment of Individuals With Disabilities; Obama,
2010). Unemployment and underemployment rates of
adults with disabilities—particularly, severe disabilities—
have plateaued near 80% for decades (Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2012). Effects associated with chronic job loss
for an individual can be dire (e.g., food scarcity, living in
poverty, lack of health care) and, regrettably, these are con-
ditions that are disproportionately experienced by people
with disabilities. A host of factors may account for dismal
employment rates, including prejudice, discrimination, lim-
ited disability awareness, and fear (McDonald, Keys, &
Balcazar, 2007). Despite groundbreaking studies conducted
over the past three decades that have provided “illustrations
of competence” highlighting the capacity and capability of
people with disabilities, including those with extensive sup-
port needs, to perform complex work tasks (cf. Rusch,
1990; Wehman, 2006), providing opportunities for individ-
uals to demonstrate these skills and become gainfully
employed remain limited.
Efforts have been made over the last 30 years or more to
determine what factors promote employability (i.e., pre-
venting employees with an intellectual disability from being
terminated). What has been determined is that overwhelm-
ingly employees do not lose their jobs because they cannot
perform required job tasks but because of difficulty fitting
in socially in the workplace (e.g., Brickey, Campbell, &
Browning, 1985; Butterworth & Strauch, 1994; Chadsey,
2007; Greenspan & Shoultz, 1981; Kochany & Keller,
1981; Wehman, Hill, Goodall, Cleveland, & Pentecost,
1982). For example, a worker may fail to greet customers at
a restaurant or talk continually when entering data in an
office. Early social validation studies conducted in employ-
ment settings indicate that employers of people with dis-
abilities have expectations for employees on the job (e.g.,
interacting with co-workers at breaks, requesting and pro-
viding assistance, responding appropriately to constructive
criticism) and that little tolerance exists for behaviors such
as yelling, complaining, assaulting others, invading privacy,
or interrupting meetings unannounced (e.g., Agran,
Salzberg, & Martella, 1991; McConaughy, Stowitschek,
Salzberg, & Peatross, 1989; Salzberg, Agran, & Lignugaris/
Kraft, 1986).
546741CDEXXX10.1177/2165143414546741Career Development and Transition for Exceptional IndividualsAgran et al.
research-article2014
1University of Wyoming, Laramie, USA
2Queens College, City University of New York, NY, USA
3Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA
Corresponding Author:
Martin Agran, University of Wyoming, Dept. 3374, 1000 E. University
Ave., Laramie, WY 82071, USA.
Email: magran@uwyo.edu
Employment Social Skills: What Skills Are
Really Valued?
Martin Agran, PhD1, Carolyn Hughes, PhD2,
Colleen A. Thoma, PhD3, and LaRon A. Scott, PhD3
Abstract
Although social skills have long been recognized as essential in promoting employees’ employability (e.g., maintaining
employment), there has been little research about work-related social skills for the last two decades. A systematic
replication of Salzberg, Agran, and Lignugaris/Kraft’s investigation of critical social skills was conducted. Specifically, a
national sample of secondary teachers was asked to rate the importance of social skills in employment settings and the
extent to which instruction was provided to teach these skills. Among the skills rated as most important were seeking
clarification for unclear instructions, arriving at work on time, refraining from inappropriate touching of others, carrying
out instructions needing immediate attention, notifying a supervisor when assistance is needed, responding appropriately
to critical feedback, and interacting well with customers/clients. Interestingly, the skills perceived to be the most important
were not the skills that were most frequently taught. The implications of these findings are discussed.
Keywords
career and vocational, development, low incidence, disabilities, high school, education, survey, research
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2 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals
At the same time, employers typically do not believe that
it is their job to teach expected social skills; rather, employ-
ers primarily hold that employees with or without disabili-
ties should enter employment with “job-ready” social skill
repertoires in order that supervisors can focus on training
requisite skills to maximize job performance (Butterworth
& Strauch, 1994). Ryndak, Alper, Hughes, and McDonnell
(2012) argued that if employers’ perspectives were heeded,
teaching socially validated social skills would be a critical
component of secondary programs for students with signifi-
cant disabilities. However, Guy, Sitlington, Larsen, and
Frank’s (2009) statewide study revealed that employment
training, in general, is limited in secondary education pro-
grams. When implemented, the main focus of employment
training is teaching technical skills versus job-related social
skills (Guy et al., 2009).
The logical place to teach social skills valued on the job
and in adult life is a student’s high school environment
where an abundance of peers is found who are competent in
engaging in social interactions and serving as positive role
models. Indeed, studies show that general education peers
can be effective teachers of appropriate social skills with
students with severe disabilities, and that these skills can
generalize to students and settings not associated with
instruction (e.g., Hughes et al., 2013). Rather than wait until
students are already in a post-school employment setting,
researchers, employers, parents, and important others argue
that social skills instruction should be included in second-
ary curricula for students with intellectual and related dis-
abilities (Kolb & Hanley-Maxwell, 2003). Considering that
limited social skills characterize many students with an
intellectual disability (American Association on Intellectual
and Developmental Disabilities Ad Hoc Committee on
Terminology and Classification, 2010), a strong argument
can be made for teaching social interaction skills in high
school. The fact that social skills instruction with peers is
not occurring in high school on a regular basis (Carter,
Hughes, Guth, & Copeland, 2005) represents a failure to
apply social validation methodology to the secondary cur-
riculum in relation to long-term outcomes of students with
severe disabilities.
One method of social validation (i.e., subjective evalua-
tion) comprises asking stakeholders about their goals and
expected outcomes of a program (Wolf, 1978). Salzberg
et al. (1986) asked employers across five different entry-
level job types (e.g., janitorial, housekeeping, food service)
to rate the importance of 23 work-related behaviors, includ-
ing 12 task-related social behaviors (e.g., following instruc-
tions, clarifying ambiguous instructions, providing
information to other employees) and 7 personal social
behaviors (e.g., acknowledging others’ statements, using
social amenities, listening without interrupting). Employers
were asked to rate (a) the importance of the behaviors to
success on the job and (b) the frequency with which the
behaviors were expected to occur on the job. The five high-
est rated social behaviors with respect to importance, which
varied little in ratings across job types, were all task related
(i.e., asking for assistance, clarifying instructions, respond-
ing to criticism, getting job information, carrying out
instructions) versus personal social behaviors. Although
personal social behaviors were also highly rated in impor-
tance (the lowest rated behavior—refraining from talking
about personal problems—still received a moderately
important rating), ratings were slightly more variable across
job types. In general, food service employers rated personal
social behaviors more highly than did employers of janitors,
perhaps reflecting the higher likelihood of interaction with
customers and co-workers. Aside from somewhat more
variability across ratings for frequency of behaviors, find-
ings were very similar to those of importance of behavior.
On average, employers expected rated social behaviors to
occur once a week or more.
Salzberg et al. (1986) and other related social validation
studies provided some indication of the social behaviors
employers hold to be important. However, few published
studies have been conducted since the late 1980s that exam-
ined employers’ perspectives on critical social skills. As Ju,
Zhang, and Pacha (2012) noted, most studies that have
addressed employers’ expectations were conducted in the
1980s and 1990s, but because of technology, expanded
knowledge, and globalization, expectations may have
changed over the past two decades and a reexamination of
employability skills is warranted.
Furthermore, as noted above, high schools represent ideal
instructional environments to teach social skills, and teach-
ers—especially those involved with transition and employ-
ment preparation programs—represent a potentially useful
group to provide input about valued social skills and interac-
tions. However, there has been little research reported about
teachers’ expectations regarding social skills; that is, based
on their experience, which skills do they value. The Salzberg
et al. (1986) study involved employers serving as respon-
dents, as did the Ju et al. (2012) study, but neither queried the
perspective of educators involved in students’ transition
from school to work. Furthermore, little is known since the
Guy et al. (2009) study regarding the extent educators report
teaching employment-related social skills in high school.
Consequently, we conducted a systematic replication of
Salzberg et al. with a national sample of professionals who
provide transition services (e.g., secondary-level teachers,
transition coordinators) to rate the importance of social skills
in employment settings and the extent to which instruction
was provided to teach these skills. Responses allowed us to
investigate the relationship between these two variables.
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Agran et al. 3
Method
This investigation was a non-experimental study using an
online survey (Drew, Hardman, & Hart, 1996) to collect
data on the perceptions of special education teachers, transi-
tion coordinators, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and
other professionals involved in the transition education pro-
cess for students with disabilities. The survey was designed
following the principles of tailored design method or TDM
(Dillman, 2007). TDM seeks to incorporate strategies that
“create respondent trust and perceptions of increased
rewards . . . [to reduce] survey error” (p. 27). Those strate-
gies focus on minimizing error in survey implementation,
including sampling, coverage, measurement, and non-
response error. In terms of sampling and coverage, a two-
step strategy was used to help assure a national sample of
participants (see information about participants below). In
addition, the accompanying introduction letter for the sur-
vey provided information about the importance of the infor-
mation to the field as a way of improving transition
outcomes for youth with disabilities. To minimize measure-
ment and non-response error, the survey development team
conducted pilot testing of the survey to be sure that ques-
tions were easily understood and responses provided the
desired information. The participants in the pilot testing
were asked for their advice not only on the survey items
themselves but also in identifying ways to motivate special
educators and transition coordinators to participate in the
study and complete surveys.
Participants
The final sample consisted of 651 participants from across
the United States, representing an estimated 24.6% response
rate. Participants were recruited nationally through a two-
step process. First, a request for participation was distrib-
uted to members of a national listserv of state and local
transition teams managed by the National Secondary and
Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC; 2013).
Currently, there are 5,000 people on the listserv consisting
of state teams of transition specialists, administrators, state
directors, and other interested individuals. In conversations
with the NSTTAC coordinator, it was estimated that approx-
imately 2,500 of them met the targeted population of par-
ticipants for this project, although they do not currently
keep track of that information. A posting to the listserv
described the purpose of this study and the requirements for
participation, in addition to a link to the online survey.
Participation in the survey was described as open to only
those currently working with students with disabilities in
preparation for their transition to adult life, and particularly
in the transition to employment.
In addition to requesting that appropriate members of the
NSTTAC listserv participate in the survey, a snowball sam-
pling method was also used to solicit as large a participant
pool as possible. In this phase of the participant recruitment
process, email requests were forwarded to contacts of the
authors who work in school districts across the country to
ask them to forward to teachers and transition coordinators
working with transition-aged students with disabilities in
their districts. To help with calculating the return rate for
this study, those contacts were asked to send a reply email
to the fourth author (who was responsible for the survey and
the analysis of the data collected from the survey) with
information about the number of potential participants to
whom the link to the survey was sent. This snowball method
resulted in another 150 possible participants from five states
(Virginia, Utah, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and New York).
In all, the majority of the participants in this study identi-
fied their role as a special education teacher. Table 1 pro-
vides a description of the participants in the survey, including
the number of years of experience and the number of stu-
dents with disabilities with whom they worked. The major-
ity of participants reported that they were special education
teachers (75.4%), had been in their jobs for more than 15
years (33.1%), and worked with between 10 and 50 youth
with disabilities per year (39.6%). In addition to special edu-
cation teachers, 10.1% indicated that they were transition
coordinators, 3.2% were vocational rehabilitation counsel-
ors, and 9.7% indicated that they had other types of position
titles. Participants indicated a wide range of experience in
serving the needs of youth in transition, ranging from less
than a year to 40 years (n = 2). They varied greatly in the
number of students/clients for whom they reported they
were responsible, ranging from one student to “over 4,000 in
the school district” or the whole district (n = 19 or 2.9%).
The largest number of participants indicated that they were
responsible for 30 students (n = 39; 6%). Participants also
Table 1. Characteristics of Participants (N = 651).
Characteristics n%
Position
Special education teacher 491 75.4
Transition coordinator 66 10.1
Vocational rehabilitation counselor 21 3.2
Job coach/other 63 9.7
Time in position
1 year or less 39 6
2–5 years 141 21.6
6–10 years 145 22.2
11–15 years 110 16.9
More than 15 years 216 33.1
Number of students on caseload
Less than 10 180 27.6
10 to 50 255 39.2
50 to 100 131 20.1
More than 100 66 10.1
Responsible for whole district/varies 19 2.9
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4 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals
indicated the state in which they work. All states except
Hawaii and Alaska were included in this sample.
Survey Development
The survey was an adaptation of the instrument used by
Salzberg et al. (1986) to identify social skills that employers
perceive as necessary for employment success (see Table 2).
This 23-item questionnaire addressed a selected list of
social behaviors employers believed were essential for
entry-level employees to perform. The revised survey
included 27 items. Items were added that addressed the
findings from research conducted since 1986 related to
employment social skills, including self-determination
skills such as problem solving, as well as information from
the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills
(SCANS; U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). These included
such skills as appropriate conversational skills, having
appropriate affect, interacting with customers, and showing
initiative. Language in the original survey was updated to
reflect these additional job-related social skills as well as
the changes in the world of employment today.
The survey was piloted in a graduate class on transition
at the third author’s university (N = 40). Pilot participants
included special educators, transition coordinators, and job
coaches. Each completed the survey and provided input
regarding the clarity of questions and instructions, comple-
tion time, and importance of questions. Minor changes were
made that addressed any concerns, particularly related to
the clarity of items and instructions. As a last step, survey
items were reviewed by two external experts in the area of
social skills and supported employment who made a few
recommendations that were incorporated into the final ver-
sion of the survey.
Dissemination
The survey items were made available online using REDCap
(Research Electronic Data Capture), a survey software pro-
gram available at the third author’s university. REDCap is
an online survey tool and a database management/capture
tool. Once the survey was closed, the data were exported
into SPSS.
Data Analysis
The survey was scored by averaging the response to each of
the individual survey questions. The scale ranged from 0 to
5 where lower scores would indicate a lower perception of
the importance of various social skills in employment set-
tings and lower frequency of teaching these skills to indi-
viduals with disabilities. Higher scores indicated a greater
Table 2. Importance of Social Skills.
Social skill M SD
Seeking clarification for unclear
instructions
4.68 0.509
Arriving at work on time (punctual) 4.65 0.555
Refrains from inappropriate touching of
others
4.60 0.617
Carrying out instructions needing
immediate attention
4.50 0.637
Notifying supervisor when assistance is
needed
4.47 0.609
Responding appropriately to critical
feedback
4.44 0.624
Interacts well with customers/clients 4.44 0.679
Responding appropriately to job-related
emergencies
4.36 0.710
Works as a member of a team, if
appropriate
4.32 0.625
Finding necessary information prior to
performing the job
4.30 0.695
Listening without interrupting 4.24 0.633
Working at job continuously without
disruptions
4.20 0.730
Uses appropriate conversational skills
(e.g., making eye contact, appropriate
volume)
4.20 0.657
Shows initiative 4.19 0.711
Acknowledging what others are saying
(eye contact, saying yes or right)
4.14 0.669
Solve problems 4.13 0.744
Not using objectionable language or
gestures
4.11 1.117
Working or producing at rates
that equal or surpass company
expectations
4.08 0.755
Arguing with co-workers or supervisors 4.06 1.397
Using social amenities (please, thank
you)
4.03 0.691
Using weak excuses when late or absent
from work
3.96 1.230
Referring persons to someone qualified
to handle the task
3.96 0.759
Carrying out instructions needing
attention after time has elapsed
3.93 0.814
Offering help to co-workers 3.82 0.819
Has appropriate affect most of the time 3.88 0.701
Expressing appreciation to co-workers 3.80 0.778
Talking to co-workers instead of
working
3.61 1.321
Providing job-related information to
other employees
3.58 0.899
Talking about personal problems at
inappropriate times
3.53 1.356
Having friends around during on-the-job
hours
3.38 1.399
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Agran et al. 5
perception of the importance of various social skills in
employment settings and higher frequency by those teach-
ing these social skills to individuals with disabilities.
Descriptive statistics (i.e., mean, standard deviation) were
calculated, and frequency and percentage of responses for
“Characteristics of Participants “ were reported (see Table 1).
In addition, a paired-sample t test was conducted to com-
pare the perceived importance of various social skills in
employment settings and the frequency with which the
respondents were teaching individuals with disabilities
these work-related social skills.
Results
Importance of Social Skills
Table 2 displays the means and standard deviations of the
perceived importance of social skills to the work success for
individuals with disabilities. On average, participants indi-
cated that the highest rated social skills were “seeking clari-
fication for unclear instructions,” in which the average
score was 4.68 (SD = 0.509); “arriving at work on time,” in
which the average score was 4.65 (SD = 0.555); “refrains
from inappropriate touching of others,” which had an aver-
age score of 4.60 (SD = 0.617); “carrying out instructions
needing immediate attention,” which had an average score
of 4.50 (SD = 0.637); “notifying supervisor when assistance
is needed,” which had an average score of 4.47 (SD =
0.609); “responding appropriately to critical feedback,”
which had an average score of 4.44 (SD = 0.624); and, last,
“interacts with customers/clients,” which also had an aver-
age score of 4.44 (SD = 0.679).
Frequency of Teaching Social Skills
Table 3 depicts the means and standard deviations of fre-
quency with which participants reported teaching individu-
als with disabilities various work-related social skills—that
is, the most frequently taught social skills. Participants indi-
cated that the six most frequently taught social skills were
“using social amenities,” with an average score of 4.14 (SD
= 1.138); “acknowledging what others are saying,” with an
average score of 4.00 (SD = 1.180); “using appropriate con-
versation skills,” with an average score of 3.98 (SD =
1.147); “listening without interrupting,” with an average
score of 3.94 (SD = 1.144); “solving problems,” with an
average score of 3.85 (SD = 1.196); and “arriving at work
on time,” with an average score of 3.82 (SD = 1.114).
Importance of Social Skills Versus Teaching
Social Skills
We compared perceived importance of various social skills
in employment settings and the frequency with which par-
ticipants reported teaching individuals with disabilities
these work-related social skills. Results of paired-sample t
tests for each paired response indicated a statistically
Table 3. Frequency of Instruction.
Social skill M SD
Using social amenities (please, thank
you)
4.14 1.138
Acknowledging what others are saying
(eye contact, saying yes or right)
4.00 1.180
Uses appropriate conversational skills
(e.g., making eye contact, appropriate
volume)
3.98 1.147
Listening without interrupting 3.94 1.144
Solves problems 3.85 1.196
Arriving at work on time (punctual) 3.82 1.114
Shows initiative 3.72 1.202
Seeking clarification for unclear
instructions
3.76 1.132
Interacts well with customers/clients 3.72 1.284
Carrying out instructions needing
immediate attention
3.61 1.185
Works as a member of a team, if
appropriate
3.57 1.208
Working at job continuously without
disruptions
3.53 1.358
Offering help to co-workers 3.47 1.280
Responding appropriately to critical
feedback
3.46 1.202
Has appropriate affect most of the time 3.44 1.345
Notifying supervisor when assistance is
needed
3.40 1.176
Expressing appreciation to co-workers 3.38 1.264
Finding necessary information prior to
performing the job
3.32 1.216
Refrains from inappropriate touching of
others
3.22 1.453
Working or producing at rates that
equal or surpass company expectations
3.22 1.378
Talking to co-workers instead of
working
3.21 1.395
Not using objectionable language or
gestures
3.11 1.468
Referring persons to someone qualified
to handle the task
2.87 1.170
Using weak excuses when late or absent
from work
2.85 1.372
Providing job-related information to
other employees
2.82 1.324
Carrying out instructions needing
attention after time has elapsed
2.82 1.339
Responding appropriately to job-related
emergencies
2.72 1.288
Arguing with co-workers or supervisors 2.71 1.458
Talking about personal problems at
inappropriate times
2.61 1.370
Having friends around during on-the-job
hours
2.04 1.240
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6 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals
significant difference between the perceived importance of
the various social skills and the frequency with which these
social skills were taught. The average of each paired score
indicated that participants’ perceived importance of the var-
ious social skills were higher than the frequency with which
these skills were being taught. While there was also a statis-
tically significant difference in participants’ responses
regarding providing instruction in “using social amenities”
(M = 4.13, SD = 1.140) and their perceptions of the impor-
tance of using social amenities (M = 4.04, SD = 0.689),
respectively, t(607) = 2.075, p = .038, using social ameni-
ties was the only skill being taught more frequently than its
perceived importance. Finally, ratings of the importance
and teaching of social skills were analyzed across the pro-
fessional job descriptions of participants (e.g., special edu-
cators, transition specialists, or rehabilitation counselors).
Participants’ ratings of the importance of teaching social
skills ranged from 3.17 to 4.72 and 2.5 to 3.81 in frequency.
Therefore, there were no significant findings based on pro-
fessional job descriptions as participants consider the teach-
ing and frequency of these skills to be of some importance.
Discussion
As indicated earlier, the value of social skills in promoting
the employability of individuals with disabilities—particu-
larly those with an intellectual disability—has been
acknowledged for the past 30 years (see Rusch & Mithaug,
1980; Salzberg et al., 1986). It is commonly understood that
limitations in social responding may negatively impact an
individual’s employment status (Chadsey, 2007; Storey &
Miner, 2011). That is, both obtaining and retaining a job
may very well depend on the quality of an individual’s
social interactions—how he or she interacts with supervi-
sors, co-workers, or consumers. Social skills represent one
of the most important employability skill areas, and are
critical across all industries and occupations, both for
employees with or without disabilities (Ju et al., 2012).
Although the relationship between social competence
and employability is well acknowledged, limited recent
research has been conducted on the critical social skills cur-
rently valued by employers or professionals responsible for
transition programming or employment preparation
(Luecking, 2009; Wehman, 2011). The present study is a
systematic (and updated) replication of the Salzberg et al.
(1986) social skills survey. It was nationally disseminated
to a sample of educators, transition coordinators, vocational
rehabilitation counselors, and job coaches responsible for
delivering and supporting career development and transi-
tion programs for transition-age youth. The respondents
were asked to rate the importance of each skill in the survey
and the extent to which they provided instruction in teach-
ing these skills. In the Salzberg et al. study, the relationship
between frequency of occurrence and importance of the
selected skills was analyzed, however, the relationship
between importance and frequency in which the skill was
taught was not considered. We maintain that understanding
this relationship is important to ensure that the skills taught
do indeed have social validation.
Generally, the findings revealed that there was a consen-
sus across respondents with respect to the social skills they
perceived to be essential for employment. Specifically, the
skills they thought were most important were “seeking clar-
ification for unclear instructions,” “refrains from inappro-
priately touching others,” “carrying out immediate
instructions,” “notifying supervisor when needed,” and
“arriving at work on time.” In terms of the frequency of or
extent to which specific behaviors were taught, “using
social amenities,” “acknowledging what others are saying,”
“using appropriate conversation skills,” “listening without
interrupting,” and “solving problems” were the top-rated
skills. The high ratings of these behaviors corroborate other
studies (e.g., Salzberg et al., 1986) in which the majority of
these skills have been validated. What is of interest is that
the skills rated as being most important were not the same
skills rated as taught most frequently. Therefore, the skills
identified as most important were not the same skills receiv-
ing the most instructional attention. This may suggest that,
although there was strong agreement among respondents
that certain skills were most important, they may have
believed that their own students did not necessarily need
instruction in these skills. That said, this finding may sug-
gest that students were not being taught identified socially
validated skills. We did not analyze why there was such a
discrepancy. Nevertheless, the general finding was that
there was no apparent correspondence between the impor-
tance of a skill and the extent to which it was taught.
Salzberg et al. (1986) suggested that social skills per-
formed at work need to be divided into two categories:
production-related skills that are directly related to job task
performance (e.g., following directions) and personal skills
that are not directly related to task performance (e.g., using
social amenities). A number of researchers have suggested
that, in all, production-related skills are more important
than personal skills because the former allow for the effi-
cient completion of required work tasks (e.g., assembly,
providing a service), whereas personal skills promote social
networking but have limited impact on productivity
(Chadsey, 2007; Sheldon & Storey, 2008). In the present
study, five of the seven top-rated behaviors relative to
importance were production related, whereas only one skill
included in the top five relative to frequency taught was
production related. This finding suggests that the respon-
dents were more likely to teach personal social skills rather
than those that were production related. We did not ask
respondents to justify their ratings so we do not know why
there was a preference for personal social skills. This may
have been due to the students’ instructional needs or
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Agran et al. 7
teachers’ perceptions that personal social skills are easier to
teach than those that are production related. As noted previ-
ously, social skills instruction is often not included in high
school transition programs (Carter et al., 2005). When such
instruction is provided it oftentimes is taught in classroom
and not work settings. The skills rated as most important in
the present study appear to be generic social skills that can
easily be embedded in daily school routines, perhaps adding
to the convenience with which these skills could be taught
in a school setting. By definition, production-related skills
necessitate that they be taught in a work setting. That said,
delivering instruction in a work setting may have involved
logistical or scheduling complications, which made instruc-
tion of these skills in those settings difficult to arrange.
Furthermore, social skills instruction during work would
have taken time away from academic task performance or
other skill development programs, which the respondents
may have resisted. Callahan, Butterworth, Boone, Condon,
and Luecking (2014) suggest balancing time spent in inclu-
sive classroom settings with community-based employment
experiences for all students, thereby providing opportuni-
ties to learn (a) social skills by interacting with peers in
school and (b) production-related skills by working on jobs
in the community.
Also, the respondents, whether cognizant or not of the
relative importance of production-related social skills, may
have taught the targeted social skills because they thought
that these skills would advance the overall quality and fre-
quency of their students’ social interactions. Performance of
these skills would enhance the students’ social competence
and, ultimately, acceptance. Without directly asking respon-
dents to justify their selections, there is no way to know the
basis for their differential ratings. A point that needs to be
emphasized though is that skills taught in the classroom
may have limited value in a work setting and may not trans-
fer. Social skills that appear to be critical in school or class-
room settings may have limited value in work settings
where the emphasis is on productivity or efficient service.
The findings in the present study relative to importance
were similar to those reported by Salzberg et al. (1986) in
several ways (Note: In Salzberg et al., frequency was
defined as how often an employee performed a specific
skill. In the present study, frequency was examined by the
extent to which instruction of that skill was provided.
Because of these differing definitions, a direct comparison
of this dimension was not conducted between these two
studies.). This finding suggests that in both studies the
respondents were in agreement that there is common set of
valued social skills, despite the fact that the respondents in
the Salzberg et al. study were employers, whereas most of
the respondents in the present study were educators. In both
of these studies, “asking supervisor for assistance,” “clari-
fying instructions,” and “carrying out immediate instruc-
tions” were highly rated. As indicated previously, these
behaviors involved production-related skills, so this finding
may not be surprising. Nevertheless, many of the skills
highly rated in the Salzberg et al. study (e.g., “responding
appropriately to criticism,” “offering help to co-workers,”
“carrying out delayed instructions”) were not highly rated
in the present study. The reasons for this remain uncertain.
This may have been due to the differences in the roles of
respondents across the two studies. Employers in the
Salzberg et al. study may have had greater opportunity to
observe these behaviors at their businesses and thus gave
them a higher rating. Whatever the reason, findings suggest
that across these two samples there were some differences
in expectations. As indicated previously, social skill expec-
tations involve both generic and locally valued skills. All
professionals committed to preparing transition-age youth
with disabilities for successful employment outcomes must
endeavor to identify critical skills (both generic and local),
and, if they are lacking in their students’ repertoires, sys-
tematically teach them.
Limitations
Findings from the present investigation provide insight on
the critical social skills needed for employment as perceived
by a national sample of educators, vocational rehabilitation
counselors, transition coordinators, and job coaches.
However, interpretation of these findings should be viewed
with some caution as there are several limitations. First, the
number of completed surveys was admittedly restricted,
and future research with a larger number of completed
responses is warranted. Nevertheless, the present study
involved a national survey and the number of respondents
was still sizable (n = 651); in contrast, the number of par-
ticipants in the Ju et al. (2012) study had 168 participants
(26.7 participation rate) from only one city. Furthermore,
the response rate was based on the number of completed
surveys received from the pool of 2,500 individuals included
on the NSTTAC listserv believed to deliver transition-
related instruction or were involved with transition teams.
The size of this pool may have been an overestimation and,
thus, the percentage of completed surveys may be higher. In
addition, there was no way to determine whether those par-
ticipants who were in the initial pool solicited through the
snowball sampling process were also counted in the poten-
tial pool of respondents from the NSTTAC listserv. Because
there has been limited recent research about work-related
social skills, we believe that the findings reported are of
value to the transition literature despite the relatively lim-
ited sample size. Second, input was only obtained from edu-
cators and a number of rehabilitation counselors. What also
would have been of value would have been to ask students
which behaviors they thought were most important and
which skills they were eager to learn. Third, the survey was
designed to include a representative set of social skills
by LaRon Scott on February 7, 2015cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from
8 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals
performed in work settings. To ensure that survey items
were indeed representative, several skills were added to the
questionnaire used in the Salzberg et al. (1986) investiga-
tion (e.g., “interacts well with customers/clients,” “shows
initiative”). Nevertheless, a number of skills may have been
omitted, and future researchers may want to broaden the
type and scope of social skills assessed. Fourth, the respon-
dents were not asked the contexts in which these behaviors
were performed (e.g., engaged in work task, during a break).
Such information can potentially be of great value when
designing instructional programs. Fifth, respondents were
not asked to describe how training was provided (e.g., set-
ting, support provided). The quality of instruction provided
is, needless to say, as important, if not more so, than the
time spent providing it. Sixth, the list of potential respon-
dents was obtained from the National Secondary Transition
Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC). Although
NSTTAC includes a diverse membership, it is possible that
members of NSTTAC may share common values, which
would thus bias their responses. In future research, varied
organizations should be contacted. Last, as mentioned ear-
lier in the article, the respondents were not asked to justify
their ratings. To gain greater insight about their ratings it
would have been useful to know why they thought a spe-
cific behavior was important and why it deserved instruc-
tional attention. Researchers may want to examine this
relationship.
Implications for Practice
The findings of this study validate that special educators,
transition coordinators, rehabilitation counselors, and oth-
ers involved in facilitating the transition from school to
work for youth with disabilities perceive that social skills
are important for their success. In fact, none of the listed
social skills were considered unimportant and this was con-
sistent with the findings of the earlier Salzberg et al. (1986)
study. The social skills listed in this survey can be used by
practitioners as a starting point for assessing a student’s
social skills for employment and identifying priorities for
teaching.
Transition assessment can be an overwhelming task for
special educators, as the number of assessment options and
limited time available to conduct multiple assessments can
be barriers to collecting the most relevant information to
guide the identification of transition goals. Transition
assessment targeting employment should be reviewed to be
sure they include an assessment of social skills and, in par-
ticular, the social skills included in this survey (see Flexer,
Simmons, Luft, & Baer, 2005, for recommended assess-
ments). Most importantly, assessment data need to be shared
with teachers and students and inform curricular decisions
(Wehman, 2011). Although the list of social skills included
in the present study is not exhaustive, as indicated
previously, they provide an important starting point for
social skills instruction.
Although the skills identified in this study were vali-
dated by the respondents as important for work, many of
them are generic and are routinely performed by individuals
across diverse situations (e.g., carrying out instructions,
interacting well with customers/clients). Consequently,
they can be taught and practiced in multiple ways to help
youth generalize these skills across a number of different
settings. In fact, these types of social skills can be taught in
academic classrooms as well as in a variety of community
settings. This can minimize the challenges that special edu-
cators can face in trying to address both academic and tran-
sition goals for youth with disabilities.
Teaching social skills follows a similar sequence to that
of teaching most other discrete skills. First, a rationale as to
why the student needs to learn the skill is presented. Second,
social situations in which the skill is performed are pre-
sented (e.g., interacting with customers, responding appro-
priately to critical feedback). Next, the skill is modeled and
the student is provided opportunities to practice the skill.
Following, the student is provided feedback on his or her
performance of the skill. Also, the student should be asked
to evaluate his or her own performance of the skill. Last,
opportunities to practice the skill in natural work settings
need to be provided. All of the identified skills in the pres-
ent study can be taught following this sequence.
The discrepancy between perceived importance of some
of these skills and the frequency with which they are taught
is a concern, particularly because there was no opportunity
in the survey for participants to explain why that is so. As
discussed earlier, it may be that the respondents rated
selected skills as important but because students already
possessed these skills, frequency received a lower rating. In
such a case, no change in practice is warranted. Of particu-
lar import to teachers is to ensure that skills they (or other
stakeholders) rate as important should be assessed and
taught, given a student’s needs.
Conclusion
Despite these limitations, the findings provide insight about
the importance of and extent to which selected social skills
are taught as perceived by a national sample of profession-
als providing transition services. Although the performance
of valued social skills is associated with positive work out-
comes, there is limited research about skills that are cur-
rently valued by educators. The findings from the present
study indicate that there was a strong consensus among the
respondents regarding the importance of a core set of social
skills. Interestingly, the skills perceived to be the most
important were not the skills that were taught. Perceived
importance of a skill may be one of the determining factors
when planning and providing instruction. No doubt, another
by LaRon Scott on February 7, 2015cde.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Agran et al. 9
criterion was used to justify instruction. That said, it was
important to learn that the respondents did dedicate time to
teach various work-related social skills. However, the fact
remains that little actual time is spent teaching social skills
in transition programs and in identifying valued social skills
(Pankaskie & Chandler, 2011). Instructional time is too
often spent teaching technical skills or specified employ-
ability skills, often to the exclusion of social skills (Ju et al.,
2012). We are encouraged that respondents in the present
study did recognize the value of social skills instruction.
Failure to teach these skills may only compromise a stu-
dent’s future success at work and in the community.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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This paper describes the results of a three-year job placement project for moderately and severely handicapped individuals in Virginia. This project developed a training and advocacy approach to placement that involved client training by staff at the job site. Staff advocacy also took place with co-workers and employers. All clients were paid by employers as part of the regular workforce. Although the project is still ongoing as it seeks to replicate training and placement procedures throughout Virginia, at the three-year point, 63 clients have been placed, with 42 currently working, for a retention rate of 67%. These individuals have collectively earned $265,000 and paid well over $26,000 in state and federal taxes. Moreover, most of these clients had long records of exclusion from non-sheltered and even sheltered work, since they were viewed by professionals and parents as “realistically unemployable.” This report highlights the major characteristics and conclusions drawn from staff efforts to this point.
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Limited social interaction typically occurs between high school students with autism and their general education peers unless programming is introduced to promote interaction. However, few published social interaction interventions have been conducted among high school students with autism and their general education classmates. Such studies typically have involved considerable researcher assistance in arranging and supporting opportunities for interaction. This study represents a departure from previous interventions by teaching general education students a strategy to prompt themselves to increase their interactions with classmates with autism. Three general education high school students were taught to set interaction goals and monitor their interactions with a peer with autism in their classes. The goal-setting package was associated with increased social interaction among participating students. Based on findings, recommendations are provided for future research and practice.