Paid internships and employment success for youth in transition

Authors: Luftig, R. L., & Muthert, D.
Year Published 2000
Publication Career Development for Exceptional Individuals
Volume 23
Number 2
Pages 205-221
Publisher Sage

Most recent extensive national longitudinal studies of school leavers with disabilities show employment rates lagging significantly behind their non-disabled peers. There is a considerable body of research literature that supports the value of work experience as a critical educational intervention for improving post-school employment. To maximize effective educational interventions, including the use of work-based learning and paid employment experiences, it is necessary to examine specific individual characteristics, strategies, and circumstances that promote or deter successful employment outcomes.


The purpose of this study was to assess the efficacy of a standardized, multi-site, community-based employment internship program developed by the Marriott Foundation for People with disabilities, called Bridges...From School to Work. The study also examines the relationship of various participant and programmatic variables to transition outcomes for participating youth.


The settings for the study consisted of multiple workplaces engaged in the Bridges program with the Marriott Foundation. During the study, Bridges operated in Montgomery County, MD; Fairfax County, VA; Washington, DC; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Atlanta, GA; and Chicago, IL.


The sample for this study includes 3,024 special education high school students who participated in one of the 10 Bridges projects. There was relatively equal distribution for males and females. Participants were largely minority group members (81%). Students had an array of disabilities but were predominantly learning disabled (57.1%), intellectually disabled (17.8%), and emotionally disabled (14.8%). Disability severity ratings were 41.0% mild, 38% moderate, and 21.0% severe.

Data Collection

Referral data for Bridges includes demographic, disability, and previous educational/employment histories. Additional data come from a placement data form, an internship log, an internship completion form, and a follow-up questionnaire. Follow-up data collection occurs at 6, 12, and 18 months after internship completion. The data instruments were standardized across all 10 sites. Data analysis consisted of descriptive results for internship performance, and the exploration of the relationship between predictor and outcome variables at each of the three periods using logistic regression procedures.


There was no comparison condition.


Employment status at six months post-internship was not different across gender, race, or primary disability. Work behaviors during the internship were highly predictive of post-school employment at 6 and 12 month follow-up intervals. 68% of those contacted were employed at six months. Enrollment in postsecondary education was the most frequently cited reason for not working (43%), followed by not being able to find work (21%). A small percentage (13%) cited not wanting to work as the reason for unemployment.


Findings of this study demonstrate the efficacy of structured work experiences for youth with disabilities in secondary school. Students in the paid internship showed better short-term outcomes regardless of demographic factors and educational placement factors. However, at long-term follow-up the employment rate had declined, indicating a need for sustained employment support services.

Disabilities Intellectual disabilities | Specific learning disabilities
Populations Male & Female | Hispanic or Latino | Black / African American | White / Caucasian | Transition-age youth (14 - 24) | Urban
Outcomes Employment acquisition
Research Design Observational
Peer Reviewed Yes