W.A.G.E.S. - A Job-Related Social Skills Curriculum for Adolescents

WAGES cover.jpg
WAGES cover.jpg

W.A.G.E.S. - A Job-Related Social Skills Curriculum for Adolescents

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A job-related social skills curriculum for adolescents utilizing a cognitive-behavioral approach. It includes 33 lessons with complementary activities and assessments and is suitable for delivery in a nine-week term.

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Developed at the University of Oregon School of Education, W.A.G.E.S. (Working At Gaining Employment Skills) is a curriculum to teach adolescents job-related social skills. It was field-tested over a period of five years in multiple learning environments with different teachers and student groups. The curriculum was continuously revised based on student achievement measures and satisfaction surveys, teacher assessments of student learning, and evaluation information about the effectiveness and usefulness of the curriculum collected through focus groups with students and teachers. W.A.G.E.S. contains 33 lessons, each designed to be taught within a 40- to 50-minute class period along with complementary activities suited to be delivered in a nine-week term.

Finding a job and working successfully is one of the hallmarks of being an adult in our society. After being out of high school for 2 to 4 years, unemployment among most adolescents with disabilities ranges from 30 to 40%– more than twice that of peers without disabilities. The highest unemployment rates are exhibited by adolescents with emotional disabilities, which are upwards of 50 to 60%. Adolescents who exhibit extreme antisocial behaviors display unemployment rates of 60 to 70%.

W.A.G.E.S. includes activities that complement the 33-lessons and are woven into the instructional design. Students spend a full day utilizing their school’s career center, the Internet and other resources to explore potential career options. They spend three days designing a résumé, cover letter, and letter of appreciation to complement interview activities. Students will have a chance to put their communication skills to the test through an employer mock interview. Their employment education culminates in a community-based job shadow or industry tour activity that allows students to explore a work environment within their career interest area.

Each W.A.G.E.S. lesson is designed with the following format:

  • Purpose: A brief explanation of why each lesson is being taught and the concepts to be covered.
  • Learning Outcomes: What students will be able to accomplish as a result of each lesson.
  • Review: A brief recap of the previous lesson.
  • Required Materials: The supplies and equipment necessary to effectively complete each lesson.
  • Vocabulary: Any new words or phrases that will be introduced in each lesson. Explanation of the new word or phrase should be worked into one of the lesson’s activities.
  • Description of Activity: An explanation of how to conduct activities associated with each lesson.
  • Wrap-Up/Homework: An opportunity to summarize each lesson and assign additional activities.

For course leaders, W.A.G.E.S. contains an instructor’s guide, which provides information on the content of the curriculum, the format embedded into each lesson, and strategies for implementing the curriculum with students. Information on the rationale for the content included in the curriculum, and the social skill and instructional design principles that served as the research foundation for the curriculum is also provided.

Research and Program Evaluation

Sample Content

Sample Lesson

Sample Lesson


Supplementary Information


I was part of the piloting of the WAGES program and implemented it in my transition classroom with a group of 18-21 year old students. It was very effective and became a regular part of our routines. The students responded well and enjoyed a lot of the lessons. It was also super user friendly for me and easy to differentiate for different learning styles. I look forward to the return of the WAGES curriculum!
— Kriss Rita, Transition Network Facilitator, Clackamas ESD
As someone who has worked with challenged and challenging students for many years, I have found the WAGES program to be a valuable tool in my “bag of tricks.” It is practical, innovative, both teacher- and student-friendly. As research and experience has shown us, students who have a repertoire of positive social skills transition more successfully into the adult world.
— Michael Laharty, Vocational Specialist, Sacramento County Office of Education
W.A.G.E.S. is a well-articulated, comprehensive, and highly accessible curriculum for teaching adolescents with disabilities essential employment-related social skills. In our own independent research on the program with teachers in urban and rural high schools, we found that participating students showed positive gains on outcomes related to occupational skills, cooperation, assertiveness, and empathy after just 9-months. Equally important, teachers reported that the curriculum was easy to use, engaging, and fun. Results of our research on W.A.G.E.S., published in the journal “Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin”, was awarded 1st place from the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association’s Annual Research Award, and the National Rehabilitation Association’s Editor Choice Award.
— Christopher Murray PhD, Professor of Special Education & Director, University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities, University of Oregon
Having worked for over 30 years as a special education teacher with adolescents, it has been my experience that although our students sometimes struggle to obtain employment, they tend to have an even more difficult time keeping the job. From the beginning, I was an early fan of the W.A.G.E.S. curriculum because I saw that it helps to alleviate that gap. From the conceptual background that articulates the importance of soft skill development for the workplace to the activities and real-life scenarios, this curriculum engages the learner in meaningful instruction. The format is well laid out, easy to implement and is adaptable to fit various classroom structures. The vocabulary that is introduced provides great talking points later on when students are generalizing the concepts in real-life, workplace settings. It is important that your students develop these crucial soft skills and W.A.G.E.S. can help them to get there.
— Terri Nickens, Transition Teacher, Hillsboro School District, Hillsboro, OR