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What is Supported Employment?

Supported employment is about helping people with significant disabilities entering the nation's labor force. Usually, supported employment had been reserved for those persons who have been unable to work because of the severity of her or his disability. Job coaches, coworkers, business supervisors, and mentors have been utilized as a way to provide support for person with disabilities.

Employers throughout the United States seeking reliable employees have embraced supported employees. In just ten years, the number of Americans in supported employment has risen from less than 10,000 in 1986 to over 140,000 in 1995. Many others in countries throughout the world also are now utilizing supported employment as a way of being more independent.

Let's consider the case of Teresa, a young lady with significant mental retardation. Teresa is a young woman who wants to work. One of her friends told her Mom & Dad about supported employment as a way to help get started in the world of work. The purpose of supported employment is to provide employment opportunities in the labor market for individuals with significant disabilities. The key principle of a "customer-driven approach" to supported employment is the idea that the job seeker, in this case Teresa, is in control of the process. Each of the steps below plays an important role in helping Teresa get to her goal: a real job paying a competitive wage with full benefits.

The impact of a job, leading to a career, will dramatically change Teresa's life, as it has thousands of people like Teresa all around the world. A job coach working with an employer and co-workers is supported employment in action.

To get a better understanding of this process, lets' review Teresa's experience. Teresa is a 22-year young woman with severe mental retardation. While in school Teresa experienced numerous school-based and community-based work experiences. During these experiences Teresa demonstrated an interest in working in a kitchen and a children's day care center. Yet, her mother believed that Teresa would enjoy bagging groceries.

It was learned during initial screening activities that barriers to employment for Teresa may include her limited speech, and history of refusing to participate in activities. As part of her community assessment, the employment specialists initially spent time with Teresa at her home playing basketball in the driveway. Eventually, Teresa agreed to ride in a car with the employment specialists to play basketball at a local park. Following this experience Teresa was eager to go with the employment specialists to explore other community locations such as the mall and local restaurants.

Teresa, her family, the employment specialist, and a case manager conducted employment search activities. As a result of this team effort an employment opening was found for a stock clerk position at a local retail store. Situational assessment data revealed that Teresa was very successful when completing repetitious type tasks, such as folding towels or simple production activities limited to 2 steps. In addition these data indicated that an optimal work environment for Teresa would be limited to a small space with few distractions.

The stock clerk position seemed to fit what Teresa was looking for although it had several job responsibilities to include ticketing merchandise, hanging clothing, and folding towels in the storeroom. As part of the interview process Teresa had an opportunity to visit the store on several occasions to determine if she would like working as a stock clerk.

Teresa immediately demonstrated a high level of comfort with the position and appeared eager to work. Following a formal interview Teresa was hired with a starting salary of $5.00 an hour and an initial work schedule to include a 3-hour shift, 3 days per week. Prior to Teresa's first day of work the employment specialist spent several hours at the store learning the stock clerk job tasks and developing a job duty task analysis for each of her major job duties. Teresa received systematic instruction to learn her job tasks. In addition, Teresa's mother purchased a variety of towels from the store so Teresa would have an opportunity to practice folding towels at home.

Teresa also practiced hanging her clothes at home and assisting her mother with the family laundry. As Teresa became comfortable in her work environment she began to move around the store independently. The employment specialist and Teresa worked with a couple of Teresa's coworkers to develop a route through the store to efficiently move from the stock room to the appropriate areas on the sales floor. At the end of two months the employer stated that he would increase Teresa's work as the seasonal business increased for the company.

Teresa continues to be employed and has worked for a total of 5 months. Her total earning to date are just under $1,000. In addition, she continues to improve her marketability in the competitive labor force as she meets new friends in the retail field.

Give us your feedback and real life experiences of how supported employment has worked with your business. Has it worked? If so, why? What problems did you experience?

Service Provider Selection

One of the key factors related to employment retention is the rapport that is established between the direct service provider and the job seeker. Job seekers must interview each program to determine which organization receives their business. Once a job seeker has selected the supported employment service provider, he or she should interview the direct service staff of the organization to determine which employment specialist is best suited to meet his or her service delivery needs.

In quality supported employment programs, the Job seeker is...

  • provided with mission and vision of the agency.

  • furnished with information on the types of jobs the agency has assisted customers in finding, averages wages & benefits, etc.

  • provided with a description of the services available.

  • introduced to potential employment specialists.

  • assisted in setting up interviews with employment specialists.

  • provided with references from other customers and employers.

  • assisted in contacting references.

Job Seeker Profile

The intent of supported employment has always been to provide a vocational support option for those individuals who were screened out of traditional rehabilitation programs. It is critical for the service provider to spend time with the job seeker to determine her or his personal strengths, concerns, desires, and anticipated employment outcomes. Short situational assessments in real work environments, person centered planning, and the identification of possible community and business supports will assist supported employment service providers in assuring high quality outcomes and job seeker satisfaction.

The job seeker...

  • and family members spend time getting to know the service provider.

  • is assisted in developing an employment vision.

  • is encouraged to share wants, likes, and needs.

  • participates in situational assessment.

  • is assisted in developing employment potential.

Important questions to ask the job seeker include:

What do you like to do (interests and preferences)? What skills do you have (talents, gifts, abilities, education)? What work conditions would you like to have (hours/schedule, job duties, work environment, supervision)? What financial and non-monetary benefits do you need or want (wages, health insurance, vacation, personal time, sick leave)? What kind of social environment would you like ( co-workers, opportunities for socialization, lunch/breaks)? What type of services do you need (case management, independent living, assistive technology, reasonable accommodations, education)? What type of supports do you need (personal, workplace, community)? What type of job would you like (type of work, location, size of company, advancement)? What are you career goals (employment)?

Service providers and the job seeker should create a profile of what the job seeker wants to achieve through supported employment.

Marketing and Career Development

With a job seeker-driven approach the individual with disability becomes an active participant. While organizational marketing has very different goals and objectives than career development, good marketing techniques will blend into the career or job development phase of supported employment.

Career development is an important consideration for any adult seeking employment. The job seeker-driven approach to supported employment places emphasis on the initial time that direct service providers spend with their job seekers to assist with the identification of career goals. High quality service providers work closely with their job seekers and together develop strategies for marketing their service, establishing a rapport with the business community, interviewing employers, and conducting in-depth job analysis of specific employment settings. Completing this process allows the gathering of information the job seeker can use to determine if the wages, benefits, conditions, supports, and corporate culture for a particular job are sufficient for her or his long term career development.

The Job seeker is...

  • assisted in determining dreams/career options.

  • assisted in determining local businesses where he/she would be interested in working.

  • assisted in identifying what he/she wants from a career (i.e. salary level, friendship benefits).

  • participates in analyzing how assistive technology services and devices might expand their employment opportunities.

  • assisted in developing a resume.

  • participates in job development activities with the employment specialist.

  • aware of how the employment specialist presents the program that represents him/her and ADA to the business community.

Employment Selection

Compiling and analyzing the information gathered during the job seeker profile phase along with the information collected on the business is the only way to ensure a successful employment start. The service provider must be concerned with long-term employment success by assisting the job seeker in organizing and achieving a desirable plan for the future.

Service providers must involve their job seekers in every aspect of the employment match process. For instance, jobs often are found through family and friends. Job seekers of supported employment programs need to use their networks and contacts as the service provider assists with coordinating and implementing support strategies. In addition, job seekers are beginning to assist in the job analysis process to glean specific information about the business. Regardless of whether the job seeker, family member, friend, or direct service provider finds the job, it is critical to complete a job analysis to ensure that the employment situation matches the job seekers career plans. Further, the job seeker-driven approach requires that the job seeker, not the service provider, choose the employment opportunities using the information gathered from the employment site and job seeker profile.

Thus the job seeker...

  • is notified of all job openings as the employment specialist becomes aware of openings.

  • assists the employment specialist in analyzing their personal strengths and interests and comparing them with the specific employer demands and business culture.

  • determines if the salary and benefit package is satisfactory.

  • determines if interested in pursing the job opening.

Job-Site Training and Support

Job-site training involves the direct instruction of job duties and related non-vocational skills. Detailed job duty analysis, identification and use of community and workplace supports, instruction, compensatory strategies, orientation training, and workplace accommodations have always been the cornerstones of a well-developed job-site training and support plan.

If supported employment programs are going to serve persons with the most significant disabilities, direct service providers must use the existing technology, best practices and the new employee is involved in all the decisions regarding his or her training. The employment specialist's role is to facilitate the worker's performance; be available for support to the worker, supervisor, and co-workers; and to remove her or his presence from the job site as quickly as possible. New employees should assist in the development of the job duty analysis and task analysis, selection of instructional procedures, design and purchase of assistive devices, and the identification and design of compensatory strategies to ensure that they are directing their own careers.

The new employee...

  • works with the employment specialist to determine job training and support needs.

  • selects training and support options

  • works with the employment specialist to develop support plans and/or contracts.

  • works with the employment specialist to determine training fading schedule.

  • is in regular contact with the supervisor/employer.

  • is in regular contact and develops relationships with coworkers from the first day of employment.

Long Term Supports

By definition, once a new employee is able to complete her or his job under the conditions of the work environment, he or she moves into the long-term support phase of supported employment. The intended goal of long-term supports is to assist the worker in the identification and provision of supports and extended services, necessary to maintain and enhance the person's position as a valued member of the work force.

Primary reasons for providing long-term supports are:

  • To monitor work performance including work quality and work rate.

  • Facilitation of job changes and career advancement.

  • Crisis intervention.

  • Monitoring socialization and overall integration into the work culture.

  • Support training for the employer and or co-workers.

  • Retrain previously learned skills

  • Train the worker on new job skills added to their position.

  • Assess the workers job satisfaction.

  • Assess the supervisors/employers satisfaction with the worker.

Generally, supports fail into two categories:
1) employment specific and
2) individual or community supports

Employment supports are those supports and or service that are directly related to the employee's job, such as retraining of previously learned skills, service coordination, orientation and mobility, employer/supervisor support and coworker support. Individual and community supports are supports that are arranged and delivered away from the work place.

They may include housing and or personal living situations, leisure activities, financial support, transportation and relationships. Supported employment customers, employers, and direct service providers need to determine individualized strategies for providing support that will assist in career advancement and ultimately facilitate long term job satisfaction for the customer and the employer.

The worker and the employment specialist...

  • assess employment stability.

  • assess employment satisfaction.

  • address career advancement options.

  • analyze long term support issues.

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