By Angela Rapp Kennedy, CQL Vice President of Systems Transformation
As you are likely aware, October is designated as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Throughout the month, people with disabilities, families, friends, advocacy groups, businesses, support providers, and others share stories about successful employment outcomes, highlight useful resources, call attention to areas where improvement is needed, and more. October is a time of reflection on positive progress, yet a stark reminder of the significant ‘work’ that still needs to be done. Through national data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) September Jobs Report, the employment rate for people with disabilities is just over 31%, whereas the employment rate for people without disabilities is at 74%.
In this article, we use Personal Outcome Measures® data to explore employment outcomes in greater detail by looking at how organizational supports can influence people’s choices in where they work. Then, we look to some of our partners across the country to gather the lessons they have learned in providing customized and supported employment services. From a top 12 listing for improving employment opportunities, to the role of Basic Assurances® in this issue, to the success of ‘Project SEARCH’ – we’re sharing practical information you can start applying today. Pick up your briefcase, grab your hard hat, or put on that uniform – because it’s time to clock in to the October edition of Capstone e-Newsletter!
Employment: Whose Choice Is It?
By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
Analysis in CQL’s PORTAL Data System of approximately 1,100 Personal Outcome Measures® interviews from 2017 revealed only 33.5% of people with disabilities are choosing where to work.
Choosing Where to Work – Outcome Present
Moreover, findings also revealed a large number of people are working in settings they did not choose. Findings revealed the majority of people in segregated work/day activities are not in fact choosing those settings (see figure below). The reverse is true for competitive and integrated settings. For example, 85.9% of people in competitive employment chose to work there, meanwhile only 28.1% of people in sheltered work chose to be there.
Are People Choosing Where They Work?
The Role of Organizational Supports
As many people were not choosing where they worked, we were interested in exploring if, and how, organizational supports can facilitate choice.
Findings revealed that having the outcome present for ‘Choose Where to Work’ is:
- 12.8 times more likely when organizations know the person’s interests for work or efforts being made to learn what the person would like to do
- 12.6 times more likely when organizations provide the person with access to varied job experiences and options
- 12.6 times more likely when the options include generic (non-disability) community work/day activities
- 13.3 times more likely when organizations respond to the person’s desires for pursuing specific work or career options with supports
- 16.0 times more likely when organizations support the person to address any identified barriers to achieving this outcome
When all of the above are done – the individualized organizational supports are in place for ‘Choose Where to Work’ – people with disabilities are 31.4 times more likely to choose where to work.
Despite the impact organizational supports can play on supporting choice in regard to employment, only 38.3% of people received individualized supports to choose where they work. By paying attention to the individualized organizational supports mentioned above, as well as the recommendations and best practices described below by Dori, Christine, and Deborah, we can ensure people with disabilities not only are able to choose where they work but have meaningful experiences.
We Are All Job Developers
By Dori Leslie, President, CHI Friendship
Following passions, getting a paycheck, or feeling a sense of purpose can be very rewarding experiences for anyone. These are just a few of the many benefits for people who are employed. Since employment is such a critical piece of quality of life, CHI Friendship does not think of employment as an afterthought, but makes it a priority; 85% of the people we support have some kind of paid employment.
CHI Friendship began pursuing a community-based day program in 2002. This transition did not happen overnight. Since this initiative began, CHI Friendship documented the steps we took from converting the day program to community-based services, and there are over 100 action items on this list. These items included conferences, numerous staff trainings, data collection mechanisms, and connecting with local businesses, to name a few.
Top 12 Areas For A Successful Employment Program
1. Basic Assurances® Systems through Factor 10
There are many quality indicators that can make an agency’s employment efforts more sustainable over time. What percentage of people have paid employment? How many job applications were submitted last month? How many people are actively volunteering? How many self-employed businesses are operating? How many businesses were asked about hiring someone with a disability this quarter? How many businesses do we currently partner with? How many job leads were turned in last month? Knowing when these numbers are exceeding, meeting, or are below expectations can lead to “planned success,” and allows companies to better target where any follow-up is needed.
2. Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) Data
The questions in the CQL PORTAL Data System can assist with employment at an individual level and an agency level. For instance, we can track the percentage of people for whom our organization is aware of their preferences for work, and if efforts are being made to become knowledgeable about their work preferences. During the POM conversation we gather additional information about each person’s unique pursuit of employment. We developed a ‘Notes’ section inside of PORTAL where our interviewers document what matters most, suggested follow-up for the team, and people’s priority outcomes. This data is also reviewed for trends throughout the company, which in turn directs activities such as strategic planning and educational events.
3. Community Mapping
Starting a search for potential employers can be an overwhelming thought. Where do we start? Haven’t we tried that business before? Having a clear and visual map for which businesses have been targeted for employment, and which businesses have not yet been targeted can be helpful. Being transparent with this information allows all staff to be in a better place to contribute. We have found that we can better allocate our recruiting resources when this information is shared and reviewed.
4. Social Capital
So many people supported got hired because “someone knew someone.” We regularly hand out connection cards to stakeholders that may have information on an employment lead. We have also promoted healthy competition between departments for who can produce the most job leads.
CHI Friendship is always open to new ideas. We have invited Tom Pomeranz, Denise Bissonnette, Bob Neimic, and several other outside experts to train our staff on the new cutting-edge supports with employment. CHI Friendship sends staff to many conferences such as APSE, CQL, and NADSP, where we’ve become more knowledgeable about employment. We also speak with other providers at these conferences to gain and share best practices.
6. ‘My Dream’ Job Boards
These have been a successful way to always remember who is looking for what. Person-centered discovery can surface in a variety of ways including POM interviews, team meetings, or casual conversations. When we discover what a person wants to do for work, these items are posted on a bulletin board at our vocational hub sites. When our staff members walk by this every day, they are constantly reminded of what to look for in the community for each person.
7. Case Studies
During our Leadership Team meetings, we list barriers to certain people’s unique pursuit of employment, described in a case study format. Our staff members break down into groups to come up with creative solutions for each situation. There have been so many ‘light bulb moments’ where an ’outside-the-box’ thought, led to employment.
8. Business Partnership Development
When entering any business, our staff members are encouraged to be creative in identifying employment opportunities for the people we support. Our staff inquire with management to see if we can work together to job carve not only for us, but also for the employer. We often ask questions like “have you ever considered delivering your items?” or “do you need someone to clean tables?” We have also role-played talking to businesses to improve our advocacy skills.
Volunteerism has been another way for people to not only give back to their communities, but a way to “get their foot in the door” and learn skills that could eventually become paid employment
A lack of transportation can be a major barrier for employment. CHI Friendship formed a task force to enhance our current vehicle fleet and add additional lift vehicles. Through fundraisers and grants, this committee was able to add seven new vehicles to our fleet.
11. Customized Self-Employment
Not everyone wants to work a ‘standard’ 9:00am to 5:00pm job. Currently, we support several people in owning a business. This includes four vending businesses, Candy Creations, notepads, snack stand, popcorn shop, softener sheets, hydration station, dog walking, and a candy corner.
12. Transformational Leadership
Looking back, a key piece that should not be overlooked that took our employment supports to where it is today is transformational leadership. We all need to be excited about employment, because it is such an important area for each person we support!
“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to watch a person grow skills, get a paycheck, see them smile, and then say what they are going to spend their money on!” said Tara Baumgartner, Employment Specialist at CHI Friendship.
We look to inspire all staff from our maintenance department to our finance department, from the DSP to the President, to make contributions surrounding our employment program. All staff are Job Developers! When we all rally around employment, there is a goldmine of knowledge, connections, skills, and ideas that helps us overcome barriers in our continuous journey to ensure that people have meaningful employment.
Ensuring A Successful Career
By Christine Gudgin, Region Director, Briggs & Associates
Work/life balance is a hot topic in the human services field as it pertains to those providing supports. How do organizations integrate that concept when providing support to people receiving supported/customized employment services? Supported/customized employment service providers must maintain a balancing act of meeting standards in audits and fidelity while supporting the whole person. It can pose a daunting challenge!
So how does one provide exemplary services in employment while ensuring that people are happy, healthy, and fully participating in their communities? The answer is simple … utilizing Basic Assurances® and Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) as a part of the fabric of the organization. Briggs & Associates has been providing individual, person-centered, community-based supported/customized employment services for over 30 years. Having been a CQL Accredited organization since 1999, Briggs & Associates takes pride in the fact that there is no brick and mortar building – that all work is completed in a person’s community through a virtual office setting.
This concept enables all members of the organization to fully embrace and internalize all aspects of Basic Assurances® because the organization meets and experiences people where they are, both in a physical and esoteric sense.
In the field of supported/customized employment, the focus is often on hard skills that a person may possess and trying to match those skills with jobs, as opposed to developing beyond those tasks and finding someone’s career. In assisting a person to develop a career, one must be aware of that person’s natural supports, safety and comfort in their communities, and self-advocacy skills along with knowledge of their rights. The individual needs to be free from abuse or neglect and to be treated with the dignity and respect as a full and vital member of their community. In other words, support providers need to make sure Basic Assurances® are in place or supports are available to the individual.
An example of Basic Assurances® and POM at work is the story of JB. JB is passionate about computers and desired to work in the IT field. Utilizing the POM, the career specialist was able to identify areas in which outcomes were present and where supports were needed, along with developing a network of support and leads in the community to help fulfill this dream. JB now has a career processing and digitally archiving documents for the local historical archives and museum, for 25 hours a week at $9.00 an hour.
While not every organization can become a virtual office, every organization can begin to implement POM on a more frequent basis and ensure Basic Assurances® are in place. Briggs & Associates integrates discussion of POM and Basic Assurances® monthly as a part of career planning with people using supported/customized employment services.
Individuals and Career Specialist alike can fully discuss and become fluent in the knowledge of Basic Assurances®, building a level of confidence and trust among equals in consistent and manageable bites of information. POM can then be used to identify and track areas of support that are needed. Basic Assurances® are not only the foundation for a safe and productive life but as also the basis for the development of soft skills needed to be successful in one’s career. To be productive at work, one must feel safe and cared for at home and in the community; to network for career advancement, one must be connected to the greater community through a variety of roles; to feel supported at work, one must have a web of natural supports in which to rely on.
As providers of supported/customized employment services, organizations have a unique and powerful opportunity to change and educate people’s communities, and to assist people in realizing their fullest potential through the use of Basic Assurances® and POM.
Collective Impact – Supported Employment
By Deborah Conway, Executive Director, Cross Plains Community Partner
What is the first thing a new acquaintance asks about, after your name and where you’re from? It is typically “What do you do?” Our culture values work and in fact, there is a whole lexicon of uncomplimentary descriptors for people who don’t work. People with disabilities are not immune from this same type of denigration. Our jobs are central to how we define who we are and often how the world defines our worth.
Why Employment Matters
Employment creates wealth and value for all people through economic independence and ultimately can provide a path to inclusiveness and the feeling of contributing. So why then, do we not place the same level of importance and expectation on employment for adults with disabilities?
Creating A Vision
In 2009, Cross Plains Community Partner decided that as an organization committed to ensuring people receive services within the greater community, people’s right to have employment should be an important consideration for ensuring people’s health, safety, and personal security.
Our first step was to plan and develop a vision that was communicated to all stakeholders, especially members of the local community.
We wanted them to know that our vision was not going to come to fruition without strong partnerships from businesses and other sectors of the service system.
Taking a leadership role meant that we had to be confident that what we were going to negotiate was a win-win for everyone. It would ultimately need to result in people with disabilities gaining employment, and more broadly, people achieving other personal outcomes.
There are many approaches to preparing someone for transition to adult life and the discovery of gifts, talents, and the ideal working environment. Personal Outcome Measures® are an excellent tool to identify where people want to work, connect, and spend their time. Nine years ago, we developed our first Project SEARCH site as an option for young people to gain desired skills and support, to prepare for and find competitive employment. It is such a great fit with what we work to accomplish in aligning with CQL’s Basic Assurances®. This model involves an extensive period of skills training and career exploration, innovative adaptions, and continuous feedback from teachers, skills trainers, and employers.
Project SEARCH is a nine-month internship for young adults with disabilities that involves full immersion into the workplace. The interns experience various jobs throughout the host business, which are known as job rotations. The primary goal of Project SEARCH is for the person is to obtain transferable skills they can use to find and maintain competitive employment. This was the beginning of real collaboration and the discovery of the benefit of collective impact. An additional byproduct is that we have regular conversation with the host business, school administers, and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. We problem-solve, plan, and celebrate accomplishments together. It provides an opportunity for the people we support to connect with and learn from a broader group of people. Real friendships are developed, and true natural supports of a work family are realized. And lastly, the experience prepares them for a meaningful job where they can really contribute.
Developing Partnerships For Employment
Shaw Industries, one of the largest carpet manufacturing companies in the world, is the home of our second Project SEARCH site. Part of Shaw’s mission is to create a better future for their employees and communities. They take the partnership with Project SEARCH very seriously. Shaw not only partners with Cross Plains to prepare young adults for employment and is the employer of many people with disabilities, but they are also instrumental in helping to create awareness of an inclusive workforce, both locally and beyond. Having the support of a global business has been multi-faceted and has gone far beyond the primary goal of giving people with disabilities the opportunity for employment. Building capacity with this employer has provided energy and momentum to approach other businesses and share the success.
Partnerships are vehicles for delivering practical solutions to societal and community issues. Total immersion into the workplace is the best and most natural environment for anyone to gain real-life work experiences, combined with independent living skills and self-determination. In addition, the presence of a Project SEARCH program can bring about long-term change in business cultures that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about hiring people with disabilities. It also gives a first-hand opportunity for people to see the range of jobs in which they can be successful. Through the implementation of Project SEARCH, we discovered that when a group of people are guided by a shared vision, we achieve greater outcomes. Creating the expectation and employment support for young people with disabilities is important work. Together we have proven that we can increase people’s opportunities for career success and fulfillment of personal outcomes!