Supported employment enables people with disabilities who have not been successfully employed to work and contribute to society. Supported employment focuses on a person's abilities and provides the supports the individual needs to be successful on a long-term basis. It allows people with disabilities, their families, businesses, and their communities to experience success in the work place. The partnership that supported employment has established between individuals with disabilities and their communities is having a lasting impact on the way the public perceives people with disabilities.
Definition of Supported Employment
Supported employment is:
• Paid, competitive employment, at minimum wage or better;
• Designed for students who experience significant challenges to accessing work;
• Supported by an employment specialist to obtain and maintain jobs, and
• An opportunity to promote career development and workplace diversity.
The two keys to supported employment are:
• Integrated Work. An integrated work setting that allows daily contact with non-disabled colleagues and/or the general public.
• Competitive Employment. Competitive employment is work that is paid on a basis similar to non-disabled co-workers with similar job duties. The wages must be paid in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The work can be either full-time or part-time. Students who participate in supported employment can connect their work experience
to academic standards.
Benefits to Students
Students have the opportunity to do real work in an integrated work setting and earn wages. A supported employment experience can result in increased self-esteem and a sense of independence. It gives the student an opportunity to plan for the future based on first hand knowledge of the world of work. A supported employment placement can provide the basis for an individual transition plan from school to work.
Benefits to Employers
A supported employment placement allows an employer an opportunity to train an employee "from the ground up" with the assistance of a liaison (the employment specialist) who ensures a good job match. The employment specialist also provides ongoing assistance to address any problems that may arise.
Setting up a Supported Employment Opportunity
The first step in working with an individual is to conduct an individual assessment, followed by job skills training, job placement, and follow-up.
Assess the Student
In supported employment, every step of the assessment process is focused on discovering the strengths the student has; then simultaneously identifying areas where employment specialists and employers will need to provide support in order to facilitate success at work. Supported employment uses an ability-based approach to assessment. The goals of the assessment process are to:
(1) identify the student's current strengths, interests, learning style, and employment goals; (2) anticipate barriers and identify the needed supports to overcome them; and
(3) identify the critical job tasks that must be mastered in order to be productive on the job, with consideration to supports for both job and social skills.
There is a wide array of tools and methods for vocational assessments. Some of these assessment methods include observations of students on job sites, in community settings and in school.
On-site skills training allows the student to observe, practice, and integrate a work experience within the actual work environment. The skill acquisition will have a reality base that ensures that the job performance will match the employer's expectation. A wide variety of training strategies can be used to teach students vocational skills, social skills, and problem solving. An employment specialist is the key to balancing the learning needs of the student with the production needs of the employer. The employment specialist must be able to maximize student independence and productivity in the workplace. They are responsible for facilitating a student's successful performance on the job, fading out of the work site as much as possible. In addition, they must be flexible and available to provide on-the-job supports as needed.
Job Site Development
Job site development is tailored to the individual needs and interests of the student. It involves consistent contact, visibility, and partnership with employers in the local community. The employment specialist can use natural support networks with other similar education and training organizations in the community to identify potential sites. Encourage your students to search for sites as well. This encourages individual responsibility, choice, and accountability in the job search.
Ongoing follow-up services are provided to the student and employer to assist the student in maintaining the job. These services include formal and informal contacts with the student, employer, school, and any other appropriate individuals working on a student's team. Some students can perform job tasks independently but have difficulty with on-the-job social skills. Others require ongoing direct training support in order to maintain employment. The employment specialist is the key resource in anticipating issues and facilitating positive outcomes that address student and employer needs.
Transition planning is a coordinated set of activities focused on four specific areas for an individual student—independent living, community employment, community integration, and community participation. Transition planning should be an outcome-oriented process that promotes a smooth transition from school to post-school activities. Post-school activities can include post secondary education, vocational training, supported employment, continuing and adult education. This coordinated set of activities must be based on the individual student's needs and interests. The student's team will assist with other related areas of transition planning that are guided by the IDEA legislation (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The student's case manager will direct the team's attention to these areas of planning.
Implement the Transition from School to Work
Post secondary supported employment for students with disabilities depends on consistent, systematic transition planning, interagency involvement, and support from all members of a student's team. Ongoing transition planning throughout high school (starting at age 14), sets the stage for supported employment options to continue beyond high school. Transition planning is mandated for all students who participate in Special Education. Transition planning is critical for those students who may have few adult service options in place after high school.
Vocational Rehabilitation Transition Counselors
VocRehab Transition Counselors are important partners in making this transition successful. Transition Counselors begin to support students with disabilities while they are still in high school and continue to work with them through early adulthood. They can assist students who are close to high school completion to explore possible careers, discuss education and training choices and help build a team to support future employment success. Once a youth is out of school, they will help with the job search and on-the-job support, among other activities.
Connecting Supported Employment Opportunities to the Classroom
It is important to make the supported employment opportunity meaningful by connecting it to classroom learning and Vermont's Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities. Connecting activities can take many forms and should take place at all stages of the supported employment opportunity.
NOTE: Ensure that the following activities are accessible to ALL students. If needed, provide accommodations such as the use of a scribe, tape recorder, or computer so that all students may participate.
• Students research the general career fields and specific organizations in which they will be working.
• Students write about their preconceptions and expectations for the work site.
• Students prepare questions based on their research and writings to ask their hosts.
• Students and teachers discuss professional standards for behavior and dress.
• Teachers emphasize practical applications of the concepts and skills they teach in class.
• Students and teachers develop a training plan which outlines the student's learning objectives.
• Students ask host about the ways in which different academic subjects relate to their supported employment.
• Students observe practical applications of academic concepts.
• Students learn actual job and employability skills by participating in work activities.
• Students ask hosts about their career paths and suggestions they have for others who are interested in the field.
• Students write about the differences between their expectations and the realities of the workplace.
• Students and teachers discuss the connections they see between classroom learning and the workplace.
• Students write, revise, and send thank you letters to employers.
• Students and teachers together evaluate the student's progress toward meeting the learning objectives.
• Students continue their career research in light of what they have learned during the supported employment opportunity.