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Supported employment programs in Maryland: personnel issues and training needs.

With the implementation of supported employment programs in recent years, a number of issues have been identified, which relate to staffing patterns, training needs, and the delineation of new roles for personnel (Everson & Moon, 1987; Parent, Hill, & Wehman, 1989; Renzaglia & Everson, 1990). Supported employment, with its shift from facility-based to community-based training, requires the acquisition of new skills by personnel, as well as redefinition of roles and functions of both direct service personnel and administrators (Everson & Moon, 1987; Kregel & Sale,1988).

An obvious shift in staffing patterns has been the increase in the number of job coaches oe employment specialists, along with the use of a range of titles by those filling such positions (Wehman & Melia, 1985; Wehman & Moon, 1985). Concerns regarding the professional role and status of job coaches or employment specialists have received attention in terms of recruiting and retaining qualified personnel (Winking, DeStefano, & Rusch, 1988; Winking, Trach, Rusch, & Tines, 1989). Staffing patterns have also been discussed relative to the responsibilities of supported employment program administrators and supervisors of direct service personnel (Kregel & Sale, 1988; Parent, Hill, 1990).

Staff training needs have been addressed by identifying competencies needed by direct service personnel (Cohen, Patton, & Melia, 1985; Parent, Hill, 1990; Renzaglia & Everson, 1990) and by program managers (Brooke, Sale & Moon, in press). Guidelines for incorporating training competencies into personnel training programs have also been suggested (Baker & Geiger, 1988; Cobb, Hasazi, Collins, & Salembier, 1988; Kregel & Sale, 1988; Wehman & Kregel, 1988; Wehman & Melia, 1985). Information on the educational backgrounds of supported employment personnel, while limited, provides insights into both the qualifications of those currently providing services and the need for relevant and immediate training activities (Renzaglia & Everson, 1990; Winking et al., 1989).

Research and demonstration efforts to date have provided initial direction for personnel preparation and training. However, as Renzaglia and Everson (1990) pointed out, "because supported employment programs are just beginning to be fully implemented across the nation, it is difficult to accurately estimate the number of existing personnel that need additional training and the number of projected personnel that will need training" (p.396). Also at issue is how adult service agencies have coped with personnel needs in implementing supported employment programs through federally funded initiatives aimed at state-wide systems change. Although supported employment is often an integral part of adult service agencies, the divergence in role between those providing direct services on job sites and those providing vocational services within the agency (Winking et al., 1988), necessitates a consequent differentiation in training.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, the results of a survey of supported employment programs in the State of Maryland are presented, which identify current and projected personnel roles, educational backgrounds and training needs. Maryland was one of 10 states awarded a five-year grant by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in 1985 to provide training and technical assistance to service providers and employers in creating supported employment opportunities. A second purpose is to identify collaborative programs or linkages between adult supported employment service providers and secondary special education programs. Supported employment has been suggested as a viable option within public school settings (Wehman & Kregel, 1985), however, little is known about actual linkages or effective practices facilitating the transition of students with severe disabilities to supported employment programs.

Bates (1990) pointed out that the on-going development of school-to-work initiatives continues to create personnel preparation challenges. One such initiative, the Cooperative Service Delivery Model in Maryland, now provides an interagency framework for serving youth with developmental disabilities in transition from school to supported employment programs (Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), 1989). Under this initiative, referral linkages and a network of services have been established among the MSDE Divisions of Special Education and Voctional Rehabilitation, the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development (Division of Economic Development), and the Developmental Disabilities Administration, to coordinate service delivery and access to supported employment programs.



Personnel from 45 supported employment programs in Maryland were interviewed by telephone between December 1989 and January 1990. Respondents included 11 (24%) executive directors or assistant directors of agencies, 13 (29%) directors of vocational programs in agencies, and 18 (40%) coordinators of supported employment programs. Three respondents (7%) were in charge of population-specific programs (e.g., programs for persons with dual diagnoses) within the agency.

All respondents were identified as the main contact persons from the Maryland Supported Employment Program (SEP) list of adult service agencies. The list was obtained through the Kennedy Institute, which served as the coordinating agency during the five year grant. Although the SEP list contained contact persons for 62 programs, 11 programs overlapped (i.e. more than one program was offered by a single agency), so that one contact person could provide information on two or more programs in that agency. This reduced the sample to 51, of whom 45 (88%) were successfully contacted; one agency was no longer in business, two respondents declined to participate in the telephone interview, one had participated in the pilot effort, and two did not respond to repeated attempts to gain their participation in the interview process.


The SEP Manager at the Kennedy Institute notified participating service providers of the purpose of the study. Preliminary telephone calls were then made to the contact persons identified on the SEP list. In some instances, respondents were able to complete the 20 to 30 minute telephone interview at this initial contact point; for others, an alternative time was scheduled.

The survey form was adapted from the Survey of Needs and Practices in Transition (Taymans & Cuenin, 1989) and piloted with one supported employment service provider to determine the appropriateness and clarity of the questions. The final survey consisted of 17 open-ended questions to elicit information on (a) current supported employment programs and staff, (b) projected personnel training and staff needs, and (c) collaborative linkages or transition programs with school systems. Two graduate students assisted the second author with the interviews and participated in a training session prior to initiating phone contacts. Survey results were grouped first according to dominant themes and then tabulated by frequency and percent. Additional issues emerging during the interview were also noted and grouped according to dominant themes.


The results of the survey are presented in the following categories: supported employment program start-up/conversion, present personnel roles and educational backgrounds, projected personnel roles, personnel training needs and collaborative efforts with school systems.

SEP Start-up/Conversion

One of the objectives of the Maryland SEP was the conversion of 65% of day activity and sheltered work placements to supported employment by 1990, and the placement of 1300 individuals statewide by that time. To date, the project reports a conversion rate of 35% and a total number of 1161 individuals with disabilities in supported employment (Bonnie Levy, personal communication, February 27, 1990). In order to understand staffing patterns and training needs in supported employment, respondents were asked to describe how programs were initially implemented under the Maryland SEP.

Twenty-five of the 45 agencies (55%) converted sheltered workshop or day program slots to supported employment slots at the outset of the project. This resulted in the conversion of some in-house staff positions to supported employment positions, mainly those of job coaches. Eleven agencies (24%) implemented new supported employment programs and hired new staff. Nine agencies (20%) already had some form of community-based employment program in place (e.g, mobile crews) before the implementation of the SEP. In these instances, existing program staff (e.g. mobile crew supervisors) generally assumed job coaching positions and the community placements were altered to meet the federal guidelines for individuals participating in supported employment programs.

Although future conversion of sheltered or day activity slots to supported employment was not specifically addressed in the survey, 10 respondents (22%) mentioned plans for continued conversion. They anticipated that continued conversion would impact on personnel needs, mainly in terms of increased numbers of job coaches and of continued role redefinition of current staff.

Present Personnel Roles and Educational Backgrounds

Table 1 depicts personnel roles and educational backgrounds reported by the respondents. Actual job titles varied and roles were grouped according to reported job responsibilities in two major categories: direct service providers (including job coaches, employment specialists and job developers), and those with case management and coordination functions. Degree programs are reported in the following areas: rehabilitation, social work, special education, general education, psychology/sociology and other. Seventy-three practitioners (28%) held no degrees. Twenty-four (9%) individuals had degrees in rehabilitation, 13 at the master's levels and 11 at the undergraduate level. Eighteen (6%) individuals held degrees in social work, 10 at the undergraduate level and 8 at the master's level. Twenty-one (8%) had degrees in special education, 5 at the master's level and 16 at the undergraduate level; 13 (5%) had degrees in general education, the majority at the undergraduate level. Many personnel held undergraduate degrees in more generic training areas such as psychology/sociology (19%) and other (8%). Associate degrees (17%) tended to cluster in human services and health care. [TABULAR DATA 1 OMITTED]

Direct Service Providers. Although the terms job coach and employment specialist are sometimes used interchangeably (Kregel & Sale, 1988; Parent, Hill & Wehman, 1989), respondents tended to draw a distinction between job coaches, who were reponsible for on-site instruction/support and employment specialists, who combined these duties with job development. Thirty-seven programs (82%) employed personnel with the title of job coach. Reported duties included on-site training and intervention; quality assurance; follow-up; crisis management; establishment and maintenance of liaisons with employers, co-workers and families; recordkeeping; involvement with the development and/or implementation of the Individual Habilitation Plan (IHP); provision of transportation; and parent/client counseling. Only one respondent reported the use of a business-employed job coach and one reported the use of consumers as peer aides in the worksite.

Nearly half the job coaches did not hold degrees; 22% had associates' degrees, 31% bachelors' degrees, and 2% masters' degrees. In terms of type of training, 26 of the 33 (79%) bachelor's degrees were in psychology/sociology, 4 (12%) in rehabilitation, and 8 (24%) in special education; two had masters' degrees in special education. Opinions were divided on the issue of qualifications needed for job coaches, with some respondents preferring a trades background over professional training (e.g. "job coaches need to get their hands dirty...people with college degrees don't always like to do that") and others expressing contrasting viewpoints (e.g., "training new staff is so much easier when they already know the fundamentals of working with clients").

Respondents from eight (18%) programs employed personnel as employment spacialists (i.e., job coaches and job developers combined), with five of the eight employing them in addtion to job coaches. The educational backgrounds of these personnel differed drastically from those of job coaches, with 69% holding bachelors' degrees, the majority in psychology and sociology and "other" unrelated areas. A small number of respondents reported employing personnel to do job development exclusively. These individuals varied as a group with respect to specific training, however, none held degrees in rehabilitation and only one had a master's degree, in general education.

Coordinators/Case Managers.

Approximately half of the supported employment programs had coordinators who supervised and trained direct service personnel and managed day-to-day program functions. In addition, they frequently filled in for job coaches, transported clients to jobsites, conducted job development or carried out case management activities. Interestingly, only five (19%) had master's degrees and two (7%) held no degrees. The majority had bachelor's degrees in varied areas.

Twelve respondents (27%) indicated they employed personnel who performed case management tasks exclusively, with titles such as social worker, counselor or case manager. Approximately half of these case managers possessed master's degrees; twelve (27%) in rehabilitation, seven (16%) in social work, and one (2%) in special education. The majority of undergraduate degrees were in psychology/sociology/other. Tasks for this group included steering client planning meetings and developing IHP's, coordinating services, establishing appropriate service linkages and conducting follow-up activities.

Projected Personnel Roles

Thirty respondents (67%) indicated their future personnel needs. Generally, additional staff needs paralleled the roles of staff currently employed. The most frequently mentioned neeeds reported by respondents included job coaches (75%), job developers (27%), programs coordinators (24%), and case managers (13%).

Twenty-five (56%) of the respondents referred to changing personnel roles in relationship to continued conversion of sheltered or day program slots to supported employment. Changes were discussed around three areas: (a) the evolving role of the job coach (13%), more specifically the need for a "lead" job coach or job coach trainer; (b) the changing role of sheltered workshop staff (11%) to community-based staff in light of planned conversion of slots to supported employment; and (c) the growing need for case managers (13%) to provide linkages to services other than employment.

Sixteen (36%) of the respondents expressed direct concern about low salaries and professional status of direct service personnel when discussing personnel needs. The following transcription typifies some of the opinions on this subject: "It's grossly unfair that we expect our staff, especially job coaches, to be out there on the front line, dealing with...crises...and really doing fine professional job, working crazy hours - all for $13,000."

Personnel Training Needs

Respondents were asked to identify the types of training they perceived their staff to need in areas related to supported employment, rehabilitation or special education. The most frequently mentioned need was for training in behavior management skills, followed by an overview of supported employment (including legislation, terminology and trends), recordkeeping, and working with individuals with specific disabilities (see Table 2). Training needs appeared to fall into three broad categories: strategies for working with clients (e.g. on-site instruction, behavior management), approaches to use in contacts with the business sector (e.g. job placement techniques, networking) and process-related skills (e.g. couseling skills, communication skills).

Collaborative Efforts with School Systems

Respondents were asked to describe their current transition programs or linkages between the schools and their agencies, as well as future plans to develop programs or linkages. Transition related services were categorized as programs if there was a designated staff person who provided or coordinated services between the schools and the SEP. In the absence of a designated staff person or an actual program title, interagency efforts, such as attending annual individual transition planning (ITP) conferences were categorized as linkages.


Seven (16%) respondents reported that their agency had a specific transition or supported employment program serving individuals with disabilities while they were enrolled in school. Services provided by the SEP agencies included case management during the student's final year of school and placement in community-based work sites with job coaching and related support. One of the seven agencies was established to serve transitioning students exclusively, whereas the others integrated this population into their adult supported employment program. Two respondents reported that staff positions for these programs were funded jointly with the public schools. The number of students with disabilities receiving services in these programs varied from 3 to 26. [TABULAR DATA 2 OMITTED]


Although the majority of respondents did not not have a formalized transition program, 23 (51%) did identify the existence of collaborative efforts or linkages to assist students in the transition process. In general, these efforts centered around linking students and families with SEP and other adult services. Linkages included the presence of an SEP agency representative at annual ITP conferences, the provision of information to students and families on adult services, and assistance to students and families in completing paperwork necessary or adult programs. One respondent indicated that the school system purchased job coaching services directly from the SEP for students in work-study sites.

Future Plans

Eight (18%) respondents reported plans currently under way for future linkages or program development (e.g., working with a parent group to develop school-based enclaves). Two respondents specifically indicated that their future plans centered around the Cooperative Service Delivery Model (MSDE, 1989).


The results of this survey contribute to the on-going identification of personnel and training needs in supported employment programs. Implications for both adult service providers and university training programs are discussed in terms of conversion, role and function, and collaboration issues.

Organizational change issues, particularly in terms of management and supervision, have received attention in describing the conversion of sheltered workshops to supported employment (Jacobson, 1987; Parent, Hill & Wehman, 1989). Issues surrounding the conversion of staff roles and concomitant training needs are less well recognized. There is general agreement that staff training and technical assistance is an important component of the conversion process, (Renzaglia & Everson, 1990).

Given that 75% of the programs in this study converted from sheltered facilitiesor or mobile crews to supported employment, and that a wide range of training needs were indicated, training/retraining needs are apparent. During the five years systems change grant, technical assistance, including staff training work-shops, was provided by the Kennedy Institute. With the expiration of that grant, the need to link those programs continuing to convert with regional university training programs becomes even more critical.

With many supported employment programs now entering a maintenance rather than an establishment phase, the job coach role continues to be a prominent concern in many respects. The differentiation by our survey respondents between the job coach as trainer, and the employment specialist, as both trainer and job developer, points to the evolution of job coach functions in specific settings. This finding appears tom differ somewhat from other role and function literature (Wehman & Melia, 1985; Winking et al, 1989), in which title differences for employment specialists are not necessarily accompanied by major role differences.

Nearly half of the job coaches in this study did not possess postsecondary degrees; this may have led many respondents to indicate a need for a "lead job coach," who would train incoming job coaches, substitute for job coaches, and provide direct guideance in training and intervention techniques. The idea of a lead job coach parallels the role of senior employment specialist proposed by Kregel and Sale (1988). This is a staffing issue that deserves immediate attention by those in adult service agencies, especially in light of the current educational backgrounds of these personnel.

This study also provides further evidence of the need, noted by others (Renzaglia & Everson, 1990; Winking et al., 1988; Winking et al., 1989), to address the professional status of the job coach role in terms of appropriate educational background, salary and certification standards. Although the duties performed by job coaches in this study are similar to other studies (e.g., Cohen, Patton, & Melia, 1985), they exceeded the four tasks (i.e., service delivery, planning, training of aides and documentation) required of job coaches by State regulations (Developmental Disabilities, 1986).

Information on the educational backgrounds of personnel in supported employment programs raises a number of issues which center on standards for personnel, content of training programs, and provision of quality services to persons with severe disabilities. The lack of personnel trained in rehabilitation, special education or related fields in this study has implications for both adult service providers in terms of immediate training needs and for university-based programs in terms of preservice needs.

In this study, 28% of all the personnel providing supported employment services were reported not to have degrees beyond the high school level. Employment specialists, as in the Winking et al. study (1989) did possess baccalaureate degrees; however, the majority were in unrelated fields. This brings into question the types and quality of services that are being provided to persons with disabilities in employment settings. The personnel who provided the most direct services in the field, were clearly the most undertrained group with 48% of the job coaches possessing only a high school degree. In fact, they did not even meet the minimal standards required by the State of Maryland for persons providing vocational or job coaching service (Developmental Disabilities, 1986). The need for immediate training is evident from responses to questions about staff training needs in rehabilitation and special education.

Training needs indicated by respondents to our survey include many that commonly form part of the content of rehabilitation and special education training programs. Although in the past there have been clear boundaries between training in these two disciplines, (Kregel & Sale, 1988; Renzaglia, 1986), this gap continues to narrow as roles of secondary and adult service practitioners grow increasingly similar. At this time several university training programs in the region, funded through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), offer an interdisciplinary graduate focus in transition, supported employment and rehabilitation. Only 11% of the supported employment personnel were reported to have master's degrees. Perhaps at issue is how to attract supported employment personnel to these training programs, and promote the utilization of multidisciplinary expertise in service delivery.

Given the emphasis at both national and state level on interagency collaboration between schools and the adult service sector, it was encouraging to find over half the respondents acknowledged collaborative efforts in place between supported employment programs and secondary special education programs. Although few structured collaborative programs were in place, the number of respondents who indicated planned future efforts with schools as well as the implementation of the Cooperative Service Delivery Model indicate changes in this trend. This has obvious implications for personnel preparation programs and provides further support for the need for interdisciplinary training efforts (Baker & Geiger, 1988; Szymanski, Hanley- Maxwell, & Parker,1990). As new initiatives, are implemented, additional research is needed to identify best practices and role and function definitions for others to use in replication efforts.

It is obvious that personnel and training needs in supported employment programs will continue to evolve as adult service agencies and school systems implement and revise vocational programs for persons with severe disabilities. It is imporatant to document changing personnel needs through continued research efforts and to update interdisciplinary training programs based on information from practices in the field.


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Author:Krishnaswami, Uma
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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