Five Reasons why VR Directors Need a Strong Peer Network

Authored by: 
John Halliday

I heard recently that 18 new vocational rehabilitation (VR) directors have taken their positions within the past year. This means that more than one in five of the 80 VR directors across the country are new to their role. If you’re one of these new leaders, welcome! As a former state director, I have some advice for you: make time to network with other VR directors. Why peer networking is a priority I know that this may not sound like your highest priority. As a new director, you’re deeply involved in learning and resolving immediate issues in your state--and your time is already at a premium. But budgeting time and attention for peer networking is essential. Here are five reasons why: 1. Networking with other directors will help you see the big picture. Through conversations with your counterparts in other states, you’ll come to understand the VR program in the larger national context. And that will enable you to develop and implement more effective strategies. 2. Peer networking can help your agency to address its challenges. Through other VR directors’ skills and experience, you’ll find solutions and new approaches that won’t occur to you on your own. And your insights will help your peers out too. 3. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of only 80 VR directors in the United States. You share with those 79 other leaders a legal and professional context and program intent. If you don’t make the time to get to know them, you’re all missing out. 4. The VR program is part of the larger employment and disability service structure. As such, issues about the VR program’s roles, functions, and expectations are raised within both a statewide and a national political context. Networking with directors who have experienced a wide array of issues and developed effective alliances can often lead to positive outcomes. 5. Networking works best when it’s comprehensive. There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all directors to be included in formal and informal peer networks. That’s the only way for the exchange of knowledge and perspectives to be made available to all in the VR program.

Formal networking You have both formal and informal networking opportunities all around you, and I encourage you to take advantage of both types. Opportunities for formal networking are offered through the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), and its partner the National Council of State Administrators of the Blind. These two organizations run committees and working groups where you can learn from, and share your insights with, other directors. CSAVR also organizes regional networks, often in conjunction with the Technical Assistance and Continuing Education (TACE) Centers. These provide another avenue for sharing ideas and troubleshooting challenges. As a VR director, you can choose from an array of programs that support your agency and its staff: TACE Centers, research and training centers, VR education, and National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research grantees. Directors always tell me that they find their efforts in these programs rewarding, and often gain as much from the informal connections as the structured programs.

Informal networking But where do you get input on thorny issues such as budgets? Policy? HR? Where can you let your hair down and share some of your concerns about the VR program? That’s where the informal network comes into play. Through informal networking with other directors, you’ll connect with individuals in the same position, but who have different perspectives and experience. The use of both formal and informal networks is critical. You must actively seek to interact with your peers, and make a conscious effort to be part of the larger VR community. Networking is not an event--it is a journey. So take your time, try different venues, and never stop reaching out to your peers. Their support system will help you thrive in your important new role.

Map of recent turnover in VR