Competencies & Skills

VR Competencies for Business Engagement

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies use many different models in engaging businesses at the state and local levels. They may operate primarily through a single point of contact (POC) in the central office, or have business specialists (who may have different titles) in each region that coordinate with the POC. In other cases, employment specialists (also with a variety of titles) are assigned to each local office as part of a placement team, or the agency holds counselors responsible for engagement at the local level--or some other combination. 

While there is a lot of overlap in the competencies needed in each of these roles, there are also important differences. For example, an employment specialist may need to know a lot about possible job carving or accommodations, while the development of marketing tools and agency use of social media would be important competencies at the central office level.

The following table identifies several competencies relating to business engagement in a state VR agency, wherever it is happening. They are divided into three domains: Knowledge of Labor Market Needs, Communications, and Internal Management.

Under these are competency clusters that are loosely placed into two categories depending their relevancy to either the State/Central Office level, or the Area/District/Local level. Some of the competencies are identified as “core” competencies (**) that are basic to any business relations initiative. Other competencies may not be as necessary based on the agency’s structure (e.g., not every VR agency will develop a business cadre).

This table addresses competencies needed for the business engagement function, which is only one aspect of VR/business relationships. Competencies required to provide support to employers of individuals with disabilities are outlined here. Competency elements required for customized employment are being developed by the Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE), and will be linked to this table once they are completed in early 2018.

While not specifically included in this table of competencies, VR directors and senior leadership play an essential part in implementing business engagement across each of the domains listed below. For more information on this critical role, please visit the Models and Functions tab of this toolkit.

 

Competency State-Central Office Level
(Single Points of Contact, Business Relations Coordinators, etc.)
Area Office Or District Level
(Business Cadre, Employment Specialists, Counselors, etc.)
Knowledge of Labor Market Needs

Access and utilize information regarding economic trends and opportunities in the labor market

  • Knowledge of state labor market **
  • Incorporate regional economic conditions, industries, and cultural diversity dynamics (i.e. businesses with proactive and public presence involving diversity issues) into a strategic planconcerning business engagement.
  • Knowledge of local labor market**
  • Awareness of key local employers**
Creating new opportunities through existing business relationships
  • Create a database of existing business relationships that summarizes positions in demand and skill sets associated with those jobs
  • Create opportunities for employer recognition
  • Be able to determine how a system/ business/job should work so that operational improvements can be identified as potential negotiating points for a customized position
Communications
Marketing VR Services
  • Understand the VR niche in the marketplace**
  • Design and distribute marketing materials that can be customized.  Use a variety of media to reach business customers **
  • Use language & images in materials and media that emphasize strengths and respect disclosure choices**
  • Participate in Chambers of Commerce and other business, HR, and industry associations
  • Develop and maintain a business-related social media presence for the agency
  • Promote the agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs
  • Understand and explain financial incentives
  • Understand and be able to address employer objections
  • Promote single brand identity
  • Reach out/present to HR professionals
  • Understand the VR niche in the marketplace**
  • Promote the agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs while accurately explaining services**
  • Use language & images in communications that highlight skills, abilities, and interests of job seekers and respect disclosure choices**
  • Understand and be able to address employer objections**
  • Plan and deliver presentations to groups of individuals, parents, advocacy groups, civic organizations, etc.
  • Participate in local Chambers of Commerce and other business, HR, and industry associations
  • Understand and explain financial incentives
Assessing Business Needs
  • Communicate effectively with businesses through active listening.  Accurately identify business needs.**
  • Provide resources on accommodation strategies and disability issues
  • Communicate effectively with businesses through active listening. Accurately identify business needs.**
  • Consult with businesses on accommodation strategies and disability issues
  • Understand workflow and work processes
Speaking the language of business
  • Create standardized approach that uses business language and articulates the features and benefits of VR services**
  • Develop/learn to articulate an “elevator pitch;” e.g. a brief explanation of the VR program and its features and benefits that is consistent across the agency**
  • Be able to use business language and articulate the features and benefits of VR services **
  • Develop/learn to articulate an “elevator pitch;” e.g. a brief explanation of the VR program and its features and benefits that is consistent across the agency**
  • Understand what constitutes professional and responsive contact with businesses
  • Understand typical procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, and training
  • Understand how to “close the sale” or move into the next step
Connections and networking
  • Utilize business connections to reach other businesses at the management or HR level**
  • Consistently communicate disability related workforce development trends to businesses
  • Effectively use personal/professional networks to link with other potential business partners**
  • Work effectively with community rehabilitation programs or other agencies contracted to contact businesses on behalf of VR participants
  • Plan and deliver presentations to groups of individual, parents, advocacy groups, civic organizations, etc.
  • Reach out/present to HR professionals
Internal Management
Tracking marketing outcomes and business connections
  • Develop and utilize a system for organizing and updating information on businesses and business contacts, including new area businesses and types of jobs available in the local area**
  • Assess the effectiveness of the marketing plan via business awareness and satisfaction**
  • Track and report the impact of marketing activities related to VR consumers going to work or keeping a job
Internal communication to share potential opportunities
  • Develop and maintain an internal infrastructure for sharing information, seeking opportunities, and acting on those opportunities throughout the agency**
  • Consistently communicate labor market information and business info/issues to VR staff
  • Access, utilize, and contribute to the internal infrastructure for sharing information, seeking opportunities, and acting on those opportunities through the agency**

The LIFE Cycle of a Business Relationship

John Marchioro, Director of Training at the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services explains the LIFE Cycle of Business Engagement in this video filmed during a national conference.


The Life Cycle of a Business Relationship: Arrows in a circle showing the cycle of Listen, Identify needs, Fulfill solutions, and Evaluate effectivenessThe LIFE Cycle of a Business Relationship provides a simple guide for VR staff as they initially engage with a business. How do you connect with business?

First, Listen to business talk about their needs and interests.

Next, Identify the support opportunities. What services can VR offer to business?

Then, Fulfill solutions by providing information about what services and supports VR can offer.

Finally, Evaluate effectiveness of the services VR provided to business.

 

 

Staffing for Effective Business Engagement

While the primary goal of vocational rehabilitation (VR) has been to support people with disabilities to obtain work that match their interests and goals, counselors must frequently manage the balance between their clients’ occupational goals and the opportunities that are available in their regional labor market. VR counselors have significant training and expertise relating to issues of disability, career development theory, restoration and accommodation strategies, etc. but little emphasis is placed on analyzing labor market information, networking, marketing—in short, the language of business engagement.

Successful outcomes depend on the ability of VR to facilitate job matches that meet the needs of both the VR client and local business. This “dual customer” approach is well defined in the 32nd Institute on Rehabilitation Issues: The VR-Business Network: Charting Your Course [PDF], a valuable resource for developing business relationships. The document’s key message is that establishing quality relationships with and understanding the needs of the business community will create opportunities for the clients that VR serves.

In response to the current mandates of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), VR agencies must develop strategies for business engagement. They are creating plans and structures that fit the unique needs of their states. Many factors must be considered in building a business engagement structure including the position of the agency in state government, the size and budget of the agency, the number of allowable full time positions, and the industrial and economic opportunities within the state. Regardless of the approach, successful business engagement depends on the competent execution of a somewhat standard set of functions.

Roles and Functions

VR agencies utilize many different models in engaging businesses at the state and local levels. They may operate primarily through a single point of contact (POC) in the central office, or have Business Specialists (with a wide variety of titles) in each region that coordinate with the POC. Some states have Employment Specialists (which also may have a variety of titles) assigned to each local office as part of a placement team, or hold counselors responsible for engagement at the local level. There are many combinations of approaches and unique job descriptions across the country. Click the following links to see examples of job descriptions for Business Account Managers [PDF], Business Relations Coordinators [PDF], and Employment Specialists [PDF].

 

Competency Based Staffing

Successful business engagement depends on the competent execution of a somewhat standard set of functions.

Given the diversity and complexity common to VR counseling, in addition to increasing caseload sizes, counselors may feel challenged in developing expertise in business development. They may lack the experience and/or have difficulty carving out time for marketing and networking activities such as attending Chamber of Commerce meetings or holding career fairs. Many state VR agencies have responded to this issue by developing separate units, or cadres, whose primary responsibility is to make these types of business connections and maintain relationships. Regardless of the approach, competency-based staff selection and development are vital to the effort. People can make or break the best of plans.

In general, there are two staffing levels to consider in developing a business services strategy. One is the systems level which comprises the strategy used by the state VR agency to position and market itself as a business partner. These functions are often centralized and rest with management positions. The other piece focuses more on individual relationships involving the VR job seeker, the job developer and the employer at the local level. While there is some overlap in the competencies needed at each of these levels, there are also important differences. For example, a position at the local level may need to know a lot about possible job carving or accommodations, while the development of marketing tools and agency use of social media would be important competencies at the central office level.

VR Staff Competencies for Business Engagement

The knowledge and skills necessary to a successful approach fall into three main categories of competencies.

1. Knowledge of Labor Market Needs:

Every VR agency needs a strategy to systematically collect, interpret, and take action upon relevant labor market information (LMI) in your service area. This may include information available through your state’s workforce development agency or, some states have invested in third party “real-time” labor market tools. Both types of information can be used effectively to impact outcomes for VR clients and businesses. In addition, at the local level, business intelligence, or the common knowledge of a community’s marketplace, has great value. But the information alone is not enough. Staff at all levels need to know how to use it.

An effort should be made to review regional client job goals and placements made over the recent year in order that business engagement activities are targeted and relevant to client’s placement needs within the context of the labor market information.

2. Communications:

A successful approach must include a communications strategy that will engage business, speak their language and demonstrate some industry-specific knowledge. Consider the skills to market VR to businesses at a variety of levels , from a viable source of labor that will meet their needs to a strategic economic development partner. Train staff on an approach to assess business needs. WIOA challenges VR to communicate effectively with partners, too, as we collaborate to engage business and employ a diverse workforce.

3. Internal Management:

Finally, staff must be able to track and measure the success of efforts. This should include necessary business information, VR job seeker outcomes, and internal communication among all staff engaged with businesses.

Competencies and Learning Objectives

The following charts list key competencies that should guide selection and development of staff. In addition, learning objectives are provided to assist in designing training programs that will help your staff develop the knowledge and skills necessary to better connect to businesses on behalf of the clients you serve. These competency clusters are loosely placed into two categories depending on their relevancy to either the State/Central Office level, or the Area/District/Local level.

State/Central Office level competencies divided into three domains: Knowledge of Labor Market Needs, Communications, and Internal Management. Some of the competencies are identified as “Core” competencies (**) that are basic to any business relations initiative; other competencies may or not be as necessary based on the agency’s structure (i.e. not every SVR will develop a business cadre).

Competency State-Central Office Level
(Single Points of Contact, Business Relations Coordinators, etc.)
Learning Objectives
After training, the learner will be able to:
Knowledge of Labor Market Needs
Access and utilize information regarding economic trends and opportunities in the labor market
  • Knowledge of state labor market **
  • Incorporate regional economic conditions, industries, and cultural diversity dynamics (i.e. businesses with proactive and public presence involving diversity issues) into a strategic plan concerning business engagement.
  • Knowledge of specific industry needs and trends
  • Find, understand, and accurately interpret labor market information relevant to the whole state or major population areas in the state.
  • Demonstrate how to incorporate information about economic conditions, industries, and business diversity into a business engagement strategic plan
Creating new opportunities through existing business relationships
  • Create a database of existing business relationships that summarizes positions in demand and skill sets associated with those jobs
  • Create opportunities for employer recognition
  • Articulate approaches to leverage existing business relationships to create new opportunities.
  • Describe the purpose of different types of employer recognition approaches.  Design, develop, and implement opportunities that best suit the purpose.
Communications
Marketing VR Services
  • Understand the VR niche in the marketplace**
  • Design and distribute marketing materials that can be customized.  Use a variety of media to reach business customers **
  • Use language & images in materials and media that emphasize strengths and respect disclosure choices**
  • Participate in Chambers of Commerce and other business, HR, and industry associations
  • Develop and maintain a business-related social media presence for the agency
  • Promote the agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs
  • Understand and explain financial incentives
  • Understand and be able to address employer objections
  • Promote single brand identity
  • Reach out/present to HR professionals
  • Articulate the VR niche among other employment services available in the state
  • Articulate and consistently utilize a single brand identity for VR services
  • Develop a comprehensive agency marketing plan
  • Design and field test marketing materials in various media that can be customized to the specific business audience.
  • Write materials/develop media and in-person presentations that use language & images emphasizing participant strengths.
  • Write materials/develop media and in-person presentations that promote the VR agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs
  • Write materials/develop media and in-person presentations about the VR agency relevant to HR professionals
  • Describe how/whether marketing materials balance participant choice to not disclose disability with VR’s role as a provider of employment services to people with disabilities.
  • List relevant business engagement partners at the state level such as the Chamber of Commerce and other business, human resources, and industry associations
  • Describe the current and planned social media presence for the VR agency.
  • Explain financial incentives available to businesses that hire individuals with disabilities
  • Address common business objections to hiring individuals with disabilities

Area/District/Local level competencies divided into three domains: Knowledge of Labor Market Needs, Communications, and Internal Management. Some of the competencies are identified as “Core” competencies (**) that are basic to any business relations initiative; other competencies may or not be as necessary based on the agency’s structure (i.e. not every SVR will develop a business cadre).

Competency Area Office Or District Level
(Business Cadre, Employment Specialists, Counselors, etc.)
Learning Objectives for Training-After training the Learner will be able to:
Knowledge of Labor Market Needs
Access and utilize information regarding economic trends and opportunities in the labor market
  • Knowledge of local labor market**
  • Awareness of key local employers**
  • Find, understand, and accurately interpret labor market information relevant to building business relations in the local service area.
  • Demonstrate the ability to identify key employers in the local service area
Creating new opportunities through business relationships
  • Be able to determine how a system/ business/job should work so that operational improvements can be identified as potential negotiating points for a customized position
  
Communications
Marketing VR Services
  • Understand the VR niche in the marketplace**
  • Promote the agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs while accurately explaining services**
  • Use language & images in communications that highlight skills, abilities, and interests of job seekers and respect disclosure choices**
  • Understand and be able to address employer objections**
  • Plan and deliver presentations to groups of individuals, parents, advocacy groups, civic organizations, etc.
  • Participate in local Chambers of Commerce and other business, HR, and industry associations
  • Understand and explain financial incentives
  • Articulate the VR niche among other employment services available in the state
  • Articulate and consistently utilize a single brand identity for VR services
  • Use materials and in-person presentations that use language & images emphasizing participant strengths.
  • Use materials and in-person presentations that promote the VR agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs
  • Explain financial incentives available to businesses that hire individuals with disabilities
  • Address common business objections to hiring individuals with disabilities
  • List relevant business engagement partners at the local level such as the Chamber of Commerce and other business, human resources, and industry associations
Assessing Business Needs
  • Communicate effectively with businesses through active listening. Accurately identify business needs.**
  • Consult with businesses on accommodation strategies and disability issues
  • Understand workflow and work processes
  • Use active listening and other communication techniques to accurately identify personnel needs expressed by business representatives
  • Provide information and resources on disabilities and accommodations
  • Utilize a job analysis approach to research existing jobs and work procedures and processes
Speaking the language of business
  • Be able to use business language and articulate the features and benefits of VR services **
  • Develop/learn to articulate an “elevator pitch;” e.g. a brief explanation of the VR program and its features and benefits that is consistent across the agency**
  • Understand what constitutes professional and responsive contact with businesses
  • Understand typical procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, and training
  • Understand how to “close the sale” or move into the next step
  • Develop and articulate a brief explanation of the VR program that can be used consistently across the VR agency.
  • Demonstrate the use of business language in describing the features and benefits of VR services.
  • Present a consistent plan of approach with businesses that exhibits professionalism and responsiveness
  • Describe the flow of candidates through the recruitment, selection and training process at a typical business
  • Outline a strategy to “close the sale” and/or move to the next step with businesses
Connections and networking
  • Effectively use personal/professional networks to link with other potential business partners**
  • Work effectively with community rehabilitation programs or other agencies contracted to contact businesses on behalf of VR participants
  • Plan and deliver presentations to groups of individual, parents, advocacy groups, civic organizations, etc.
  • Reach out/present to HR professionals
  • Use materials and in-person presentations that use language & images emphasizing participant strengths.
  • Use materials and in-person presentations that promote the VR agency as a resource to help businesses meet their hiring needs
  • Identify personal and professional network connections that can be accessed to link with other business partners
  • Describe the strategies used to build strong working relationships with rehabilitation programs and other agencies
Internal Management
Tracking marketing outcomes and business connections
  • Track and report the impact of marketing activities related to VR consumers going to work or keeping a job
  • Describe the system used to track and report the impact of marketing activities
Internal communication to share potential opportunities
  • Access, utilize, and contribute to the internal infrastructure for sharing information, seeking opportunities, and acting on those opportunities through the agency**
  • Outline a plan that details how to access, utilize and contribute to sharing information and seeking opportunities to connect to businesses within the local agency.

Who Engages Businesses at Oregon Commission for the Blind?

As part of their job-driven technical assistance project, the Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) and the Institute for Community Inclusion created a video series featuring OCB consumers, Oregon businesses, and OCB business engagement staff.

This video explains how different staff at OCB engage with clients and businesses. Watch as OCB’s director of rehabilitation, business engagement coordinator, assistive technology assistant, and employment specialist share their perspectives on business engagement.

 

Performance Evaluation

As previously stated, a competent and well trained VR staff is a primary building block of an effective business engagement strategy. Clearly defined roles and expectations based on the shared vision and values of the organization lead to desired outcomes when there is an accountable working environment. It is critical that agency leaders help all VR staff to discover the specific ways in which their work contributes to a successful business engagement effort. This process of discovery helps to create ownership, commitment and ultimately much sought after mutual accountability across all roles and functions in the organization.

Mutual accountability means that SVRA staff can count on each other to do what they are expected to do. Regardless of the particular agency’s structure or an individual’s role, when goals and expectations are clearly defined, feedback about achieving success becomes a shared responsibility. For example, when a VRC and a Business Relations representative work together toward a common goal with a mutual understanding of success, they can hold one another accountable for their outcomes.

So, evaluating performance of staff is really about understanding what success looks like and then clarifying expectations for behaviors that get us there. We don’t have to wait for the formal, annual performance evaluation to provide feedback that keeps staff on track, nor does that feedback have to come from a supervisor. Professional staff can support each other in achieving success and help each other when they stumble, if they share the spirit of mutual accountability.

That said, there are and performance expectations tied to specified job descriptions. Again, states vary somewhat in their design of their business service strategy. States who carve out their business service efforts typically have staff who are assigned to operate from two different perspectives; Business Engagement and Job Development.

The business engagement staff is assigned to be the “face” of VR in terms of business. They network, cold-call, attend chamber meetings, organize job fairs and business recognition events, etc. They often act as a single point of contact or a portal, through which VR collects potential leads and active employment opportunities. These staff may or may not have contact with or experience in counseling individual clients. Marketing and outreach is their area of expertise.

The other specific group is comprised of staff who possess skills that are more related to what is typical of job developers. These are the people who provide direct service to the client and the employer; they make the match. They may counsel the client in developing resumes and interview skills, they may arrange for on-site job coaching and/or they may help the employer develop necessary accommodations. Based on interviews with a number of states (California, Nebraska, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin) who have created business service units, the Evaluation Metrics chart below describes functions and metrics that are typically used by these VR agencies to help them track the progress of their business connection/service activities.

Performance Evaluation Metrics for Business Engagement Functions

Level 1 Functions Metrics/Potential Metrics
Employment Coordinator, Placement Specialist, Employment Consultant, VR Counselor
  • Client Interview Preparation
  • Broker Client to Employer
  • Direct Placement Services
  • Creating job matches that promote retention
  • Direct retention services
  • Number of clients referred
  • Job Ready/In Placement Status
  • Time in pre-employment Status
  • Job preparation readiness activities provided
  • Number of Successful Placements
  • Job Quality/Variety
  • Job Retention
Level 2 Functions Metrics/Potential Metrics
Business Account Managers, Business Consultants, Employment Coordinators
  • Conducting Client Job Club Creating and/or maintaining marketing activities including online presence
  • Developing Business Partnerships
  • Involvement in Business/Public Relations Meetings and Events
  • Employer Education and Job Sharing Meetings Held
  • Developing Internship/OJT Opportunities
  • Involve Business in Mentorship and Informational Interviewing Activities
  • Collaborate with Workforce and others on Job Fairs Establishment Track data for employment outcomes and business customer satisfaction Facilitate the translation of national corporate disability initiatives to their local subsidiaries/counterparts
  • Number of Job Clubs Conducted/Client Satisfaction With Same
  • Number and type of marketing activities (e.g maintain LinkedIn group)
  • Number of Business Events Attended/Business Memberships
  • Number of Business Partnerships Established
  • Maintenance Contacts with Partners (Salesforce Tracking)
  • Quality of Employment Related Partnerships (range and frequency of activity, e.g., OJTs, Informational Interviews, etc.)
  • Collaborative Efforts with Workforce and others in Job Fair Activities, and other employment development
  • Quality of Business Development Contact evaluated by supervisor, in observing direct marketing contact with employer
  • Collaborative activities with participating Community Rehabilitation providers
  • Customer satisfaction ratings

There is probably no perfect business engagement model that will translate to every state’s VR system. The key point to remember is that the knowledge and skills necessary for VR counseling, while related, are somewhat different from what is required in networking and creating business connections. For more information, read a brief on The Basics of Engaging Business as a Customer.  Furthermore, if these functions are added to the counselor’s role training will be necessary for this new skill set. For example, view business engagement trainings developed by state VR agencies. If you chose to develop a separate business unit, you will likely want to bring on new staff that come with marketing and communications experience. Some states may want to create a hybrid, developing new positions for counselors with specified job descriptions and redistributing workloads to afford opportunities for business activities. Regardless of your approach, recognizing the necessity to maintain a “dual customer” perspective and devoting time to develop the staff that makes your agency the “go-to” source of quality labor will equate to success for both your clients and the business community.

Webinar View ExploreVR webinars, Skills for Business Engagement: Part 1 and Part 2 to learn more about the three key competencies of VR business engagement and how to make connections with employers.