Building Capacity

Developing Customized Training Programs in VR

Customized training (CT) programs respond to labor market needs as identified by an employer or an industry. These programs involve collaboration between two or more partners, such as an employer/business/industry, a private or public entity such as vocational rehabilitation (VR), and an education provider such as a community college. 

The public VR program is entering a time of change, and CT programs are emerging as a training option for VR clients due to:

  • Strong relationships developed with local and regional business communities
  • Strengthened partnerships with workforce partners including community colleges
  • Use of labor market information (LMI) in determining or building training options for VR clients

The advantages of CT for VR clients are evident. CT programs usually focus on the development of middle skills. Those are skills that can be obtained in a time frame from several weeks to less than a four-year degree, and often result in a certificate or stackable credential that can be used for future career development. 

Middle skill-level jobs provide employment opportunities that pay a living wage, and the training for these jobs combines hands-on application with classroom instruction. The on-the-job training model employed by CT programs is favored by many adult learners. This model is particularly useful for people with disabilities who may have difficulty with traditional classroom instruction.

Training to fill jobs requiring middle skills can be obtained via on-the-job training in the form of CT. This training can be provided in-house by an employer, or through partnerships between business and a community college or another workforce or community training entity. 

VR has partnered in a number of initiatives with business and community colleges to develop client skills in middle-skill-level occupations. View the Promising Practices section of this toolkit for interviews with state VR employment leaders who have engaged in training partnerships with businesses and educational entities/community colleges. 

Other vehicles for obtaining education that provides the skills to compete in the labor market are internships, co-ops, apprenticeships, online education, and certificate or associate degree programs.

Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, Executive Summary, published by Georgetown University in 2013, estimates that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. A breakdown by educational attainment indicates:

  • 35% of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • 30% of job openings will require some amount of postsecondary training, college, or an associate degree.
  • 36% of job openings will not require education beyond high school, though on-the-job training is often needed to fulfill job requirements.

Some examples of jobs requiring skills at the middle-skill level occur in the healthcare profession and in the technical and construction industries. In December 2015’s Monthly Labor Review: Occupational employment projections to 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that:

  • U.S. employment is projected to increase 6.5% during the 2014–2024 decade, from 150.5 million jobs in 2014 to 160.3 million jobs in 2024.
  • Healthcare support occupations and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations are projected to be the two fastest-growing occupational groups, adding a combined 2.3 million (about 1 in 4) new jobs.
  • Employment in construction and extraction occupations is projected to grow 10.1% faster than the average for all occupations, increasing from 6.5 million jobs in 2014 to 7.2 million jobs in 2024.

CT can lead to improvements in the number and quality of employment outcomes for VR customers, and can open doors for people with disabilities to obtain and retain quality jobs.

For videos that illustrate three different models of CT programs, see the Promising Practices section of the CT Toolkit.   The videos developed with the cooperation of Nebraska, Maryland, and Connecticut VR feature interviews with VR staff, employers, community colleges, CRPs, and clients.



Brigance and McNeil: Customized Training and VR

This video shows a conversation between two VR leaders and consultants to the JDVRTAC Project: Terry Brigance of the University of Arkansas,  and Neil McNeil of the Institute for Community Inclusion [] at UMass Boston. In their discussion, they address the history of CT in VR, the emphasis the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act places on workforce partners engaging with business, and building or enhancing CT programs in VR through teamwork.

The video also highlights the value of leadership fostering a forward-thinking culture that can empower staff at all levels to embrace change and seek out opportunities that it brings. These opportunities include new avenues for partnering with business and industry to create customized training that can provide meaningful, well-paying jobs for VR clients. 

For more information, see:
Leahy et al. (2014). An analysis of evidence-based best practices in the public vocational rehabilitation program: Gaps, future directions, and recommended steps to move forward. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 41, 147–163. doi:10.3233/JVR-140707.



Building a Customized Training Program

Elements for Consideration

                                                           Download the PDF version of this checklist.


Getting Started with Customized Training

Why invest in a customized training (CT) program? What are the CT goals?

How will you attract a specific business or industry to invest in a CT partnership?

What investments (staff, equipment, time, and finances) will be needed to carry out the initiative?

Will other partners be needed to develop the CT program? If so, who are they?

What is the overall program structure?

What are the stages of development?

What are the major events or key decision points that you’re anticipating?

What measures will be used to determine program success?

How will you know when and if the program is on or off track?

Is there an option for developing a pilot? If so, how would that work?


Building Successful Partnerships

Who are VR’s key partners or stakeholders and other workforce partners? (e.g., community rehabilitation providers, businesses, targeted industries)

How will you demonstrate that the program model will produce tangible improvement in the financial and business climate?

What are the steps in negotiating and structuring the agreement?

Calculate the return on investment: What is the shelf life of the training program? How many participants will be served? 

What is the expectation for hiring and retaining participants once the CT program is completed successfully?

How will the program be branded and marketed by the CT partners?


Developing Internal Capacity

             How will key internal resources be organized?

Is a central point of contact required? If so, what staff member will take on that role?

Who in the organization is responsible for providing follow-up and customer service?

Are there parameters for participant selection? If so, how will these parameters be defined and assessed?

How will the program be marketed within the agency?

Who is responsible for CT program evaluation, and for continuous improvement of services?

How will the CT program impact other functions or areas of the organization? How will it impact other initiatives?


Client Referral and Support

What are the skills, aptitudes, and abilities essential for success in the CT program? 

Who within the agency determines who could benefit from the CT program?

What labor market information can assist in determining future employment for CT program participants?

What types of support will participants need to be successful in the program? (e.g., transportation, learning aids, equipment)

What specific accommodations and accessibility considerations must be addressed prior to opening the CT program?

What steps do you have in place to monitor participants’ progress? How will issues be addressed during participation?

Who will be responsible for placing clients in jobs once the CT program is completed successfully?

When considering the CT program for a specific client, ask: Is the training in alignment with the consumer’s skills, strengths, interests, support and accommodation needs, and informed choice?


Download the PDF version of this checklist.