Employer Supports Overview
This toolkit provides information on ways that VR agencies can provide support for businesses that have employees with disabilities. The “Overview” includes examples of employer support functions and a self-assessment of Employer Support resources. “Models & Structures” reviews Employer Support functions and how they might be provided in the context of a VR agency. “Partnerships” provides resources on working with community rehabilitation programs as well as regional ADA centers, assistive technology projects, and more. “Competencies & Skills” outlines the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to provide effective Employer Supports; and “Additional Resources” features links to dozens of articles, fact sheets, and websites that can be shared with businesses.
What Are Employer Supports?
Employer supports are consultation and services provided by vocational rehabilitation (VR) in response to businesses’ needs to recruit, hire, train, advance, or retain employees with disabilities. While this definition may seem simple, it encompasses an array of potential activities.
Since employer support is provided in response to business needs, the level and intensity of interaction and how support is delivered varies. Some VR agencies contract out to community rehabilitation providers for most or all of employer supports. Other VR agencies employ business relations specialists, and then contract out for more individual intensive client employment services (e.g., job development, job creation, job coaching).
Finally, some VR agencies are staffed to supply all levels of support services to employers directly, with in-house job coaches augmenting services available from counseling and business relations staffs.
Consultation and services also vary by business. In some instances, they’re provided to meet the overall needs of an employer, and in other situations they might be requested to assist with a specific workplace issue.
Some examples of employer support functions that VR might address include:
- Finding qualified candidates with disabilities.
- Assisting with questions related to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Section 503 regulations.
- Providing disability etiquette training and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act for hiring managers.
- Solving issues related to the accessibility of technology.
- Touring a business to gain an understanding of culture, perform job analysis, etc.
- Offering assistance and resources in obtaining an American Sign Language interpreter for a job interview.
- Delivering on-the-job assistance to a manager who has concerns about socially awkward behavior that a new employee is exhibiting.
- Providing assistance to human resources when a long-term employee’s job performance begins to deteriorate.
- Assisting a hiring manager with providing accommodations to help with short-term memory loss for a new employee with a traumatic brain injury.
- Assisting a new employee who’s concerned about disclosure of her disability at her new job.
- Responding to a hospital’s interest in hosting a vocational training program by contacting a local high school to investigate starting a “Project Search” model.
Additional examples of employer support functions will emerge as you work to meet businesses’ needs to recruit, hire, train, advance, and retain employees with disabilities.
Employer Supports Self-Assessment
Should VR agencies rely solely on employer feedback to let us know how well we are providing support? Customer feedback is one of the most important ways to improve our services, and some example employer satisfaction surveys are available included in the Models and Structures section. But there are also internal steps we can take to evaluate the quality of our business services and employer supports.
The 32nd Institute on Rehabilitation Issues offers a Maturity Scales model that has application to self-assessment of employer supports. The Maturity Scales are 1) Approach, 2) Deployment, 3) Learning, and 4) Integration. These four maturity levels can be applied to any area of business relationships and support.
The general self-assessment questions related to the maturity scales are:
Approach: Do you have a plan?
Deployment: How is the plan set in motion?
Learning: How can you incorporate continuous improvement in your approach and deployment?
Integration: Are the plans and actions aligned with other business processes in the organization?
As you consider structures, functions, roles, and competencies for employer support, here are some questions that may help you design and improve your activities and outcomes.
- What is your overall strategic approach to providing support to employers?
- What is your capacity to provide services through existing staff?
- How do you allocate the budget to purchase employer support services?
- Have you assessed the availability and competencies of contract service providers?
- What is your strategy for identifying the kinds of services that employers need most frequently? What employer support services will you offer?
- How do you set statewide goals for employer support?
- Who in the organization can act as resources to business specialists and employers in the areas of assistive technology and workplace accommodations?
- How are your efforts integrated and coordinated with WIOA partners such as your Department of Labor, Workforce Development Board, and Governor’s Office of Business Relations?
- How are you communicating your plan for employer supports across all levels of agency staff?
- How are the roles and employer support functions of staff clearly defined?
- What kind of development opportunities are available to those professionals who provide employer supports? Are employer supports part of current training activities? Is there a specific curriculum for employer supports?
- How are you evaluating the efforts of business specialists and others charged with providing support to employers? Are these evaluation criteria part of annual performance appraisals?
- If contractors provide employer support services, how are they selected? Is information about their success with employers available for the informed choice of consumers? How do VRCs hold contractors accountable?
- How are resources for employer supports shared within the VR agency?
- How are services and expenditures for employer supports documented? Can this information be used for program planning and resource allocation?
- What method do you use to determine employer satisfaction with support services?
- How do you use the information that you gather from staff performance evaluations, contractor reports, and employer satisfaction methods?
- What kind of development opportunities are available to those professionals who provide employer supports?
- What is your approach to “damage control” if an employer is dissatisfied with supports provided by your agency?
- How do all levels of management demonstrate value for employer support services?
- How do you assure that employer support services can be accessed equally (or proportionally) statewide?
- How are employer supports integrated in the VR agency’s business engagement strategy?
- When using community-based providers for employer support services, how do you assure effective communication with VR staff?
Again, these questions are not exhaustive. They are provided to assist in developing an agency-wide approach to employer supports. As these questions are answered, new ones will evolve. For VR to become a trusted collaborator and strategic partner with business, we must never stop questioning and striving for attainable answers.