What Models and Structures Work Best for Employer Supports?
Roles and Functions
VR agencies use many different models to support employers at the state and local levels. The various configurations of management, staff, and external contractors dictate the allocation of resources toward serving business customers and meeting the needs of employers of VR participants.
Regardless of the configuration, there are certain functions that every VR agency must perform if they are to support employers in a meaningful way. Who performs the functions depends on the vision and values of the organization, the size of the state and the agency, the number of full-time positions and the geographic distribution of staff, the availability of and relationships with external partners, and the economic development issues within the state.
While there are a variety of organizational models for engaging businesses, the tasks related to employer supports become the responsibility of the VR counselor as part of a consumer's Individualized Plan for Employment. Counseling and guidance must include discussion of necessary accommodations for success on the job. Through this dialogue, consumers may determine their comfort level in requesting accommodations and other kinds of support, the anticipated need for post-employment services, and the need for training in soft skills, including employee-employer relationship protocols. The need for supports–for both the employer and the employee–is highly individualized.
Ideally, the counselor-client relationship is expanded to include the employer once the individual with a disability acquires a job. In some cases, the VR counselor takes a back seat in the negotiation with the employer, but often there is a more active role as an employee advocate or employer educator. The counselor may provide information and referral, on-the-job training, planning for reasonable accommodations [PDF], workplace training in disability awareness, or any other indicated consultation services. He or she may fulfill these responsibilities through purchased services or through the work of agency staff.
Webinar View ExploreVR two-part webinar, Reasonable Accommodations Process for VR Counselors Part 1 & Part 2 to learn more about the counselor’s role in the accommodations process for job seekers.
Who provides the supports?
It depends on the employer's needs, the resources of the agency, availability of qualified community rehabilitation providers, etc. The VR agency may offer specialized services for assistive technology or interpreting, may offer services of a business relations unit in providing workplace education, or may contract out most of the employer support once a job seeker is hired following a referral from VR.
When contracted service providers (e.g., CRPs) are used by a VR agency to provide services like job development, job placement, and job support, the counselor often maintains minimal involvement once the individual has been referred. This generally results in a total lack of connection between the counselor and the employer; the primary relationship is between the employer and the CRP, and the employer may not even realize that the VR agency is involved.
This is ill-advised for at least two reasons. First, although it would be ideal if every CRP provided excellent service to both the individual with a disability and the business, that is not always the case. As long as the case is open, the VR counselor retains a responsibility for making sure that appropriate and effective services are being provided, and adjustments to the plan are made as needed.
Second, when the counselor and the VR agency are invisible to the business customer, there are missed opportunities for further relationship building and networking with the business community. In addition, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act [PDF] requires the VR agency to collect wage and hour data six months and one year after the person exits the program; this may be difficult to do if the VR agency has no relationship with the business that has hired the VR participant.
On the other hand, there are several advantages to using contracted services to provide employer supports. Contracted services can be brought in as necessary, without providing a full-time book of work to a permanent VR employee. CRPs are often already engaged with employer support due to their service of customers referred by the state's developmental disabilities and/or mental health agencies. Employer support requires a different skill set from rehabilitation counseling, and counselors may not want to or feel qualified to provide these services.
In many states, contracted service providers are paid far less than their state employee partners. While this isn't necessarily good news for being able to access qualified and experienced providers, it can reduce the cost of job coaching and employer support services.
The model used to provide employer support has significant implications for the agency's fiscal planning and cost allocation. If services are provided by internal staff--whether counselors, aides, rehabilitation techs, employment specialists, or some other job title--then the number of staff and time allocations must provide enough capacity to meet the need for services. In particular, if counselors are the primary providers of employer services, their job descriptions and caseload sizes must reflect this responsibility and time commitment.
If services are provided by CRPs, the staff FTE requirement may be less, but funds must be allocated for contracted services as well as for agency staff to contract with and monitor these vendors. Depending on the number of vendors, the size of the state, and the need for contracted services, the cost for purchased services could be significant.
Necessary Functions for Employer Supports
Because of the individualized nature of effective employer supports, it's difficult to lay out a recipe for success. The VR participant who finds his own job and does not want to disclose his disability may not want or need any services beyond counseling and guidance. Another individual who needs customized employment, intensive job coaching, and long-term support may require a wide range of employer supports in order to be successful: job analysis and carving, coworker and supervisor consultation or training, access to assistive technology, and access to problem-solving resources for as long as she is employed.
Common areas of employer support include recruitment and hiring employees with disabilities; job matching, modification, and accommodation; support for job retention; and information/resources about laws and regulations. The following functions are relevant to all the employer support areas:
- Assessing business and employee needs
- Providing support and resources to employers of individuals with disabilities for recruitment, onboarding, training, and retention
- Tracking business accounts and results
- Managing/overseeing the work of contracted service providers
- Evaluating customer satisfaction (both employer and employee)
Assessing Employer Satisfaction with VR Services
Vocational Rehabilitation agencies should develop a procedure for assessing employer satisfaction with the employer support services offered. Since most VR agencies contract with Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) to provide a significant portion of employer supports services, these surveys could also be used to evaluate the quality of services provided through those CRPs.
These surveys could assess employers’:
- Knowledge about the range of services available,
- Satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of the services,
- Satisfaction with the communication between the VR department/CRP and the employer,
- Satisfaction with the staff members providing services and their competence,
- Satisfaction with the applicants they hired from VR and their ‘fit’ with the employer’s business,
- Perceptions about the usefulness of the services.
Surveys should be kept as succinct as possible and could be administered biannually or once a year to gather data to support program improvement and accountability. Here are two examples shared by the North Carolina and Alabama VR agencies.
Communication Issues in Employer Supports
There are multiple communication issues that can arise when a VR agency offers to provide support to employers. Since VR agencies may choose different structures to provide these supports, it's impossible to recommend a single approach to efficient communication!
This document reviews some variations on the types of support that may be requested, the initial recipient of the request, and the person who ultimately provides the assistance. It goes on to suggest questions that should be discussed and resolved as the agency designs and implements their employer support services.
Support requests can come in to internal staff
- Business specialists (central, regional, or local)
- Employment specialists
- Counselor techs/aides
- Or CRPs working with the business
Requests can involve:
- Sourcing qualified candidates with disabilities
- Assistance with Section 503, the ADA, other laws and regulations
- Information/training on disabilities or disability etiquette
- Assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting newly hired VR participants
- Assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting former VR participants working at a business
- Assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting incumbent employees with disabilities with no previous VR involvement
Support can be provided by internal staff:
- Business specialists (central, regional, or local)
- Employment specialists
- Counselor techs/aides
- AT specialists
- IL specialists
- SVRA job coaches
- Or CRPs
Questions about employer supports and internal communication:
- Who makes the initial response to requests for information, training or candidate referrals from businesses that have NOT hired VR participants in the past? Who follows up, and how do they get the referral? Who provides the service, and how do they get the referral? How is the service tracked for later reporting?
- Who makes the initial response to requests for information, training or candidate referrals from businesses that HAVE hired VR participants in the past? Who follows up, and how do they get the referral? Who provides the service, and how do they get the referral? How is the service tracked for later reporting?
- Who makes arrangements for assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting newly hired VR participants? Who follows up, and how do they get the referral? Who provides the service, and how do they get the referral? How is the service tracked for later reporting?
- Who makes arrangements for assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting former VR participants? Who follows up, and how do they get the referral? Who provides the service, and how do they get the referral? How is the service tracked for later reporting?
- Who makes arrangements for assistance in training, accommodating, or supporting incumbent employees with disabilities with no previous VR involvement? Who follows up, and how do they get the referral? Who provides the service, and how do they get the referral? How is the service tracked for later reporting?
Questions about employer supports and communication with contracted external providers (CRPs):
- Does the VR agency have contracts with specific CRPs for employer support services beyond those provided for individual VR participants? If so:
- What services are agreed upon? Who provides the service and what is the referral process? How is the service tracked for billing and reporting? How are these services and terms of the contract communicated to the VR agency field staff? And/or Business Relations staff?
- What is the counselor’s role when employer supports are being provided by a CRP? Some possibilities:
- Communicate the employment goal and clearly specify how the CRP services are expected to contribute
- Contact the employer and share information about the role of VR in this partnership, as well as other employer supports VR might be able to provide
- Monitor and follow up on CRP communication about progress or lack thereof