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To transform your agency’s services, you’ll need to make an explicit commitment to increasing competitive integrated employment. This commitment will be driven by a set of specific goals. These goals must be measurable, flexible to the needs of individuals, compelling and easy to grasp, directly reflective of your core mission, modifiable, and specific to an established time frame.
Developing a clear and consistent vision creates a platform for your organization to debate and align your core mission and establish a future plan. Strategic plans comprised of incremental steps towards meeting set targets can ensure progress. Cross-functional or multi-stakeholder strategic planning teams promote intra-agency learning, reduce fragmentation, and create a more holistic approach to, and investment in, the transformation.
Strategic plans put measureable goals and timeframes on paper. They enable your organization to take incremental steps while remaining focused on the longer-term goal of total workshop closure.
Providers must establish an agency culture that values supporting individuals in the community rather than in facilities. The culture also values positive thinking, learning, creativity, innovation, and continuous quality improvement.
A mission statement about inclusion is important. But if agency culture isn’t aligned with those values, your mission statement is just words. You’ll need to build your agency culture around new policies and practices that support the inclusive vision.
Creating an agency culture that supports full inclusion ensures that daily practices and decisions are in line with your agency’s core beliefs. By creating a culture that values new ideas, nurtures staff, is adaptable, and continually evolves, the entire agency will feel ownership over the transformation and beyond.
Providers must be proactive in finding jobs for one person at a time. This hands-on approach creates momentum and enthusiasm as successful employment outcomes are achieved and celebrated.
An active, person-centered job placement process prioritizes the placement of individuals in the community, and helps providers not to feel overwhelmed. Starting with a deliberate placement plan that includes identifying priority individuals from your workshop can create a positive snowball effect.
The goal is for your agency to offer individualized, comprehensive discovery activities and deliberate exploration opportunities that expand interests and build human and social capital. In this context, job finding naturally takes place, even before active job development begins.
Although persistence is required, momentum is created as individuals are placed, one job seeker at a time.
To reach your goal of competitive integrated employment, you’ll need to communicate clear, authentic expectations. Internally, this includes all levels of staff, individuals with disabilities, and their families. Externally, successful organizations market themselves and their services throughout the community.
Communication creates investment and engagement in the transformation process. A strong communication strategy targets all groups who will be impacted by the transformation.
Effective communication starts as early as possible, is transparent, provides assurances, alleviates confusion, and tackles resistance to the transformation process head on. Your organization will also need to establish clear messaging around your vision of transformation to spread your message externally, translating your new mission to those outside your organization.
Transforming your agency means making changes to how you fund services, and how you direct your staff to budget their time and energy. You’ll need active and ongoing investment in realigning all fiscal, material, and staff resources. Your overall goal: putting into place the supports and services needed for increasing competitive integrated employment.
Financial preparation and creativity are essential during the transformation process. Reallocating and restructuring resources creates coherence with your organization’s new mission and goals. While a clear and consistent vision is critical, by itself it’s not enough. Financial alignment to that vision creates an investment to ensure the vision is implemented.
An engaged and educated workforce is key to providing sustained, high-quality job development and coaching supports. Frequent training, continuing education, conference participation, and mentorship opportunities are critical to maintain core competencies and implement best practices.
Successful organizations support employees at all levels to meaningfully contribute their ideas and energy to the mission. Professional development allows this to happen, as staff increase their skills and their investment in your agency’s work.
Professional development during organizational transformation increases staff confidence with their changing roles and responsibilities. The more capable they feel, the more invested and engaged staff will be in the transformation and the work itself.
It’s critical to identify gaps in capacity among all levels of staff prior to the transformation, and to address those needs as a priority. Integrated employment requires a completely different skill set, and you’ll need to invest in meeting that need.
Through a combined approach including formal training, mentoring, role modeling, and supervision, your organization can create a professional development infrastructure. This infrastructure will support your employees to contribute to the new agency direction.
This means making strong, vital connections with your two customer groups: job seekers with disabilities and their families, and employers. These connections are essential for success with community employment.
First, you’ll partner with job seekers and their family members and guardians. Second, you’ll engage the business community. By collaborating with both these customer groups, you’ll meet individual and market needs.
Engaging with individuals and families increases their comfort with your agency’s transformation process. It also builds their investment. When individuals can picture themselves in varied jobs, this prompts open conversation where fears can be shared and family members can be reassured. Gaining their confidence and trust is key to the success of the transition process.
Similarly, engagement with employers creates career opportunities. It also gives you a crucial chance to build a coalition of advocates for integrated employment. Approaching employers using business language brings successful results. And you’ll want to emphasize that you’re offering them business qualified candidates who can meet their needs.
You’ll need to establish a clear framework for implementing and measuring administrative, management, and program strategies over defined periods of time. This helps to determine the impact of your efforts, and your success in obtaining results.
You’ll learn to use data to demonstrate employment successes, and to create buy-in to the transformation process. You’ll also identify areas where you need to strengthen your organization.
Data helps your organization to learn about your provision of supports, and to make informed decisions about how you can increase efficiency. It also allows you to track your performance during the transformation process, and to celebrate your achievements through documentation of hard numbers.
Overall, data collection helps your organization to create benchmarks and remain accountable to its goals.
Providers must consider the whole person with wrap-around life supports as necessary, and use a career planning process that involves multiple stakeholders (staff, parents, friends) and necessary accommodations. This approach also involves how the agency conceptualizes and organizes its work.
At the individual level, a holistic approach enhances the career planning process with a broader set of resources and perspectives, as well as a deeper, more well-rounded understanding of the job seeker. This enables the seamless blending of employment and the rest of one’s community life from the beginning.
A holistic approach has implications for your organization, too. This approach creates opportunities for cross-departmental quality improvement and greater understanding of staff people’s roles. Breaking down silos puts employment on everyone’s mind, and fosters efficiency and a shared sense of responsibility.
This type of approach lets staffers make the most of each other’s resources and specialties. For example, an employment specialist might use day habilitation supports for skill building and career exploration, while also helping clients search for integrated employment.
This refers to engaging with organizations and state systems to create buy-in for the change process. These partnerships can happen with school districts, state agency offices such as vocational rehabilitation (VR), faith-based organizations, and transportation resources.
These partnerships provide a range of resources. These include new funding opportunities; expanded opportunities for job seekers around employment, community membership, and community exploration; and resources that build job seekers’ human and social capital.
Partnerships with other providers and those at the state level will allow you to share ideas, and to create a larger coalition invested in the transformation process.
The partnerships also generate new referrals into the integrated employment supports you’re providing. For example, partnering with high schools might allow you to practice your newly designed integrated employment support practices with willing participants.
For more information about research related to the development of this toolkit, contact:
Jaimie Timmons, Senior Research Associate
Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, MA 02125
This research was supported under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR Grant # 90RT5028-01-00). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.