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Customized Employment Webcasts

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Customized employment is a unique set of strategies that helps people with the most severe disabilities and complex support needs gain and access community employment. It is a flexible strategy that uses the unique needs and skills and talents of an individual and works with employers to ensure that we are meeting those employer's needs as well. Job development in the past was a process of going out and talking to employers and finding out where opening jobs were and existing positions were available and going back to the individuals that we represented and finding the best applicant for the employer. Most often we found the person who had the highest level of skills, the highest interest area and the individuals with the most complex support needs or the most significant disabilities were often left behind. Job developers typically began to think of those individuals with the most severe disabilities as people who were unemployable or were difficult to place. Customized job development changes that in that we only begin with the individual with the disability and their unique interests, skills and supports as our process and foundation of job development. We use a process called discovery and discovery is the what we have typically done in the past was use an assessment where we would identify individuals' strengths and weaknesses and identify their particular type of employment that they should be achieving and often went out into the community looking for employment based on that assessment. Discovery is different from that. Discovery is getting to know individuals with the most severe disabilities and with significant support needs in a way that is unique. We spend time with individuals with and who knows them best, with their family members in their homes and we also go to unique places in the community where we can start to identify the individuals' very specific interests, where their talents lie, what kind of skills the individuals have, where they use those skills at, at home or in community places, and we actually develop lists of tasks that the individuals can complete and the support needs that they may have so that we have a clear picture of who this individual is before we go out and start talking with employers.

An example of that is a young woman that I had the pleasure of getting to know who had some unique skills and worked in a childcare center. In the beginning we found out that she really loved children and had a great interest in working with small children and through discovery learned that she took a lot of care of her younger siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews and neighbors' children and knew that she had some very good skills in taking care of small children. In addition she was also multilingual. She spoke both English and Spanish and through getting to know her family found out that she actually was the interpreter for her family when her family needed to go do banking or any type of business. So this young woman has two unique skills that we began with and started to talk to places in the community where her talents, her ability to take care of children and her ability to read and her ability to speak and write in Spanish were needed. That process began with getting to know her in her own home and getting to know her in her neighborhood and in her community. Through this process of discovery we used this information and took it out to the business world and started doing informational interviews. This is kind of an overlap, the informational interview process; it overlaps with both the discovery process and with job development. We use the informational interviews in two ways. One is to get to know the individual's interest better by having the person meet and talk with employers that feeds the discovery process. The second way we use the informational interview is that it actually begins the process of job development as we get to know businesses and their unique needs and whether they match the individual.

So by getting to know this young woman we found that she has two unique skills and interests and we went to the community and talked with several different businesses, daycare centers, we spoke with an immigrant service and found that one of the local elementary schools had a great need for Spanish speaking assistants and help in the classroom, the teachers were overwhelmed. So we had the development of a process for this young woman that resulted in several informational interviews to determine places where her talents could be used.

For most people we are looking at different themes that they may have. Vocational themes in a person's life come from the process of discovery and we find where the person has not only an interest area but also a set of skills and talents that coupled with that interest develop into a theme.

So with vocational themes we are now armed with at least three vocational themes that we believe can help to develop employment for this person. So we go out with the individual and actually complete informational interviews in all three of those vocational themes, at least with 2 or 3 or sometimes even 4 different businesses where that makes sense. Someone who shares the same kind of interests and vocational themes, where do those people work? Where does it make sense if you share that same kind of interest area?

So the list of twenty are developed from that and we actually come up with twenty different businesses in the vocational theme where an individual could potentially work. That would be for 3 vocational themes in lists of 20 so 60 different businesses and locations, all distinct businesses where the job developer and the person with the disability can begin the process of identifying employment.

We continue to the informational interviews and the informational interview is a process of getting to know what the employer has available in terms of work, where their unique needs are, we can actually ask employers about how they got started in their careers, what is different about their business, who is their competition, what is something up and coming in their field that they wish they could do but they might not currently have the capital or the resources to purchase or provide for their customers. We are really looking for the hidden job market and we are looking for ways in which the employer can have the unique skills and talents that this person might offer and be able to use those skills and talents to increase the employer's market.

The job development and job negotiation is the last part of this and I think what is most critical to customized employment is that customized employment is always a job negotiation. There is always a negotiation with an employer or a negotiation with an existing business so that if someone is being hired directly for the position that it is already available and open then that is not customized. It is always a process of negotiating wages, support strategies, particular tasks that the individual can do. So customized job development is very different from our traditional approach to filling existing positions in that we are working with employers and we are negotiating with businesses to actually create a position that otherwise would not exist. There are multiple ways of making a living in this world and customized employment helps to open those doors.

The young woman that I was mentioning earlier who was very good with children and also spoke Spanish and was bilingual, her story ended with her working within a school district that identified the need for some books that were necessary for some of the small children in the classroom who were beginning to learn to read but where the teachers were having difficulty teaching them to read in English. The books were books that had both Spanish and English words, Spanish on one side and English on the other and this young woman's role was to come into the classroom for three days a week and provide extra time and attention to those students who were having the most difficulty in the classroom. The position was created for her in that she was an additional assistant to the school; her position was negotiated at the same rate of an existing paraprofessional in the classroom and the same wages and that she brought a resource to the job, which was purchased for her with vocational rehabilitation funds and those funds paid for the set of books that the school would be otherwise able to have and added a benefit to that employer and added benefit to this young woman being hired in that position. So the school not only benefitted from her time with the children but the children also benefitted in that they had extra time spent with them that the teachers otherwise would not have had. The results were that the children were much more apt to be more engaged in the classroom and had a lot more time and attention spent with them. So this is an example of how we can use the informational interview process and the development of a vocational theme and how the informational interview resulted in finding a hidden job that otherwise would have not been identified and it ultimately resulted in a negotiated job.

Funding for customized employment is typically a process of braiding the unique funds from a variety of sources. Traditional vocational services are paid for through vocational rehabilitation and that is one of our sources that are available to individuals with disabilities. Many individuals might also be eligible for Medicaid funding where they can receive job coaching or any other kinds of varieties of supports. Other sources could be the Workforce Investment Act, through small business development centers, and we have a variety of ways in which we braid and blend funding so that individuals can be supported in whatever option of customized employment works best for them.

So customized employment is a wonderful set of tools that are uniquely available to individuals with severe disabilities and complex support needs that are benefiting people across the country and gaining successful community employment.

For more information please see the AIM module on customized employment.