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Best Practice Guide

November 30, 2002

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  1. Introduction
  2. Best Practice Employment Support Strategies
    • 8. Employment Specialist
  3. References
  4. Success Stories


Common Employment Specialist Barriers

  1. Lack of specialized training and career options (McDonald, 1996)
  2. Isolation on the job (McDonald, 1996)
  3. Doing the job for the person
  4. Lack of in-depth knowledge of the person
  5. Not knowing how to fade supports so co-workers and other natural supports can kick into place
  6. Poor links with families (McDonald, 1996)
  7. Spread too thinly by wearing too many hats
  8. Not knowing how to deal with unstructured or slow work time, breaks and social interactions
  9. Isolating the employee just by always being there
  10. High turnover (Glenn, 2000;Stevens, 2002) "Every month we talked to someone different until we gave up there", (self-advocate Steering Committee member)

8.Employment Specialist


8.1 Specific Skills to Support the Person

Specific Skills to Support the Person - An effective Employment Specialist has many skills to support the person. The Specialist must know: the specific capabilities the job requires, how the person's capabilities compare to what's needed on the job, where the person can best learn the job tasks, who should teach the person the tasks, how to support the person to learn the task if the Specialist is the teacher, and how to fade supports (Stevens, 2002). One way to find out about work tasks is to do an "environmental assessment". This means seeing what the person can do compared to others doing the task. This takes four steps:

  1. look at how co-workers complete this task
  2. look at how the person being supported completes this task
  3. compare #1 and #2 to see any differences and if the work environment is a good match for what the person wants and who the person is
  4. if it is a good match, give specific supports, accommodations, and teach to eliminate any differences between #1 and #2.

A second way to analyze work tasks and routines is called tailored task analysis. This is a way to break down job tasks into steps the person can do (Stevens, 1994). The Employment Specialist who is the teacher matches techniques to the person. One person may need a visual schedule that uses photos, drawings, objects, pictures or other symbols the person can understand to show what happens next. Another person may need to see a task modeled or have his or her hand guided to complete a task. Another person may need a slower pace to process information. As the employee gains work skills, the Employment Specialist fades or decreases support. In this way, the person gradually completes more and more of the job tasks. Another way that an Employment Specialist can fade supports is by building employer supports (Stevens, 1994). (See 7.5: Co-Worker supports and Other Natural Supports)

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8.2 Consultant to the Employer

Consultant to the Employer - Dale DiLeo (1995) describes a five-step process that transforms an Employment Specialist from a job coach to a consultant to the employer. The Employment Specialist must first "learn as much as possible about specific employers and what they do." Next, the Employment Specialist identifies how the employee "can benefit ... employers". The Specialist presents the person seeking employment as having solutions to employer needs. As the Employment Specialist is successful, (s)he builds a network of employers who are pleased with the supports the Specialist has offered to employees. These employers can give recommendations to other employers. This opens the doors to other jobs. The Employment Specialist becomes a resource to employers - not just for potential employees but for ideas that can benefit all employees. The last step is "when the employer calls, jump". The Employment Specialist is a troubleshooter. Quick responses and consistent good service builds trust and respect. One tip is to "under-promise and over-deliver" (DiLeo, 1995).

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8.3 Seek Training and Career Advancement

Seek Training and Career Advancement - The New Mexico Department of Health Long Term Services Division mandates general competency-based training for staff supporting adults through the Medicaid Waiver. (For more information: Visit the web: Employment Specialists can also seek training specific to their jobs. One option is apprenticeship training - for example, from master mentors through the "Direct Support Specialist Occupation" (National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals, 2002). Another source of training is distance education. As one example, the "College of Direct Support" offers training related to the nationwide Community Support Skill Standards, competencies developed for human services staff (Taylor, 1996). (For more information, visit the web:

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