Achieving high quality employment outcomes in vocational rehabilitation requires adequate inservice training for staff involved in community employment services (Rogan & Held, 1999). Essential to effective inservice training is identifying the competencies (i.e. knowledge and skills) required by practitioners. As the understanding of best practices in the provision of community employment services has evolved, the knowledge and skill staff are expected to master has grown in complexity and sophistication (Degeneffe, 2000; Rogan & Held, 1999). Sandberg (2000) referred to the complex interaction between skills and knowledge required in specific employment contexts as "work competency."
The level of prior education and training for staff entering the field as job developers or employment specialists is typically not high. Agosta, Brown and Melda (1993) found, for example, that over one-third (37%) of job coaches had received only a high school education, and 51% had received no more than 8 hours of training prior to beginning their job. As a result, staff development is important to developing work competency for these employees. Often, staff development training topics are developed from reviews of literature, surveys of experts, or a combination of the two. For example, Morgan, Ames, Loosli, Feng and Taylor (1995) surveyed professionals to determine the relative importance of training topics identified from reviews of the literature on supported employment. Shafer, Pardee and Stewart (1999) used a similar procedure to identify staff training needs for the vocational rehabilitation of individuals with mental illness.
Rothwell and Kazanas (1994) have argued that while literature-based and survey-based skill inventories provide useful general information, this approach may not contain the degree of detail or the direct applicability to practice needed to develop effective training. These authors recommended anchoring employee training curricula in an analysis of actual worker functions and on-the-job tasks. Rothwell and Kazanas (1994) discuss methods of information-gathering that more directly capture the skills and knowledge of expert practitioners. One such technique, the critical incident technique, is especially applicable to the development of training curricula for community employment program staff. In the critical incident technique, experienced workers are asked to describe situations or incidents that are specially indicative of or critical to effective job performance. The responses or solutions to critical incidents recommended by experienced job incumbents or their immediate supervisors constitute important employee competencies. Critical incident methods have been widely used to identify work performance factors (Neale, Dunlap, Isenhour & Carroll, 2000) and to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills in paraprofessional education (Burgum & Bridge, 1997; Parker, Webb & D'Souza, 1995). In this study, the critical incident technique is used as a method to identify competencies required to prepare individuals for job development and employment specialist roles.
The first step in the critical incident technique is to identify practitioners whose experience qualifies them to serve as a source of information about critical incidents and related competencies in a given field of endeavor. In New England, the Regional Continuing Education Program for Community Rehabilitation Personnel (RCEP-CRP) hosts a network of community employment mentors. These are experienced staff members of organizations throughout the region. Most network members are program coordinators or "lead staff" responsible for training new staff members within their organizations. Selection is by nomination and an application process that includes documentation of substantial training related to vocational rehabilitation, a minimum of three years of job experience, a letter of reference from a colleague, and a telephone interview. …