Factors Related to the Working Environment of Employment Specialists

By Park, Heechan; Shafer, Michael S. et al. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, October-December 1993 | Go to article overview

Factors Related to the Working Environment of Employment Specialists


Park, Heechan, Shafer, Michael S., Drake, Lenore, The Journal of Rehabilitation


From the late 1970s, research concerned with vocational rehabilitation of persons with disabilities started to raise questions regarding the adequacy of sheltered workshops and day activity centers (Wehman, Hill, & Koehler, 1979; Whitehead, 1979). At the same time, supported employment began to emerge as an alternative approach to special services for persons with severe disabilities (Rusch, Mithaug, & Flexer, 1986; Wehman & Koehler, 1985).

Major differences between traditional sheltered workshops or day activity centers and supported employment were found in the areas of assumptions, assessment, intervention programs, and wage opportunities (Shafer, 1988; Rusch & Hughes, 1990; Szymanski, Buckley, Parent, Parker, & Westbrook, 1988). One basic assumption of supported employment, as compared to sheltered workshops, is that many persons with severe disabilities can remain successfully employed in the community with on-going supports. Also, supported employment is based on the "place-train-evaluate" approach, while the traditional model emphasizes the "evaluate-train-place" approach. Other critical characteristics of supported employment include a commitment to facilitating true integration, providing a wide range of on-going support, promoting consumer preferred choice, and ensuring competitive wages and benefits (Powell et al., 1991).

A few options of supported employment have been developed such as individual jobs, mobile crews, enclaves, and the entrepreneurial model. In spite of differences between the different options of supported employment, they share many common elements. For example, Szymanski et al. (1988) presented six phases of service delivery: initial assessment, plan development, job placement, training, on-going support, and periodic assessment. Similarly, Wehman and Kregel (1985), in their seminal article on supported employment, describe five basic aspects of service delivery: consumer assessment, job development, job placement, job-site training, and ongoing assessment and follow-along.

Key to the provision of effective supported employment services is the professional employment specialist (Tooman, Revell, & Melia, 1988). Also known as job coaches, employment support facilitators and trainers, these individuals provide a wide range of direct and indirect supports to supported employees. As the field has emerged, employment specialists have emerged with either eclectic responsibilities, providing all facets of support, to "specialized" responsibilities with responsibilities for only one aspect of support. Wehman and Melia (1985) defined an employment specialist as "a professional who provides individualized one-to-one assistance to the client in the job placement, travel training, skill training at the job site, on-going assessment and long-term assessment; the employment specialist is expected to reduce his or her presence at the job site over time as the client becomes better adjusted and more independent at the job".

Research on employment specialists can be classified into two major areas. The first area of research delineated the major functions of employment specialists (Buckley, Albin, & Mank, 1988; Cohen, Patton, & Melia, 1986; Sale, Wood, Barcus, & Moon, 1988). The second area of research has assessed the effectiveness of and need for pre-service and in-service training for employment specialists. Many of these studies have reported critical needs for pre-service and in-service training in order to adequately staff the emerging supported employment programs (Danley & Mellen, 1987; Inge, Barcus, & Everson, 1988; Kregel & Sale, 1988; Wehman & Melia, 1985). These same studies have indicated a severe shortage of qualified employment specialists, and a high rate of turnover of these individuals. To address these problems, these studies recommended long-term pre-service as well as short-term in-service training.

With regard to personnel turnover, Winking, DeStefano, and Rusch (1988) reported that almost 47 percent of employment specialists surveyed left their positions in one year in Illinois' supported employment programs. …

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