Supported Employment: Strategies for Successful Placements
Many organizations are working toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace by hiring people with disabilities. Supported employment is about employment service coaches — like me — providing on-site and ongoing supports to clients and their employers to ensure successful placements.
In my role at a not-for-profit agency in Calgary, Alberta, I support clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they pursue their goal of securing employment. I am often asked by employers and other career development professionals about what it takes to guide clients through the transition from acceptance of the job offer to becoming productive and valuable employees. Of course, the strategies and tactics used will vary depending on the individual and the complexities of the new role, but I’d like to share some practices that have worked for me and my clients as we strive to establish successful placements.
The employment coach is a facilitator who works with both the client and the employer to ensure a smooth transition into the new job. When someone begins a new position, it’s important to develop a proper foundation by establishing professional boundaries in the working relationship. In the beginning, the coach works extensively with the client to demonstrate job tasks and explain proper workplace behaviours, but the coach does not take away from the worker’s autonomy by actually doing their tasks for them.
The coach communicates the needs of the client to the employer and ensures that there are proper accommodations in place to set the new employee up for success. The proper accommodations could include: ergonomic and functional furniture, modification of job tasks, adjustment of schedules, setting up visual aids, implementing assistive technology, etc.
Learning new information can be overwhelming for anyone starting a new position. In my role, I work side-by-side with my clients to help them learn new tasks so that they will be successful in their new positions. Everyone has their own way of learning new things and the coach and employer must be sensitive to this.
Although there are many impressive online training programs available today, I find that we get optimum results when I take my clients to the actual place where they will be working. This makes the training experience “real” and relevant for them.
The best outcomes occur when the employer is encouraged to break down tasks into smaller steps, visually demonstrate the steps, and/or make use of visual aids. If possible, it’s most effective if the training can take place over several days rather than in a marathon session. This allows the new employee to gradually build and retain knowledge, creating a solid foundation for learning the other steps in the job. It is also helpful to teach new tasks at the beginning of a shift when client is fresh and has more energy.
Clients learn the most through valuable hands-on experience. It helps to have them demonstrate the steps back to the person teaching the tasks, or even to another new employee, proving that they have retained the knowledge.
It is important that the client learns to do their tasks in the correct way, according to the employer’s standards. Existing employees can be valuable allies and assistants in ensuring that the client follows the correct procedures as they carry out their work.
The networks clients develop among peers in the workplace are one of the factors that will determine the success of the placement. These natural supports should come from people who are trustworthy and caring, with a positive attitude about their work and a genuine interest in the success of the client. Peer supports can provide valuable mentoring, helping the new employee to navigate the complexities of the organization and become comfortable with the requirements of the new job.
It is helpful for the coach to facilitate connections for the client with the organization’s senior managers. Many senior managers have a stake in creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Having them on board as part of a supportive network is a strategy that contributes significantly to a successful placement.
The coach encourages open communication between all stakeholders in the placement. When an employer needs to have a discussion with a client about completing tasks, it is the coach’s role to encourage them to speak directly with their employee, rather than having the coach act as a liaison.
Open and honest communication is encouraged among all stakeholders to prevent issues from escalating out of control. This can be done by holding regular meetings with the employer and the client to gather their feedback and to brainstorm ideas for strategies that will lead to a win-win placement.
Fading supports is one of the goals when placing clients in new positions. And, it will look different for each person depending on various factors: client abilities, the complexity of tasks to be performed, medical and mental health issues, and stakeholders involved in the lives of the clients outside of work. Everyone who has a stake in the success of the client, including the employer, will need to reach agreement on what fading supports will look like in terms of the desired outcome. Some clients will need on-going and on-site coaching supports, while other clients will receive assistance through periodic check-ins.
Having a coach involved in providing the wide array of supports that are necessary for successful supported employment placements is part of a strategy for helping workplaces evolve toward become more inclusive. An effective coach has equal interest in the the needs and well-being of their clients and the employers who offer valuable opportunities of “real work for real pay.” And, the most effective coaches treat their relationships with employers as long-term commitments and investments — an approach that hopefully leads to many successful placements for years to come.
If you’d like to strengthen and expand your coaching skills, take a look at CPC’s new Work-Life Coaching program. It offers many tactics and strategies for helping our clients get the most out of work and life. And as a bonus, these same tactics and strategies will also benefit the lives and careers of those of us in the career development field.
Brent Warman is a proud member of Career Professionals of Canada. He has extensive experience providing career coaching and employment services in the not-for-profit sector, at a post-secondary institution, and in private practice, serving clients from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life. Brent is a Certified Career Strategist (CCS) and a Certified Résumé Strategist (CRS) through Career Professionals of Canada.