Keywords: USA, training support professionals, ICT, job coaching and job development 

Just in Time Virtual Employment Supports 

The goal of this project was to develop, pilot and assess the feasibility and cost effectiveness of virtual technologies to deliver Just in Time virtual job coaching and consultative services. Pilot projects were implemented in three US states, each exploring the use of technology (iPads, cell phones, GoPro cameras) to address different challenges associated with supported and customized employment services. Iowa trained job coaches/developers and provided on-call consultation for workers with disabilities and their employers to address on-the job challenges as they arise. Nebraska provided virtual behavioral health consultation services with an emphasis on addressing inappropriate workplace behaviors before they impede employment opportunities or job stability. South Dakota provided virtual technical assistance to job coaches who often operate in isolation from peers as they conduct assessments, engage in job development and onsite job training, and provide follow-along services.

About the practice at a glance
Name of OrganisationMidwest Disability Employment Consortium
Type of organisationConsortium
Country
of Implementation
United States
Year started2018
Funding modelFundraising (individual/ corporate/ foundations).

The Kessler Foundation provided $450,000 in funds to support project planning, implementation and evaluation activities. Each participating University partner provided an agreed upon 15% matching investment. Attention was paid to ensure that the intervention would be fiscally sustainable using traditional, public funding sources beyond the pilot project.

IMPACT

Impact and growth 

This project successfully demonstrated the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of multiple virtual employment supports strategies. Supported workers achieved greater independence and productivity, and decreased problem behaviors on the job. Job coaches developed sustainable networks for brainstorming and problem solving, and demonstrated increased understanding of behavioral health interventions. 

2018: 29 employment opportunities; 2019: 35 employment opportunities; 2020: anticipating exponential growth as a result of replication across the U.S. during the COVID crisis 

Innovation 

While many interventions focus on improving initial job placement rates, this project is unique in that it addressed job retention through the use of virtual technologies. This was particularly timely, as the COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges for workers with disabilities who have remained employed as essential workers during a period of significant change in business operations. 

Target group 

While we believe this practice to be broadly applicable, the pilot projects focused on supporting individuals with the most significant disabilities, including intellectual, developmental and mental health disabilities. Additional emphasis was given to implementing and evaluating the impact of the practice in both rural and urban settings. 

Other outcomes 

The primary barrier to replication identified before and during project implementation was having policies in place for vocational rehabilitation (VR) and Medicaid funding that support adoption and ongoing use of virtual employment supports. While this was the case for the pilot project states, the project was not broadly replicable across the U.S. However, lessons learned from this project became instrumental as states had to quickly adapt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

THEORY OF CHANGE

We asked projects to outline their impact model (also called Theory of Change) – their main target groups, the key activities they offer these target groups, and what impact they want to achieve:

Target GroupActivityImpactIndicator
Job coaches/developers; disability service providers (or equivalent based on country of implementation)Training on utilization of remote supports (virtual job coaching, utilization of apps, virtual professional networking); ongoing technical assistance to support adoption and to address barriers as they emergeSuccessful adoption and utilization of virtual technology to connect with employers, employees & jobseekers with disabilities, and professional peersMeasured increase in utilization of technology; reported impact (job retention or job gains) of individuals with disabilities served
Job seekers / employees with disabilitiesTraining on use of technology to receive remote supports (utilization of apps,virtual connecting with support professionals)Successful utilization of virtual technology to connect with support staff (job coaches or equivalent); adoption of apps that support individualized on-the-job needsMeasured increase in access to and utilization of technology; self-report of technology-based strategies implemented on-the-job
Employers / business sectorAwareness raising about the availability and benefits of technology-based on-the-job supports for employees with disabilities and those who supervise them.Increased support for and adoption of tech-based supports for employees with disabilities within the business sectorMeasured increase in the number of employers/ businesses supportive of their employees with disabilities utilizing on-the-job remote supports;self-report of employers who pay for technology as a reasonable on-the-job accomodation

REPLICATION EXPERIENCE

We have already replicated our innovation. 

We partnered with the Kessler Foundation to provide the funding necessary to implement the project. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional disability employment funding streams in the United States (vocational rehabilitation and Medicaid) made relatively quick changes to allow for the use of remote technology to provide services and supports broadly. Our project team partnered with the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) to offer training to service providers on how to prepare for and implement the use of virtual supports for job coaching and job development. We have since, through a series of national surveys of employment service providers, learned that utilization of remote supports went from less than 30% of providers prior to the pandemic to 100% utilization. Furthermore, we know that the majority of providers intend to continue to utilize virtual supports in the future, even after COVID-19 is controlled in the U.S. and face-to-face services and supports are once again safe to implement. It has been demonstrated that virtual supports can be effective in both supporting employees with disabilities who are already working, as well as to help connect job seekers with disabilities to available jobs in their communities. We are collecting an ongoing list of lessons learned in terms of implementation and outcomes, with access to technology and broadband being a significant factor. 

All planning for this project was guided by the principle of ensuring that tested practices could be easily replicated using traditional funding sources. The practice was successfully replicated in Ohio and Arizona. Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons learned from the project informed the quick adoption of virtual services and supports across the country. 

ORGANISATIONAL CAPACITY AND STRATEGY

Capacity 

The Harkin Institute is able to fiscally support the dedicated time of the Senior Disability Policy Fellow to participate in all aspects of the Impact Transfer program. Specific funds necessary for project replication (e.g., investment in technology, etc.) would need to be secured separately. 

Yes, we have a project owner for this program, with the necessary skills and seniority 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliejchristensen/ 

Julie J. Christensen, MSW, PhD, is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) and the Senior Disability Policy Fellow at the Harkin Institute at Drake University. For the past 20 years, Dr. Christensen’s career has centered around improving quality of life outcomes for at-risk youth, including youth with intellectual and development disabilities, through promoting employment and access to leisure and recreation opportunities in inclusive settings. She has considerable experience developing, administering, and evaluating federal, state and local grant-funded projects with an emphasis on cross-systems collaboration and systems change. Her research is in the areas of employment, quality of life, and leisure and recreation participation of adolescents and young adults with IDD. 

Strategy 

The Harkin Institute has convened the Harkin Summit for the past five years, and has a stated goal of working to double the rate of employment for people with disabilities across the globe. To date, the work of the Summit has been focused on developing strategic partnerships on an international scale. However, feedback from Summit participants has made it clear that there is a need for tangible strategies to address barriers to employment that can be easily replicated. We see this as an opportunity to partner on a global scale in a new way. The United States has strong leadership in the areas of supported and customized employment, but these are not easily replicable in countries that lack a systemic infrastructure such as the vocational rehabilitation system here in the U.S. To make an impact globally, we need to understand the context in other parts of the world. The Impact Transfer program is a perfect mechanism to begin to transition the work of the Institute from that of “big picture” strategic planning, to engaging in “grassroots” efforts that can impact change from the ground up. The Harkin Institute has invested in a Senior Disability Policy Fellow with the goal of bridging this gap. The Fellow’s time will be supported to engage in all aspects of the Impact Transfer program, with the intent that knowledge gained from the experience will be shared back with the Board and leadership of the Institute to inform continued and future work. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to temporary flexibility in policy to support broad utilization of virtual employment supports across the U.S. This project was well timed to help shape early conversations around this dramatic shift in the disability employment services system. We anticipate that virtual supports will remain a permanent part of service delivery. We are currently conducting a national survey to gather data to improve and expand on opportunities for the future. 

MOTIVATION

We embarked on this project prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our motivation was to explore the ways in which technology could be leveraged to increase access to quality employment supports in the United States. Our project goal was to determine whether, and under what circumstances, virtual job coaching and job development can lead to successful outcomes. Our hypothesis was that technology would provide a cost-effective means of expanding the availability of supports to job seekers and employees with disabilities.  

The COVID-19 pandemic created a scenario within the United States whereby there was immediate demand and need for what we learned. As disability employment services were forced to adopt virtual strategies, we were ahead of the curve in having an implementation plan already prepared. This allowed for relatively quick adoption and replication, with the project team providing technical assistance and support as needed. 

The Harkin Institute has been a partner and a leader in promoting improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities on a global scale. Senator Tom Harkin (retired) issued a challenge to participants of the Harkin International Summit on Disability Employment to double the rate of employment for people with disabilities. More than 40 countries have participated in the Harkin Summit over the past 5 years. 

The Zero Project Impact Transfer program offers a unique opportunity to take what we have learned from successful replication in the United States and apply it towards the goal of improving employment outcomes internationally. We believe our model is replicable outside of the United States. However, we also believe that our work in the United States will also benefit from what we can learn through implementation within a different cultural context. 

It is our hope that effective use of technology will provide a mechanism to break down barriers to people with disabilities engaging in the global economy. 

What is the organisation hoping to learn from taking part in the programme? 

The project team has some experience working on employment for people with disabilities in an international context, most notably in Western Africa. We have been surprised to find that access to technology is, in many ways, more readily available in “developing” countries than in many parts of the United States. We are interested in learning about what drives the culture of readiness to adopt new technology to solve systemic problems so that we might bring these lessons learned back to the United States to advocate for increased equity – particularly in rural and low-income areas. Additionally, we are hopeful that our own innovative adaptations of technology to support employment for people with disabilities will have a positive impact on outcomes in countries that do not necessarily have the infrastructure that we are fortunate to have here in the U.S. In essence, we see an opportunity for bi-directional learning. While we have an infrastructure, it is a system that is not nimble and quick to adopt new strategies. However, we have benefited from learning about the innovations that are taking place in countries that do not have infrastructure but are experiencing pockets of success. We believe a global solution lies somewhere in between, and we hope that the Impact Transfer program will offer a platform for exploring this in greater depth.