HDC Spotlight: Employment First Trainings

Young man with Down syndrome wearing an apron stands behind the counter of a cafe. Next to him stands an older man smiling also wearing an apron.

HDC’s Employment First Trainings teach Louisiana employment vendors the Universal Employment Competencies through a 40-hour core training. Upon completion, employment support professionals have fulfilled the initial training requirements to provide employment services and supports in Louisiana.

We spoke with Employment First’s Laura Stazio, MS, CESP and Sue Killam, M.Ed., CWIC, CESP to learn more about the trainings. Read on to hear what they had to say!

Employment First 40-Hour Core Trainings For Employment Support Professionals seeking LRS certification or Continuing Education Credits (CEU). Upcoming dates: March 28-30, 2023. Now online via Zoom!

The next Employment First Training is coming up March 28-30, 2023 via Zoom. If you’re interested in taking the course, please register here.

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The Human Development Center (HDC) offers Employment First Core Training to help job vendors provide employment support services.

A job vendor is a person or business that provides services to help people with disabilities find jobs. Job vendors are sometimes called employment support professionals or community rehabilitation providers.

What is the Employment First Core Training all about?

“We at HDC believe that everyone can work given the right supports in the right job.”

HDC’s Employment First trainings provide the basic instruction for employment support professionals who support individuals with disabilities to find the best possible job match and help them maintain that job. This training meets the state requirements for employment professionals in order to provide services and supports in Louisiana.

These trainings can also help employment support professionals prepare to earn the national Certified Employment Support Professional™ (CESP) designation.

What is “Employment First?”

“It means that employment is the first and preferred option for people with disabilities. Simply put, Employment First means real jobs for real wages.”

Employment First” is a movement to deliver meaningful employment, fair wages, and career opportunities for people with disabilities.

Working helps us all play a part in the community we live in. Being active in the community helps us lead a full life.

The Employment First movement was started by the National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE).

“Employment First” is a national movement that prioritizes individuals with disabilities participating in competitive, community-based, integrated employment.

We believe that all individuals with disabilities can work. When we say that employment is the “first and preferred option,” we mean that employment should be the prioritized choice for all individuals with disabilities because it enhances their presence and participation in the community they live.

For example, students with disabilities who graduate from high school should be given the opportunity to work toward employment or a career path instead of staying at home or attending a day habilitation program. Working a competitive, integrated job provides for greater independence and self-determination.

The Employment First movement was started by the National Association of People Supporting Employment First, commonly referred to as APSE.

Click here to read APSE’s Universal Employment Competencies.

Can you tell us what “competitive” and “integrated” employment means?

HDC believes that employment should be competitive and integrated.

Competitive jobs pay people with disabilities the same amount of money that people without disabilities are paid in the same job.

Integrated means that people with disabilities are working in the community side-by-side with people without disabilities.

“Competitive” employment means a job that earns minimum wage or higher. To be considered competitive, a job’s wage has to be comparative to the prevailing wage in the industry, meaning that individuals with disabilities make the same wage working the same role as someone without a disability.

“Integrated” employment refers to an environment where individuals with and without disabilities can work shoulder-to-shoulder. Integrated employment happens in typical community settings.

Who takes your trainings?

Mostly the staff and managers of Louisiana employment vendors take this training. This includes Job Developers, those who find job opportunities in the community, and Job Coaches, those who provide training at the work site. A 40-hour core training is required by the state within six months of hire, but professionals also take this training for continuing education credits.

We also get people interested in becoming employment vendors as well as related service providers interested in expanding their services.

How does HDC’s Employment First training stand out?

There are other 40-hour core employment trainings, but our program is the only one that is specific to Louisiana. In fact, one session of our training is all about how to work with Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) and what LRS counselors expect from employment vendors.

We also have a long history of providing this training since the Supported Employment model began in our state in 1990. Back then, Sue Killam, M.Ed., CWIC, CESP worked on the federally funded Supported Employment systems change grant and collaborated with the LRS state office to develop most of the service’s forms and initial guidelines. With this rich history, HDC has many case studies and success stories to share with program participants.  

Lastly, we are always available for questions and resources after the training. We’ve actually created additional tools and resources for employment vendors to try to make their job more efficient. 

See HDC’s Employment First Resources here

Which session of the training would you recommend for those who are taking it for Continuing Education credits?

We think professionals should take the Social Security Benefits and Work Incentives session again and again. SSI and SSDI are confusing! You really need to hear it at least 5 times before it sticks.

However, it depends on the position of the person taking the course. For example, if you are a manger, you should take the Funding or Assessment sessions. If you are an employment specialist, you could take Job Development or Job Site Training sessions to enhance your skills in those areas.

What should individuals with disabilities and their families consider when seeking employment support services?

Individuals with disabilities and their families should choose employment support professionals who target their specific needs. For example, if someone is DeafBlind, does the job vendor have experience helping someone with their needs and accessibility requirements? Also, consider the job vendors qualifications – are they specially trained?

Try to think of the process of finding an employment support professional like hiring someone to do a job. You have choices! Treat your interactions with job vendors like a job interview. You want to find the best person for the job that fits your unique needs, and find an agency that has proven results!

Check out this resource for a list of questions to ask employment vendors!

About Sue Killam, M.Ed., CWIC, CESP

Susan “Sue” G. Killam has worked has worked in the area of employment and disability policy for over 25 years. She has a Master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and worked at the federally funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Supported Employment. Sue began her career in Louisiana in 1990 as the Lead Trainer for the Supported Employment Systems Change Grant. At the conclusion of that grant, she served as Director of AcME, Inc. (an employment agency initiated by six parents of individuals with disabilities) for 10 years. Ms. Killam has published several articles on supported employment and disability services and is one of the authors of APSE’s Ethical Guidelines. Ms. Killam has consulted and provided training and TA on supported employment and disability policy throughout the US and Canada. She has served on numerous governor-appointed councils and boards and is one of the founding members of the Louisiana SE Network (now LA APSE) and served as President from 1996-2001 and Vice President from 2003-2007.

Click here to read Sue’s full bio

About Laura Stazio, MS, CESP

Laura Stazio’s role in HDC’s Employment Initiatives since 2012 has been to increase the capacity of Supported Employment Agencies in Louisiana through training and mentoring. Laura is a Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) and is president of Louisiana Association for Persons Supporting Employment First (APSE). She is currently serving as a Governor’s appointee on the Louisiana Rehabilitation Council (LRC) to ensure the involvement of individuals with disabilities in the development and delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to Louisianans with disabilities. She is one of the lead trainers for HDC’s Employment First Core Training that meets the requirements for Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) accreditation.

Click here to read Laura’s full bio

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