What is Supported Employment?

Posted on July 14, 2011

Nancy Young
Employment Unit, Fountain House

Supported Employment is paid competitive work in an integrated setting with ongoing support for individuals with disabilities. In the late 1950s Fountain House developed a very specific kind of Supported Employment called Transitional Employment (TE). TE jobs are temporary (6 – 9 months) for the members who work them and require Fountain House staff to train and provide absence coverage for each member who works the job. TE jobs are meant to provide current work experience and practice in some of the “soft” work skills – arriving to work on time, developing stamina, getting along with supervisors and co-workers.
Historically, TE has formed the cornerstone of Fountain House’s Employment Program, but lately, the need for permanent, supported jobs (Supported Employment or SE jobs) has been a hot topic. Currently about 25 members are working Supported Employment jobs through Fountain House. Many more members are interested in finding permanent work, but they still need some level of support to realize this dream. Last month, a group of staff and members went on a half-day retreat to think through how we can effectively create and sustain a full range of employment opportunities for our community.
First, our goal was to define the “support” in Supported Employment, both for members and employers. Every member and every employer are different in this regard. Relationships with members and employers require nurturing, and the amount of support we give is determined by their individual needs.
How do we offer more support to working members?   Since members are first and foremost connected to their workers and their units, more outreach must come from their home base. The Employment Unit will centralize the information collected by the other units, in order to develop a better, more responsive support system for working members. They will also create a job retention training curriculum for the community and offer more opportunities for working members to come in to the clubhouse in the evenings and on the weekends.
What about our corporate partners? We tasked the Employment Unit with strengthening our relationships with our current SE employers. However, we realized in this meeting that we could offer more benefits to entice SE employers. With that in mind, we tried to think outside of the box: what if we tried to develop jobs that start as TEs, with all the benefits of guaranteed absence coverage and training, but with an understanding that if the member and employer want to continue the partnership, the member can be hired as a permanent employee? If things don’t work out in the initial 3-month trial (or TE) period, the first member can bow out and a new member can try the job.
For the benefit of members and employers both, we talked about requiring members working an SE position to connect with Fountain House a specified number of times, so we can help troubleshoot issues before they develop into full-blown problems on the job   
Now that we’ve hammered out just what “Supported Employment” means to us, how do we develop these jobs? We came up with some new ideas that I will outline here tomorrow.

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