The Job Developer's Handbook. Practical Tactics for Customized Employment, by C. Griffin, D. Hammis, and T. Geary. Baltimore, MD: Brookes; 2007.
Nearly 20 years ago, Harvard law professor Martha Minow (1990) pointed out that the social and physical architecture of our lives develops and operates without some people in mind, so that their exclusion incorrectly appears to be natural and just. Nowhere does this ring truer than within the labor market for people with significant disabilities, as Griffin, Hammis, and Geary point out in their book, The Job Developers Handbook. Practical Tactics for Customized Employment. Citing the abysmal rate of community employment among persons with disabilities, a continuing reliance on segregated work, and a fragile system of supports, the authors lay most of the blame on the vocational service system. According to Griffin et al., most vocational providers continue to rely on traditional vocational evaluations, work readiness approaches, and conventional job development methods that have largely failed.
The solution they propose is customized employment (CE), defined as a carefully individualized relationship between employees and employers that is designed to discover the unique strengths, needs, and interests of the job seeker to thoroughly understand the conditions under which he/she operates best. A job specialist then selects or develops the job tasks, supports, and circumstances that best meet both the skills and preferences of the person with a disability and the business needs of a particular employer. In other words, Griffin et al. are calling for a reordering of the sacrosanct job development priority of matching people with existing jobs to creating work positions and conditions that match people.
Best described as a practically oriented, how-to text intended to improve vocational rehabilitation services and organizations, the book is appropriate reading for professionals such as rehabilitation counselors, employment specialists, and job coaches, as well as those who teach or conduct training in the employment arena. The book seems particularly geared toward addressing the situations of individuals with disabilities who have not been well served by traditional vocational methods, although it also contains useful ideas for working with a wide array of job seekers. Griffin et al. present the work as a guide for best practices in job development, although it is hard to know exactly what that phrase means these days. Their conception of best practice apparently emanates from findings of previous national demonstration projects in addition to 60 years of combined professional experience, the latter of which is significant because the authors are a distinguished group with a sustained record of accomplishment.
Griffin et al. use their considerable experience to cover a wide array of topics. They take the reader through the nuts and bolts of job placement practice, including chapters on individual assessment (a traditional term that they have renamed discovery), analysis of work settings, job-setting matching, job carving and creating, communicating and negotiating with employers, troubleshooting, and managing conflicts. Covered in a chapter written by contributors (Michael Callahan and Ellen Condon), discovery is a central component of CE and is conducted before contemplating even a preliminary job search. The assessment serves as the primary means through which job specialists gain detailed knowledge and understanding of an individual job seeker (“Who is this person?”) and his/her “ideal conditions of employment,” both described as essential components for creating a customized position. Callahan and Condon present what they term the most intensive form of discovery, while noting that the technique may be used in alternative formats, neither of which (small-group discovery classes or self-discovery reflections) is detailed.
The job search is also described as very individualized, focusing on visiting employers, observing their work sites, and looking for job tasks or business possibilities that may be created and/or carved out within an organization. An employment specialist then attempts to tailor appropriate tasks into a position that is negotiated with an employer to meet his/her specific needs. Job development may also include developing self-employment or entrepreneurial opportunities and could involve what has been termed resource ownership, an arrangement in which a vocational specialist offers an employer the opportunity to expand and/or enhance his/her business by acquiring some technical resource or equipment that is linked to hiring a prospective job seeker. Suggested funding resources for these activities are also provided.
The authors insert specific chapters on how to develop an infrastructure of resource and support for job development, such as active employer councils, participating families, and Social Security Administration incentives. In addition, they emphasize the importance of aligning an agency's organizational philosophy, structure, and leadership with the requirements of CE, offering specific strategies for developing an agency mission and pursuing and evaluating agency changes. Throughout the book and in the appendix are included numerous forms, tables, and graphs, illustrating the authors' points and offering case examples.
I have several concerns with this book that relate more to the way Griffin et al. frame their case for service reform than to the specific reforms they offer. For one thing, they take greater pains to distinguish their approach from others than seems necessary or warranted. For example, they put some conceptual distance between CE and supported employment (SE), calling the former a “refinement” of SE, but one that “varies in important ways.” However, major features of CE, which include placing individuals ahead of jobs, rejecting traditional vocational evaluation and job readiness, rejecting congregate work placements, focusing on natural sources of support, and using the principle of partial participation to create and/or carve out jobs, are also the most basic and widely accepted tenets of supported employment. Policymakers and practitioners have certainly misinterpreted and misapplied SE, but that is a frequent fate of innovation. Most SE and CE proponents conceptually agree on more than they disagree, so perhaps we should stop characterizing employment approaches on the basis of the varied means that are used rather than the common ends that are sought. In this way, both CE and SE might be presented simply as ways of doing more effective CE rather than an invitation to join one or the other bandwagon.
Griffin et al. also sharply contrast certain types of jobs, favoring created/carved positions in small companies versus preexisting ones in large businesses. They argue that the former circumvent the entry-level, low-paying jobs so frequently found for persons with significant disabilities, describing the latter as “high turnover positions that can be weak in the provision of natural supports and lacking in advancement potential.” However, created/carved jobs are often entry level, presumably low paying, and often part time. In addition, as Griffin et al. suggest, do created jobs engender more natural sources of support, require less sustained job coaching, and/or lead to faster, more frequent promotions? I do not think we know enough yet to distinguish jobs along such dimensions. Moreover, I wonder if it is useful to continue debating job development approaches this way. Most likely, each of these approaches, done competently, works well for some people. Certainly, no single approach works for all. If reducing the shameful unemployment rate among persons with disabilities is a priority, we should probably be doing them all much better and doing more of many other things, including political advocacy, which brings me to my last concern.
The authors place too much blame for the deplorable employment circumstances of persons with disabilities on the vocational service system and too much faith in professional service reforms as solutions. I understand that this is not a public policy book, but the authors make some sweeping statements about the potential impact of vocational service reform. For example, they argue that “to change the realities of poverty and isolation endured by people with disabilities, changes in our approach to employment services must take top priority,” adding that “good job development techniques will reduce the stigma induced by the ongoing clienthood of people with disabilities.” It is clear that high-quality vocational services are essential for improving individual social and employment prospects, but assuming too narrow a perspective permits larger social, political, legal, and economic forces to escape unexamined and unscathed. Can we really claim that there exists a serious national commitment to employing citizens with disabilities when we allow such a sustained and appalling rate of unemployment to persist and when the smallest component of disability policy in terms of federal prominence and resources remains vocational preparation, work training, and community employment programs (Burkhauser & Daly, 2002); or, as the authors point out, when most people with significant disabilities get only one or two chances to obtain a good job? In addition, their estimate seems overly optimistic, based on the reported competitive employment experiences and figures for people classified in this way. In addition, the other two policy legs—(a) federal transfer payments in the form of Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income and (b) employment protection, provided primarily through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—although addressing some of the most egregious disincentives and obstacles to work, continue to perpetuate others and fall short of assuring workforce access, equity, and choice (Palley, 2006; Stefan, 2001; Sulewski, Gilmore, & Foley, 2006).
Overall, customizing job development as described in this text holds much promise for improving job development practice. Griffin et al. cover the topics well and include a plethora of practical ideas that they describe clearly and succinctly. Unlike many such books, this one focuses not on modifying individual deficits and behaviors but on understanding people's individual strengths, emphasizing their accomplishments, and understanding their personal and social resources. The authors emphasize altering the conditions within which individuals seek and conduct community work and changing the arrangements provided by those who set and regulate such conditions. In this way, they move along a path envisioned by Minow (1990), who argued against viewing human differences as the private, internal domain of individuals but as a pervasive characteristic of community life that must be addressed by remodeling the social and physical environments that were developed without certain people in mind.