Frontline Initiative

The DSP Training Program in Minneapolis
Free College Education for Entry-Level Staff


John Westerman is a senior employment counselor at Loring Nicollet-Bethlehem Community Centers, Inc.

At a time when agencies are having trouble recruiting and retaining direct service workers, the Direct Support Professional Training Program (DSPTP) is a unique new resource for recruiting and training new staff for entry-level support positions. The program recruits potential workers and provides credit-based education and training, on-site worker experience, employment supports, and job placement. The program was developed and is being offered by the Metro Area Training Consortium, which is made up of representatives from Anoka-Hennepin Technical College (AHTC); Loring Nicollet-Bethlehem Community Centers, Inc. (LNB), a service agency that offers employment and education services; the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration; Bristol Place Corporation (a provider agency); and other area support agencies. This coordination of industry, education, and employment supports is a powerful tool in dealing with pressing issues in the field.

Potential participants are recruited through a network of community-based employment and training programs in the Minneapolis ⁄ St. Paul area. This network taps into a population that includes people who are looking for a new career but who may not have been aware of the opportunities in the human services field. Students who enroll in the eleven-week program receive twenty hours a week each of classroom training and work site experience.

The classroom training consists of the fifteen credit-hour, certificate portion of the Community-Based Supports for People with Disabilities (CSP) curriculum, as well as other state-required training topics. The CSP is a competency-based program that offers course work specifically in the area of disabilities, and that incorporates the National Skill Standards for community-based human service practitioners. Beyond the certificate, the CSP offers specialized diplomas and AAS degrees. 

For the work experience portion of the training, students are matched with participating agencies that provide financial sponsorship, work site supervision, and weekly evaluations for each of their student placements. This work site experience gives the students a chance to exercise and reinforce the acquisition of skills first learned in the classroom.

Agencies that participated in the training last fall became interested for a number of reasons:

  • Looking for new ways to recruit and train staff during a “crisis”
  • Opportunities to “allow more quality training” for new staff
  • A chance to “work with people for a while and see if they’ll work out” as regular employees

Student and agency support is a strong component of the DSPTP. During the training, LNB coordinates communication and feedback between students, instructors, and work site supervisors in order to identify and address any issues that might interfere with a successful training or employment experience.

Agencies also benefit from the screening and training that students receive before beginning their work experience. The orientation week includes state-mandated training required prior to initiating work like CPR certification, state adult-protection rules, and medication administration.

The program offers students the chance to receive high-quality, credit-based course work, practical work experience, and a stable entry point into the mental health field, all free of charge. Funding, provided through student sponsorships and other resources, even includes a stipend. Additionally, the fifteen-credit certificate through AHTC gives students a solid vocational identity as well as a significant first step on a career ladder. Those who want to continue their education can go on to complete a sixty-four credit diploma program, which was recently recognized as meeting Minnesota’s educational requirements for Qualified Mental Retardation Professional certification in non-ICF⁄ MR programs.

Efforts are now under way to expand this new approach to training within the Minneapolis ⁄ St. Paul metro area, as well to some selected sites throughout Minnesota. The program’s rewards are evident in the fact that all the provider agencies that participated in the pilot round are also taking part in round two which began this March. According to Nancy Schafer of St.Ann’s, “We knew it was a risk, but it paid off.”