Frontline Initiative: Direct Support Professionals Supporting People's Employment

Raising the Quality of Employment Supports Provided by Employment Consultants: ES-Coach


Jill Eastman is a Program Coordinator at ThinkWork at the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. You can learn more about ES-Coach by contacting

Woman with long dark blond curly hair. She is smiling, wearing a dark brown shirt, and a necklace with a small round pendant.

Jill Eastman, author

Are you a direct support professional who works as an employment consultant?

Then check out ES-Coach. It is an app made specifically for your role. It guides you to spend your time providing the highest-quality employment supports to job seekers.

An employment consultant role often is different from a job coach. In some organizations, the roles of employment consultant and job coach are combined. Generally speaking, the employment consultant works through the discovery process with the job seeker, helping them identify positions and companies that interest them, and all the steps that lead up to accepting a job, such as preparing for interviews. The employment consultant also develops and maintains a relationship with an employer. After a job is secured, the job coach supports the person once they start the job.

Approximately 32,000 employment consultants nationally support people with disabilities in finding, securing, and keeping their jobs, and advancing their careers. Employment consultants use research-based best practices to improve employment outcomes for job seekers with disabilities. Research shows that training alone may not be enough for employment consultants to master these tasks and concepts over the long term. This leaves a big gap between training and best practices in their day-to-day work. Best practices include networking, getting to know job seekers, and engaging with businesses. However, research also shows that regular follow-up and support-coaching helps employment consultants use best practices better and more often, which improves employment outcomes for job seekers with disabilities. ES-Coach bridges that gap.

What is ES-Coach?

ES-Coach is a web-based app that provides data-enabled feedback to employment consultants and helps them implement best practices in employment supports.

Who is ES-Coach for?

ES-Coach works best for teams of employment consultants and their managers who assist job seekers with intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities to gain individual integrated employment. It works best when the whole team uses ES-Coach so that all support activities are captured in the data dashboard.

What are the Goals of ES-Coach?

  • Support employment consultants as they implement effective individualized employment supports, set goals, and work on continuous improvement.
  • Ensure that job seekers with disabilities receive high-quality employment support services.
  • Improve employment outcomes for job seekers with disabilities, including finding and keeping a job, learning job skills, working more hours, earning more money, and attaining promotions.

How does ES-Coach Work?

Every day, ES-Coach asks three quick questions about the employment supports provided and shares data and tips about best practices, each day at a different time. It takes less than a minute per day. Watch ES-Coach in action!

The end of each daily survey includes short microlearning resources of tips, videos, and data. In the ES-Coach image, the final screen provides a link to a short video that describes how asking their employer a question about additional job tasks can open new opportunities for a person at work. These microlearning resources are small bursts of information to boost knowledge of specific best practices in employment services. ES-Coach has a library of these resources that can be searched and viewed later.

This image shows three cell phones with screenshots of the ThinkWork interface. The first is the survey question and option boxes posed to employment consultants: "Where were you during your primary activity between 10:30 am and 11:00 am today?" The second screen shows the results in a pie chart previously posed to the employment consultant and their colleagues: "Have you been able to invest more time in job negotiation?" The results show 53% invested more time in job negotiation; 30% indicated, "not yet, but I will try;" and 17% indicated not relevant. The third screen offers a link to a three-minute video that shows how a person receiving supports on the job, Maggie, negotiated a new job description. This is intended to help employment consultants learn more about supports that help a person find a job that is a good fit.

Next, employment consultants and managers can browse a data dashboard to compare how often they implement evidence-based employment supports in six core categories: (1) getting to know a job seeker, (2) finding and securing jobs, (3) other supports before hire, (4) supports after hire, (5) paperwork/administrative activities, and (6) non-employment related work. After reviewing the data, employment consultants and managers can set goals based on best practices and track progress toward those goals by watching monthly trends on the data dashboard. This cycle of data collection, reviewing, goal setting, and taking action using research-based employment best practices empowers employment consultants to get better employment supports and more successful outcomes for people with disabilities.

This image shows a computer screen where results from one supervisor using ES-Coach are summarized. It also shows the ways that supervisors select options for survey questions that will be posed to their team.

ES-Coach Pilot (October 2021–March 2022)

Nine employment programs, including four from Massachusetts and five from Minnesota, participated in a six-month pilot project of ES-Coach from October 2021–March 2022. Forty-two employment consultants completed the daily smartphone survey (with an 87% response rate). Individuals and managers had access to the data dashboard and library of microlearning resources. Managers participated in monthly coaching calls to examine the data, review data goals and monthly progress, and plan to take targeted action to meet those goals. A customized monthly manager’s guide was used to self-identify and track key metrics and monthly goals for each program. After each monthly manager call, ICI coaching consultants completed the manager’s guide summary and followed up with additional resources as needed. Finally, focus groups were held with managers and employment consultants to gather feedback on all aspects of the project.

The most popular goals that managers identify for their provider agencies typically fluctuate from month to month, depending on staffing patterns, client support needs, COVID-19 restrictions, and other initiatives. In this study, the most popular goals that managers identified for their provider agencies included: more direct engagement with businesses/employers (seven providers), increasing networking opportunities (seven providers), arranging more business tours and informational interviews (six providers), more job seeker observation (five providers), facilitating natural support (four providers), decreasing time spent on paperwork and/or other administrative activities (four providers), and other goals (participating in activities with job seekers and better facilitating career advancement).

Besides goal setting, managers used the monthly coaching calls to talk about anything relevant, be it staff morale; hiring, training, and retaining staff; balancing work with mental health; and prioritizing using best practices in employment services. Initiatives that came out of this data-driven pilot study included:

  • Reestablishing and reinventing team meetings
  • Celebrating staff accomplishments
  • Reorganizing caseloads to maximize efficiency
  • Recognizing the value of provider coalitions for collaboration and mentorship
  • Leveraging data in discussions with upper management about
    • Reducing administrative burden
    • Increasing targeted trainings and certifications (e.g., Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP), Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE))
    • Redesigning job descriptions and/or creating specialty positions

Importantly, managers agreed that participating in ES-Coach generated interest in provider transformation, as it made time to reflect and focus on program evolution, elevated the field professionally, and ultimately supported more job seekers with disabilities to achieve better employment outcomes.

ES-Coach Pilot Findings

Over the six-month ES-Coach pilot project, data across the nine provider agencies showed a daily range in hours per day spent in supports leading to hire (range: 1 hour and 19 minutes/day to 4 hours and 10 minutes/day), supports after hire (range: 36 minutes/day to 3 hours and 33 minutes/day), and paperwork or meetings (range: 2 hours and 11 minutes/day to 4 hours and 12 minutes/day).

What do Employment Consultants Say about ES-Coach?

  • "It makes me think about my workday and allows me to put extra goals into perspective."
  • "I find that it causes me to pause for a moment and reflect on how I am spending my time, energy, and resources."
  • "I love how simple it is."

What’s Next for ES-Coach?

Developed by the ThinkWork research team at the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston, the ES-Coach project hopes to continue working with individual employment consultants and teams to understand and leverage their programmatic data to improve employment services and outcomes for job seekers with disabilities. The project could also collaborate with state Vocational Rehabilitation and Developmental Disabilities agencies to discover how data from ES-Coach could influence provider transformation and promote more frequent and effective use of evidence-based best practices in providing employment services.

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